According to the Racing press we should all have pockets bulging with cash after this year’s fantastic four day Cheltenham Festival. I hope that includes you but personally I hit the woodwork too often for comfort and only a bit of luck in the ante post market saw me come out just in front which was poor reward for the amount of hours put in! However often the chase is more exciting than the kill!
Where do we start in reviewing Cheltenham 2016? I am going to make five observations initially, which I will expand upon in further blogs.
Firstly, Willie Mullins is a master trainer.
It is all very well having a collection of owners with big bank balances but you have to source the raw materials in the first place, something he seems very adept at but you must also be able to produce a peak performance on a set day, make sure the right horse is in the right race, and you must plan progression. Willie Mullins has no peer in all of those three aspects of training National Hunt horses.
Indeed Closutton houses a worrying strength in depth not only now but going forward as well and I will cover this in a separate blog. To underline the man’s talent and vision I still can’t believe that Max Dynamite went from fourth in the County Hurdle to second in the Melbourne Cup in eight months winning the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup at York on the way!
Secondly, Class is permanent, form is temporary.
That applies to two legs as well as four. Nicky Henderson, himself a candidate, produced two amazing feats of training. Firstly to get Sprinter Sacre back to win the Champion Chase and secondly, My Tent or Yours to finish runner up in the Champion Hurdle. Any Currency at the ripe old age of 13 finally collected a Cross Country title that his “class” said he deserved and On The Fringe once again routed the hunters. Many (myself included) questioned why Don Cossack was the highest rated chaser in trainer but class is permanent, form is temporary!
Returning to two legs and the three races confined to amateur riders were won by Derek O’Connor, JJ Codd and Nina Carberry, all owned by JP McManus incidentally, back up the class factor. Messrs Nicholls and Pipe have had average seasons so far but both found their way to the winner’s enclosure.
Thirdly, Good to Soft ground.
A terrific job was done by the Cheltenham groundstaff to provide a perfect racing surface but it is quite clear that Good to Soft, with either good or soft in places, will be the default setting for Festival going in the future. On this sort of ground the cream is most likely to rise to the top.
Stating the obvious, the groundstaff can put water on but they can’t take it off. If there was a Festival run after heavy rain the week before and it was Soft (heavy in places) or worse that really would put a cat among the pigeons.
Fourthly, Who is on the up?
With four legs we can all get excited by the likes of Douvan, Vroum Vroum Mag, Limini and Vautour. Mr Ricci is indeed a lucky man! With two legs I was personally thrilled to see Messrs Fry and Skelton add their names to the Festival roll of honour, surely the first of many for both of these likeable young men. Gordon Elliott proved himself to be right up there with the elite.
Ivanovich Gorbatov won the Triumph hurdle and the history books will say he was trained by AP O’Brien but we all know it was his son Joseph. His tie up with JP McManus and Coolmore could be the start of something big.
Fifthly, Could do better!
The starts are ridiculous, highlighted by the JLT chase. They all seem to be on bends or next door to fences. Attention needed.
I will also join the bandwagon saying that 24 hour declarations are an anachronism. 48 hours would be a step forward, 72 hours would be ideal.
The Rich Ricci PR machine needs to get its act together. As National Hunt racing’s most public owner the Vautour situation left a bitter taste. The fact he is now connected to BetBright worries me as well and perhaps a step back into the shade wouldn’t go amiss.