Willie Mullins’ ups and downs
The racing public was left aghast when the normally dominating Willie Mullins failed to come away with a winner on the first two days. For the first time since 2008, Mullins did not have a winner on the Tuesday – normally a day where he holds several aces up his sleeves. He finished second and third in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle with Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini but that was as close to the winner’s enclosure as it got for the Irish trainer.
Wednesday was similarly disappointing for the usually all-conquering Mullins team and it ended in catastrophe with Douvan losing his unbeaten run over fences, finishing in seventh place in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. The 2016 Racing Post Arkle winner never looked comfortable from the off, jumping erratically, and he was found to be lame after the race. Mullins later announced that Douvan was diagnosed with a stress fracture to his pelvis and that he should be back racing in the autumn.
Day three, and punters alike dreaded the Mullins “curse” continuing. Many were unsure whether to support or lay the hugely talented Yorkhill for the opening race – the JLT Novices’ Chase. The son of Presenting proved all doubters wrong and won well from the talented Top Notch, which lead Ruby Walsh to state that he would be a Gold Cup contender for the future.
The pocket rocket Un De Sceaux continued the winning form for Mullins and Walsh when putting up an extraordinary performance to land the Ryanair Chase. Many worried that the ground would be too quick for the nine year old gelding but he soon pulled his way into the lead. Despite a couple of overly-brave leaps, he looked in a different league to the other runners and won comfortably. Nichols Canyon, who has had a difficult season, powered up the hill to land a first Stayers’ Hurdle for the Mullins team.
Arctic Fire defied top weight and a 418 day absence from the racetrack when winning the Randox Health County Hurdle ridden by Paul Townend. Less than an hour later, Mullins trained the winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Penhill. It is fair to say that Mullins more than made up for the luckless first two days!
Harrington’s delight as Sizing John comes of age
The prolific Jessica Harrington, trainer of the legendary Moscow Flyer and the 2014 Champion Hurdle winner Jezki, won the Gold Cup at the first attempt with former two miler Sizing John.
Previously the eternal bridesmaid to Douvan, the Potts’ owned gelding has thrived on the step up in trip and put in a fantastic performance to hold off the likes of Minella Rocco, Native River and Djakadam. At the age of seven, time is on his side and he looks to be a dominant force in the staying division for some time. Harrington, who trained Supasundae to win the Coral Cup on Wednesday, is now the all-time leading female trainer at the Festival.
Nicky Henderson’s domination
Leading Cheltenham Festival trainer Nicky Henderson continued his excellent form at the track with three winners during the week. Altior, one of the most exciting horses in training and odds on favourite for the Arkle, duly obliged and won by six lengths ahead of Cloudy Dream. The seven year old gelding looks Champion Chase-bound for next season.
In the space of an hour and a half, Henderson became the most successful trainer of the Champion Hurdle when the exciting Buveur D’Air strolled to victory with Noel Fehily on board. He could be next seen at Aintree, where he will attempt to increase Henderson’s lead in the British Jumps Trainers’ Championship.
Henderson sadly also had to deal with the tragic loss of Consul De Thaix and Hadrian’s Approach, which is always the most difficult aspect of the four days.
Might bites the doubters
Nicky Henderson’s eight year old gelding by Scorpion has divided the experts and punters ever since his startling performance in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton in December. He was 18 lengths clear of a top quality field before heavily falling at the final fence. He was none the worse for that when he showed his well being at Doncaster. His brave jumping convinced many that he would not be suited to the rigours of the Cheltenham track.
He led the RSA field from the off and approaching two fences out, he was 20 lengths clear. After an awkward jump at the final fence, he dramatically wandered up the straight, with jockey Nico De Boinville attempting to straighten him. When stablemate Whisper went past, accompanied by a loose horse, Might Bite appeared to rally and managed to win by a nose in a highly tense finish. A horse with scary ability, who can give his supporters scary moments!
Jack Kennedy’s Supreme win
At 17 years of age, Jack Kennedy has already proven to be a sensation, and comparisons to Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty have already been made. Aboard Gold Cup runner Outlander, he won the Lexus Chase in tremendous style from the likes of Don Poli and Djakadam and has caught the eye of owners such as Gigginstown.
Noel on a roll
The quietly spoken Noel Fehily had a stunning week at Prestbury Park. He started off by winning Tuesday’s feature race, the Stan James Champion Hurdle, on the promising Buveur D’Air. The Irishman then landed a surprise victory with the Henry De Bromhead-trained Special Tiara in the Champion Chase to tumultuous applause from an appreciative crowd.
Gordon Elliott’s amazing week
With six winners on the board over the four days, it is safe to say that Gordon Elliott and his team are flying high at the moment. Currently leading the Irish Jumps Trainers’ Championship, his first win came in the Supreme Novices’ race on the first day with Labaik and concluded with Champagne Classic in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle on Friday afternoon. He ended the Festival sharing the Trainers’ title with Willie Mullins.
Performance of the week: Un De Sceaux
Reverting to his old reputation as a bit of a tearaway, the 2015 Arkle winner fought Ruby Walsh’s instructions to stay behind in the Ryanair. Storming to the front after the second fence; even an over-ambitious jump at an open ditch could not stop the nine year old gelding from cruising up to an outstanding success. Another wonderful win for an often overlooked stable star!