The Cheltenham Festival once again didn't disappoint in terms of terrific performances and heart warming stories. However, in terms of results for followers of the One Jump Ahead Update, I found it a very frustrating meeting. Benie Des Dieux's departure at the last in the mares' hurdle typified the week from a personal point of view.
On Tuesday, I was convinced Laurina was set to win the Champion Hurdle at the top of the hill with Buveur D'Air hitting the deck and Apples Jade looking in trouble with a circuit to run. Unfortunately, Willie Mullins' mare soon came under pressure before fading away behind the runaway winner Espoir D'Allen who became the first five year old to capture the prize since Katchit eleven years ago. Ruby Walsh reported afterwards that his mount was never travelling. A Plus Tard provided the highlight of the opening day with a sixteen lengths victory in the novices' handicap chase off a mark of 144. Ridden by Rachel Blackmore, the five year old jumped brilliantly throughout before making a mockery of his rating. Tower Bridge ran on to finish second but was never a threat to the winner. He remains of interest over fences and could be one for the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown next Christmas. He is crying out for a step up in trip. I was disappointed by the performances of Angels Breath (tightened up on the top bend) and Vision D'Honneur in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. The winner Klassical Dream looked a class act under Ruby Walsh and could be called the winner some way from home.
On Wednesday, the race I was most looking forward to all week was the RSA Chase and it lived up to its billing with three top class novices dominating the finish. In contrast to Kempton on Boxing Day, Topofthegame was given a brilliant ride by Harry Cobden. Delivered at the last fence, the giant ex-pointer produced a magnificent leap before staying on too strongly for Santini with Delta Work back in third. Paul Nicholls' gelding was winning for the first time over fences and has the look of a future Gold Cup contender. The runner-up will win a big prize over fences next season, too. Altior made it four wins at the Cheltenham Festival with a workmanlike victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Nico De Boinville had to stoke his mount up after the last before pulling away to win by a length and three quarters. Both Politologue and Sceau Royal ran crackers in second and third respectively and it is not unrealistic to see the trio locking horns once again in the Melling Chase at Aintree next month over an extra half a mile. Envoi Allen maintained his unbeaten record in the bumper under another confident ride by Jamie Codd. Taken wide, Gordon Elliott's charge found plenty for pressure when Blue Sari threw down his challenge. His victory capped a splendid week for Cheveley Park Stud who have invested heavily in jumping bloodstock in the last twelve months.
Thursday started with Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation going head to head for a third time in the JLT Novices' Chase. It was Philip Hobbs' former Triumph Hurdle winner who confirmed his superiority from when the pair last met in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown. The six year old had too much speed for Colin Tizzard's runner, who had jumped superbly throughout under Robbie Power. The winner looks ideal for next year's Ryanair Chase and possibly even the King George, while the runner-up will appreciate a step up to three miles or more next term. Sire Du Berlais had caught everyone's eye at Leopardstown last time and confirmed the view with a gutsy win in the Pertemps Final. Barry Geraghty was seen at his best aboard the J.P.McManus owned winner.
Willie Mullins threw four darts at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in a bid to win the prize for the first time. Things were looking bleak for Ireland's champion trainer with only Al Boum Photo remaining of the quartet with a circuit to run. However, the seven year old produced a tremendous performance to win by two and a half lengths from the fast finishing Anibale Fly. Ironically, it was the same horse who ran out under Paul Townend last spring at the Punchestown Festival when set to land a Grade 1. There was no repeat here though as he moved smoothly throughout and pulled away from the likes of Native River and Bristol de Mai after the second last. The Buck's Boum gelding hadn't been seen since winning a Listed chase at Tramore on New Year's Day from a couple of his stablemates and remains unexposed as a chaser, especially over staying trips. The strongly fancied Clan Des Obeaux weakened in the home straight leaving the impression - not for the first time - he needs a flat track to bring out the best in him. Anibale Fly (advised e/w at 25/1) went one better than last year but would have appreciated slower ground. He ran a blinder but couldn't match the winner's speed before staying on strongly. Well done to Anthony Bromley who gave Pentland Hills (20/1) a positive mention in the Update re the Triumph Hurdle. Anthony bought the ex-Chris Wall trained four year old and he supplemented his easy win at Plumpton last time in no uncertain terms under Nico De Boinville.
I would say the final day was the most frustrating of all. We tragically lost Sir Erec in the Triumph Hurdle, Eclair De Beaufeu hit the front a furlong too soon in the County Hurdle - I have no doubt he was the best handicapped horse in the field and under a more circumspect ride, he would have prevailed - and Dickie Diver was given plenty to do in the Albert Bartlett NH, although I feel his rushed preparation was the ultimate reason why he only finished fourth. If he stays in one piece, he will be a major contender for next year's RSA Chase and Gold Cup beyond that. He is a class act. Then, to put the icing on the cake, Dallas Des Pictons travelled like the best horse in the concluding Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle only to get run out of it after the last by the well supported Early Doors.
In terms of One Jump Ahead, there were two winners for the Top 40 (Envoi Allen and Topofthegame), Jared Sullivan's interview produced Duc Des Genievres (5/1) and Eglantine Du Seuil (50/1), the French Revolution section included A Plus Tard (4/1), Klassical Dream (6/1) and Concertista (2nd @ 66/1), while Minella Indo (50/1) was one of Declan Phelan's Irish Pointers.
While the results were largely disappointing, spare a thought for Graham Wylie who lost both Ballyward and Invitation Only this week, plus Bellshill pulled up in the Gold Cup. It is a cruel game at times. Roll on the Midlands National tomorrow.
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