Another year over and done with, but what a year it was. The Cheltenham Festival once again proved why it’s one of the most exciting events on the horse racing calendar, if not in all of sports. The beauty of Cheltenham comes not just in the event itself, though the variety of days that you’ll experience on the racecourse are enough to rival any sporting event around the world, but in the shocks and surprises that come along the way. The Jockey Club spend most of the year getting ready to hear that Cheltenham Roar and, whether you’re there in person or watching on TV at home, it’s easy to understand why. It’s what signals the beginning of proceedings and both bettors and bookmakers brace themselves to lock horns over four thrilling days of action.
Here I’ll have a look back at that action, from the surprises to the predictable outcomes, in order to give you a real sense of what you might have missed. There were some races that had clear favourites from the off and they came through as expected, whilst others saw a surprise winner when the horses crossed the line. There were also races that were wide open before the horses came under starter’s orders and played out like that, with twists and turns along the way. I’ll make reference to the ante-post blogs I wrote before the Festival, so you’ll be able to see whether or not the bookies got it right by giving certain horses long odds. Of course with the snow disruption a week before lead to the softest ground at the course for 20 years, adding some extra challenges compared to usual for the horses.
This felt like a Festival when everyone from the casual punter to the most respected tipsters were talking about their horses finishing second, but is that actually how things played out? Let’s have a look, starting with the results of each race.
Percentage Races Won By The Favourite
Day One Tuesday 13th March – Champion Day
Where else to start but on Day One of the world’s most famous horse racing meeting?
Supreme Novices Hurdle – 1.30pm
Won by 8/1 shot Summerville Boy, who managed to see off Kalashnikov and get the day off to a flier. It was a race that foreshadowed what was to come over the duration of the Festival, with the eventually winner needing to fight hard on the home run. Tipsters were quick too point out that Summerville Boy’s two previous wins came on soft and then heavy ground.
Arkle Challenge Trophy 2.10pm
Footpad was far and away the favourite for this one before it got underway, with only five horses taking part. That was the smallest field ever to run the Arkle, interestingly. Petit Mouchoir led for most of the way and Ruby Walsh held some back for Footpad, who made a mistake at the eighth but romped home and 14/1 Brain Power snuck past Petit Mouchoir for a surprise second.
Festival Handicap Chase – 2.50pm
Eighteen runners went into a relatively open field for Race Three, Vintage Clouds led for most of the race but finished third, with Lizzie Kelly riding Coo Star Sivolva to a first-place finish. It was the favourite, but the fact that it was priced at 5/1 tells you that none of the bookmakers were overly convinced.
Champion Hurdle – 3.30pm
Willie Mullins had four different horses in the standout race from Day One, but it was Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air who managed to run home as the winner. The fact that he was the favourite only tells half the story, however, with Melon and the eventual winner jumping the last neck and neck. Eventually Barry Geraghty was able to get the favourite to show his class and got him to cross the finishing line first in a pulsating race that went down to the last fifty yards. Ultimately it justified the ante-post odds, wherein the most generous I could find a few weeks out was BetBright’s 8/15.
David Nicholson Mares Hurdle – 4.10pm
This race produced the first genuine shocks of the Festival, and you’ll noticed that I said ‘shocks’ plural. Apple’s Jade was the 4/7 favourite and bookmakers were praying for an upset after three of the four previous races were won by the horses that everyone expected to see win them. Apple’s Jade set the pace for most of the race but didn’t take advantage of its obvious class, with La Bague Au Roi getting into first with four fences left to jump. She made an error at the last, however, that allowed Benie Des Dieux to sneak through and claim the win for Ruby Walsh. She was 4/1, which was a shock in itself, but nothing when compared to 66/1 Midnight Tour finishing second and Apple’s Jade having to settle for third.
National Hunt Chase – 4.50pm
The penultimate race of the day was also the longest of the meeting, lasting for nearly four miles. Sixteen horses took part with amateur jockeys steering them around the course, with Rathvinden being the 6/1 favourite. It was another race that could have had a couple of surprises but didn’t, thanks to Patrick Mullins giving his dad his third winner of the day. Mossback was not far behind Rathvinden in the betting but was sadly a fatality after falling.
Novices Handicap Chase – 5.30pm
Day One of the Cheltenham Festival came to a close with the Novices Handicap Chase and Any Second Now was the favourite before proceedings got underway. Interestingly, Any Second Now was nowhere near the main group as they raced towards the final fence. Instead it was 33/1 Rocklander who led over the last, though eventually Mr Whitaker showed his class and came through at the end of the two miles, four furlong race.
Day Two Wednesday 15th March – Ladies Day
Could the second day of the Festival possibly live up to the excitement of the first? Oh yes, it most certainly could.
Ballymore Novices Hurdle – 1.30pm
The extent to which Samcro was favourite for this race cannot be over-stated, with his 4/6 starting price odds a good distance away from the second-favourite. Jack Kennedy rode him perfectly, keeping him away from the bun-fight at the front of the running before taking the lead with just one to go. Michael O’Leary had tried to play down his horse’s chances in the build-up to the race, but every time he’d ridden a hurdles race before this he’d won easily, with the Novices Hurdle proving no exception.
RSA Chase – 2.10pm
Presenting Percy was the 5/2 favourite when the RSA Chase got underway, having shown his class in his previous race when he needed to chase down Our Duke for the win. The bookies weren’t totally convinced, though, seeing Monalee set off as the 10/3 second-favourite. Both horses traveled well, with the race being led by Bryony Frost on Black Corton for most of the way. In the end it went exactly as the bookmakers predicted, with Presenting Percy coming in first and Monalee finishing second. It meant that Davy Russell, who lost his mum in the build-up to the Festival, has now won in thirteen successive Festivals. The biggest story of the race came with the fall and subsequent injury to Ruby Walsh, however, who aggravated his tibia fracture and was ruled out for the rest of the meeting.
Coral Cup – 2.50pm
Twenty-seven horses took to the field in the Coral Cup and it was quite an open field at that. There was no standout favourite, with William Henry at 8/1 one of the most-fancied. There was something of a surprise with the winner, however, thanks to 20/1 Bleu Berry snatching it from much-fancied Topofthegame late on. Barra came third at 16/1, giving bookies a bit of hope that it wouldn’t just be the short-odds horses taking the places all of the time. Ruby Walsh was supposed to ride Max Dynamite but couldn’t because of his injury after his fall, seeing Paul Townend switch to Walsh’s horse and Mark Walsh (no relation) ending up on the eventual winner. It was his first ever Cheltenham victory.
Queen Mother Champion Chase – 3.30pm
In another life jockey Nico de Boinville could have been the owner of an impressive country house, if his name’s anything to go by. Instead he was sat on the back of Altior, which went off as the distant favourite for the day’s most talked about race. There was a late injury scare that saw some people thinking that Douvan could cause problems, but he went down at the third-from-last and it was left to Min to lead the challenge. They jumped the final fence together after Altior had struggled for any sort of rhythm for most of the race, but once he was on the final stretch his class shined through.
As he pulled away from Min you could see why he started the race as the odds-on favourite and has remained unbeaten over obstacles. de Boinville claimed that he was ‘in trouble’ throughout, yet you wouldn’t have known it if you’d only tuned in to see the run in. It gave Nicky Henderson his sixtieth Festival winner of all time. Once again, the ante-post betting was proved to be correct thanks to odds of 5/4 around a month before the meeting even started.
Cross Country Chase – 4.10pm
This is a gruelling race, with previous experience often proving to be advantageous for both jockeys and horses. Cause of Causes and Last Samurai were close in the betting before the horses came under starter’s orders, with the former a full six lengths back as they jumped the fifth and the latter leading for most of the race. In the end, though, it was Tiger Roll that managed to pip all of the others to win, holding off a bit of late competition from Urgent De Gregaine. Last Samurai began to tire as the finishing line approached, ending up third of the seven horses who were able to finish the race.
Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle – 4.50pm
There was arguably more excitement with the jockeys than the ante-post betting when it came to the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle. Davy Russell, who has won the RSA Chase earlier in the day, was stood down after taking a heavy fall from Bless The Wings during the Cross Country Chase. That meant that Jack Kennedy, who had ridden Samcro so well in the first race of Day One, came in to replace him on Mitchouka. Nube Negra was the favourite and the bookies were desperate for him not to win, just so that they had something to celebrate. They were in luck, thanks to Veneer of Charm giving Gordon Elliot his third winner of the day and Nube Negra only managing to finish third. At 33/1, it was one of the longest winners of the afternoon.
Champion Bumper – 5.30pm
Day Two was drawn to a close with a race that had something of a football feel about it, thanks to Acey Milan going off as a co-favourite alongside Rhinestone and Blackbow, plus the eventually winner being Relegate. It was one of the most thrilling races of the day, given that Carefully Selected was leading as they entered the final straight but Relegate eventually wore him down to claim the prize for Willie Mullins and Katie Walsh. At 25/1, it was another good race for the bookmakers and bad one for the punters that favour horses with shorter odds.
Day Three Thursday 16th March – St Patricks Thursday
St. Patrick’s Day is always one of the most memorable of the Festival, unless you take your claims to Irish heritage too seriously and are a little the worse for wear after a few too many Guinness’.
JLT Novices Chase – 1.30pm
Day One got underway with yet another second-placed finish for a horse I selected, namely Terrefort. He went off as the 3/1 favourite, ahead of Invitation Only in spite of the fact that Willie Mullins had trained all of the last three winners of the race. He’d done that with Ruby Walsh, however, who was missing thanks to that leg injury picked up on Day Two. Invitation Only dropped out with four to go, after Bigmartre and Terrefort had led for most of the race. In the end it was Shattered Love that crossed the finishing line first, despite landing heavily after jumping the last. She became the first mare to win the JLT Novices Chase in Cheltenham history.
Pertemps Final Hurdle – 2.10pm
The Pertemps Final Hurdle saw another Milan themed horse having a run after Day Two’s Acey Milan, this time named Forza Milan. He dropped from 11/1 to 8/1 in the build-up to the race, perhaps because of non-Arsenal supporters placing a bet on him prior to the Gunners taking on AC Milan in the Europa League later that night. Regardless, Glenloe went off as the 9/2 favourite in the three-mile race and nearly won it, with the race being a thrilling photo finish. In the end the honour went to Delta Work by a whisker, giving Davy Russell, who was back after being removed from the racing on Day Two, his third win of the Festival. It also gave Gordon Elliott a one-two win.
Ryanair Chase – 2.50pm
The Stayers Hurdle is always the feature race of Day Three at Cheltenham, but the Ryanair Chase is a delightful aperitif. Un De Sceaux had won it twelve months before and went off as heavy favourite, though the romantics were hoping for one last hurrah from the 2013 winner Cue Card. The bookies had Un de Sceaux as the overwhelming favourite at 8/11 and Cue Card at 5/1, though in the end the latter was pulled up four fences from the end. Ultimately it didn’t matter, with Balko Des Flos pipping the favourite to the finish and seeing owner Michael O’Leary, who also owns Ryanair, of course, keeping his own money; something that Sir A. P. McCoy jokingly called a ‘disaster’. Who was on the back of the horse? Davy Russell once more.
Stayers’ Hurdle – 3.30pm
The standout event of Day Four was one filled with emotion, thanks to the race favourite Sam Spinner being ridden by Joe Colliver, a jockey who was in prison for perverting the course of justice a year and a half earlier, and a trainer in Jedd O’Keeffe who nearly died from cancer. Sam Spinner led throughout and was still in the lead with two to go, only for Penhill to take the lead when jumping over the last. Sam Spinner dropped like a stone through the field, with 12/1 Penhill winning ahead of 6/1 Supasundae and 14/1 Wholestone coming in third.
Apple’s Jade had been the favourite for this one in the ante-post betting, but once it moved to run the Mares Hurdle on Day One that soon changed. It shouldn’t have been that much of a shock that Penhill ran home as the winner, given that he’d won the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in 2017, but he was still 8/1 about a month before the meeting got underway. I mentioned him in my ante-post articles, so it’s always worth checking out what people are saying in the build-up to the Festival in case you can snag a decent horse at good odds.
Stable Plate – 4.10pm
There was a decent field for the Stable Plate, which probably explained the lack of any outright favourite. Both The Storyteller and King’s Socks went off at 6/1, though Last Goodbye and MoveWithTheTimes were close second-favourites at 8/1. The Storyteller gave the bookies another nightmare by winning this one, though it was a pleasure to see 25/1 shot Splash of Ginge come in second. It was a hat-trick for the day for Davy Russell, incidentally.
Mares Novices Hurdle – 4.50pm
Laurina was the 8/15 favourite for the Mares Novices Hurdle and her reputation grows by the day. Willie Mullins knows how to train ‘em and in the end she won at a canter in arguably the least competitive race of the entire Festival. Cap Soleil came second with odds of 10/1, though it was Champayne Lady’s third-place finish that caused the biggest shock – after all, she was 80/1 as the horses came under starter’s orders.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup – 5.30pm
Final Nudge and Sugar Baron, which was being ridden by Katy Walsh, were the two horses that were being spoken about most glowingly ahead of this race for amateur jockeys. Only passing mention was given to Missed Approach, with the horse starting the race with odds of 9/1. He won in the end, of course, and was followed by 20/1 shot Aubusson and then 9/2 Squouateur. Day Three was done, meaning the big one was up next.
Day Four Friday 16th March – Gold Cup Day
The final day of the Cheltenham Festival is all about the biggest race of the week, the Gold Cup. There are six other races run every year, though, so here’s a look at the entire day’s results.
JCB Triumph Hurdle – 1.30pm
Apple’s Shakira was the standout favourite from a small field in Race One, having already won three times at Cheltenham under the tutorship of Nicky Henderson. Barry Geraghty was riding her and believed that she’d need to be at her best to live up to her billing as the 6/5 favourite. She wasn’t, unfortunately, and didn’t even finish in the places. It was another win for Gordon Elliot thanks to Farclas, who was 9/1 when they went under orders. Mr Adjudicator finished second and the slight surprise came in the form of Sayo finishing third at odds of 33/1.
County Handicap Hurdle – 2.10pm
As often happens with the Handicap Hurdle, there were a decent number of runners this year; twenty-six, in fact. That led to an open field, with Flying Tiger starting as the 6/1 favourite. Ultimately it turned out to be a race for those punters that favour long odds, given that the winner was 33/1 Mohaayed and second-place went to Remiluc, who was a 50/1 shot. Bridget Andrews was the winning jockey, earning her first ever Cheltenham win and bragging rights over her partner Harry Sketlon, who finished sixth.
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – 2.50pm
The build-up to the Gold Cup reached fever pitch as the Albert Bartlett got underway. Santini, trained by Nicky Henderson, was the favourite at the start of the race with odds of 11/4. The next closest in the betting was Chris’s Dream at 6/1, though it was mainly people named Chris betting on it. There were twenty runners taking on the twelve fences and in the end it was delight for bookmakers when 33/1 shot Kilbricken Storm won it. OK Corral came in second at 16/1, with Santini only managing a third-place finish.
Cheltenham Gold Cup – 3.30pm
On to the big one of the entire week, then, and what a race it was. The romantics were hoping for a strong running from Edwulf, who almost died during the 2017 Cheltenham Festival and earned the nickname ‘the Equine Lazarus’ from AP McCoy. It was a wide-open field this year and Willie Mullins was hoping to take advantage of that and win his first ever Gold Cup thanks to Total Recall. Nicky Henderson was hoping to have something to say about that, having already won the Champion Chase and the Champion Hurdle and hoping to make history by winning all three during the same Festival courtesy of favourite Might Bite.
There were fifteen entrants in the end, with Native River taking an early lead. Might Bite joined up at the front relatively quickly and the two horses battled it out over all twenty-two fences. Our Duke, the third favourite, was pulled up with three to go and Native River, at 5/1, was able to hold off the challenge of Might Bite and win the Gold Cup. Richard Johnson was the jockey on the back of Native River and just a few days after the Festival wrapped up he was handed a seven day ban and a fine of £6,550 for misusing his whip during the race.
It’s always a little bit like after The Lord Mayor’s Show when the gold Cup is finished, so I’ll tell you about the remaining three races of the Festival in almost the same breath. The Foxhunter Steeple Chase was won by Pacha Du Polder at 18/1, with second-place taken somewhat surprisingly by 50/1 shot Top Wood. There was more delight for the bookies in the Conditional Jockeys Hurdle when 10/1 Blow By Blow romped home as the winner and another long odds horse – 40/1 Discorama – finished second. The entire Festival came to a close with the Grand Annual Chase, won by 10/1 Le Prezien and seeing the 25/1 offering of Gino Trail finishing as runner-up.
Most Successful Jockey – Davy Russell – Four Wins
Most Successful Trainer – Gordon Elliott – Eight Wins
Other Talking Points:
- Willie Mullins becomes Festival’s most successful ever trainer.
- Ireland had seventeen winners v Great Britain’s eleven.
- British Horse Racing Authority launches investigation after six horses die during Festival.