Cheltenham Festival 2022 Reflections

14-3-22

Monday, as I headed to Dublin Airport. I was really looking forward to Festival 2022. My Godchild Daniel was having his first taste of the Festival, and doing the four days. Daniel's enjoyment would be heavily linked to the fortunes of his heroes Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore. The atmosphere in Dublin Airport was really good with lots heading to Cheltenham. It was great to catch up with a few people at the Airport from the Irish jump racings congregation. We arrived in our Prestbury village base on a lovely day. A meal out in Cheltenham town was followed by a few social drinks with the legendary Galway crew from Ardrahan. It was great to see the boys. Daniel made the early running with a festival debutant's exuberance. The experienced campaigners looked after him in an effort to make sure he got the trip.

15-3-22

Tuesday, our numbers swelled as more comrades arrived on the first flights out of Dublin. There would be further reinforcements advancing from London. We got to the racecourse good and early. The atmosphere was electric with a thick sense of anticipation in the air. I have been back to Cheltenham several times this season. That said I could not help but think of leaving the Festival in 2020 and how grim it was. Those thoughts were pushed aside by lots of catching up with dear friends not seen since 2020. We were home again. Pleasantries completed it was showtime with the traditional start of the Supreme. What a start it would prove to be.

Constitution Hill led home a one-two for Nicky Henderson with an extraordinary performance in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham. Sent off the 9-4 joint-favourite for the Festival opener, Nico de Boinville’s mount simply glided up the famous hill to account for stablemate Jonbon, with Willie Mullins’ Kilcruit well-beaten third. The turning point of the Grade One was at the third-last flight, when the pace-setting Mullins-trained Dysart Dynamo crashed out, leaving the Henderson pair alone. This was very impressive Constitution Hill looks like a top-class horse. What I would say is I am nowhere near convinced Dysart Dynamo was done with, to be fair Dysart Dynamo did not help himself at all during the race. The winners write the history, the day belonged to Constitution Hill.

Edwardstone completed a five-timer in running out an emphatic winner of the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham. The eight-year-old, ridden by Tom Cannon, powered away from the opposition on the run to the line to give trainer Alan King a third success in the two-mile novice championship after Voy Por Ustedes in 2006 and My Way De Solzen in 2007. However, it was not straightforward for the 5-2 favourite, as he was almost brought down at the fourth fence when Brave Seasca fell, taking out Saint Sam. Then at the last Edwardstone collided with the leader Riviere D'etel, but was soon on an even keel. He showed his superiority from there by pulling clear to score by four and a quarter lengths from Gabynako. Blue Lord was three and a half lengths away in third place. Edwardstone was much the best here, it was very much a well-deserved success.

The official going description may have beeen good to soft, but race times suggests that's almost certainly incorrect. We're dealing with genuine good ground on day one in my opinion. Sadly, Shallwehaveonemore's injury in the opener proved fatal.

The Ultima was up next it was the first handicap of the week. Irish-trained runners don't have a great record in this race, while those who have previously shown strong form at Cheltenham certainly do. Corach Rambler surges after the last and darts through a gap between Gericault Roque and Oscar Elite to score. The winner came from a long way back to pick off two rivals who were prominent for some way. Corach Rambler is trained in Scotland by Lucinda Russell. The first five home were trained in Britain.  Derek Fox with an early shout for the ride of the week. It was good news for our members as Corach Rambler was advised 1pt each-way at 12/1.

It was the big race next. The Champion Hurdle, I and Daniel took our seats in the front row of the top tier stand over the Tattersalls enclosure. It was an incredible view. Thanks to Rossa who gave us the chance to watch it from an unbelievable vantage point. Daniel was confident, however, he was nervous. The emotional investment in Honeysuckle and Blackmore is huge. He loves everything about the combination, Daniel also backed it up with the biggest bet of his young career at 4/5 on the brilliant mare. The race was pretty straightforward Honeysuckle forged clear up the hill and former winner Epatante chased her home as the mares finish first and second. The places were completed by Zanahiyr who ran a cracker. It made Daniels's day he was absolutely elated. Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle got a tremendous reception from the crowd as they walked back in. It was magical moments watching it unfold in the most wonderful of parade rings. The pandemic meant Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore returned to eerie silence 12 months ago. But not today. Here's what the jubilant winning rider had to say of her remarkable mount: "She's just incredible. She kind of decides in a race when she's happy to go on, I haven't stopped her from doing that yet."She's just an incredible mare. The work that goes into her at home is unbelievable as well, Henry's got a great team of staff and they deserve all the credit for this as well." It was further good news for our members who had a 3pts win Honeysuckle at 8/11.

The Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle was up next. It looked like a good renewal to my eyes beforehand. This is a race that has come into its own after initial scepticism. Telmesomethinggirl and Blackmore got an awful fall. They crash into the fallen Indefatigable and it was fingers crossed that all are okay, as the leaders broke clear. Marie's Rock leads the charge and holds off the pack to give Nicky Henderson his second win of the festival. Queens Brook takes second with Mrs Milner finishing third. The good news is that Rachael Blackmore is showing no ill effects after what was a nasty looking fall and would ride in the next.

The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle was up next. Ridden by Paul Townend and owned by Rich Ricci who bought him from France, Gaelic Warrior was fav (and many people's banker of the week) the 13-8 price seemed a tiny one for a 21 horse handicap hurdle.  Gaelic Warrior headed for home in front of the chasing pack having controlled the race from the front. He jumped over the final hurdle in front of Brazil who really stuck at it he got up right on the line. It was a great win for Kildare trainer Padraig Roche. Bell Ex One takes third for Paul Nicholls. This was a brilliant race and good news for our members as Brazil was advised 0.75pt each way at 10/1. Brazil would have been a very unlucky loser as he got interfered with several times on the way around.

There was a small field of just six runners for the final race of the day, the National Hunt Chase which is being run for the Ukraine Appeal. This was a contender for the most boring race ever run at the Cheltenham festival. Run Wild Fred led for most of the race stalked by Stattler. Just before the last Stattler who took the lead just before the final fence and pulled away in some style. It's an impressive win for Willie Mullins and the horse looked like there was still plenty in the tank. It's Mullins' first win of the festival.

Day one was fantastic, a brilliant day's racing. A real sense of occasion as well as some good punting results. The number of False starts was incredibly irritating and nowhere near acceptable at our flagship meeting. A great fun night was had in Cheltenham town by our squad at our favourite Italian restaurant and then onto the Queens hotel for more craic. What about Daniel I hear you ask? The day took its toll he got his Pizza to take away headed home to watch replays of the days racing. That's the younger brigade for you!!

16-3-22

Wednesday, everyone was up and at it early a 700 am job for me. I don't need a lot of sleep, especially during Cheltenham when the adrenaline really keeps you going. We go again! It was day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival, and it was 4-3 to the British in the battle for the Prestbury Cup. To say the weather was bad would be very unkind to bad. It lashed rain all day. The main story of the day before the tapes went up for the first race the rain was now drenching the course. It was obvious from early in the day the ground was going to go very soft. Anyone who has watched a winter meeting at Cheltenham would know this.

Sir Gerhard was many people's idea of the banker of the week and indeed my own. Journey With Me - under Rachael Blackmore - fell at the last.  Sir Gerhard duly powered clear to win the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, with Three Stripe Life second, Whatdeawant was up for third to give Ireland a 1-2-3. An efficient performance from Willie Mullins' Sir Gerhard under Paul Townend, outstaying his rivals to justify favouritism. "He jumped like a professional today," says Mullins. "He jumped fantastically. He didn't make any mistakes. He could be a Champion Hurdle horse." I would have an open mind on Sir Gerhard. I would not be surprised if he goes over fences. It was a great start for our members Sir Gerhard was advised 4pts win at 4/5. There was 5/6 available in the ring very close to the off. The strong on the day betting market was a feature of the week.

Next up it was the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase. The Favourite Bravesmansgame was withdrawn by Paul Nicholls. I thought Nicholls was very graceless in his complaints about the watering and the clerk of the course. I think the watering made no difference, to be honest.  L'Homme Presse jumping very cleanly through the contest was a worthy winner. L'Homme Presse won it in very good style, Ahoy Senor was runner-up, Gaillard Du Mesnil was up for third. This was a gritty run from the front, efficient jumping throughout busting the French-bred trend in this race. It was a great training performance by Venetia Williams who has had a marvellous season. Farouk D'alene under Davy Russell had been in contention but fell two out. I think he was right in this, he would have stayed all the way. Farouk D'alene could be a dark one for a Gold cup next year. It was a good result for us again as L'Homme Presse was advised 1pt each-way at 7/2 to our members.

Up next was the 26-runner Coral Cup. It was one of the strangest races I have witnessed at Cheltenham. The 50-1 (!!) shot Commander of Fleet won it by a nose ahead of Fastorslow who ran a belter. Ashdale Bob took third, Camprond was up for fourth advised 1pt each way at 10/1 (he looks one for the future). It was a gruelling contest with very few getting into what is normally an ultra-competitive heat.  It was Gordon Elliott's first win of the week.

The feature race was up next, the Queen Mother Champion Chase. It was very much an anticipated rematch between Shiskin and Energumene. There was a late withdrawal of Nube Negra due to the worsening ground. As is often the case with a big build-up, the race did not deliver. Chacun Pour Soi - third last year - was setting the pace. Shishkin was pulled up before the eighth fence having never gone a yard. Chacun Pour Soi crashed out at the ninth fence.  Energumene won the Queen Mother Champion Chase in tremendous style, Funambule Sivola and Envoi Allen ran very good races in second and third. This race has eluded Willie Mullins for so long, but he adds yet another feather to his cap as Energumene and Paul Townend capitalise on Shishkin's pulling up and that Chacun Pour soi tumble to take the win. It was an anti-climax really for the neutrals; Energumene didn't have to scale the heights to comfortably close it out as conditions. I was a believer in Energumene all the way along he is an exceptional jumper of a fence. Energumene was advised to our members 1.5pts each way at 7/2, continuing a strong Wednesday.

The Cross Country was next. Tiger Roll was set for retirement after the race, he was bidding for his sixth win at the Cheltenham Festival. The ground had gone against Tiger Roll. The market had Delta Work as the favourite, but there was no doubting who the Cheltenham crowd were behind. Tiger Roll and Delta Work went at it neck and neck in a tremendous battle. It was oh, so close to the fairytale finish for Tiger Roll! He ran a great race, but Delta Work just had that bit more power at the finish on that ground and won by a length. A one-two for Gordon Elliott and some mixed feelings all around. Plan Of Attack was up for third advised at 0.5pt each way at 25/1. Speaking of mixed feelings, Michael O'Leary with the saddest interview for a winning owner ever."It's hard not to feel disappointed. A winner in Cheltenham and I'm disappointed. He's a warrior. He went out on his shield." To be honest this outcome was in play at all times Delta Work was a multiple Grade One winner. The crowd made their displeasure known with a lot of booing, which was unnecessary. There were great scenes as Delta Work and Tiger Roll enter the winner's enclosure together in the same colours to a massive ovation. Winning jockey Jack Kennedy is beaming, but Davy Russell can't hide the disappointment on his face. Tiger Roll ran a brilliant race. Go well Tiger Roll for you gave much.

It was the Grand Annual Chase next, another red hot handicap. The conditions were so bad, it was hard to separate the horses. Editeur Du Gite and Global Citizen really went for it from the front. Global Citizen at 28/1 lead from start to finish almost and while Andy Dufresne came strong on the race to the line, he could not get to the winner. Frero Banbou advised 1pt each-way 12/1 was up for third. Editeur Du Gite ran a belter in fourth.

The Champion Bumper was the finale. It looked a good renewal with Facile Vega and American Mike who both had big reputations. It was very easy in the end for Willie Mullins' horse. Facile Vega (15-8 fav) was well clear from American Mike at the finish. They are two smart horses. I also liked the third horse James's Gate with his owner sponsoring the Ballymore he looks like a nice Ante-post prospect for the Ballymore in 2023. It would not surprise me on the nicer ground if he got a bit closer to the first two here at Punchestown.

17-3-22

Day 3 of the Festival. It was my turn for an anxious wait. I had backed Allaho ante-post for the Ryanair at 9/2. I had begun that process between Cheltenham and Punchestown 2021. I pressed up after Punchestown several times. I never believed Allaho would go up or down in distance. Also, many of the shorter horses in the market realistically had never much likelihood of actually running. It was exciting, I don't believe in cashing out so it was death or glory for me.

In the opener the Turners' novice chaseNo UK runners, perhaps afraid to take on Galopin des Champs and Bob Olinger. Still, a four-runner field is disappointing for a Festival Grade 1. What happened was almost incredible. Galopin Des Champs set the early pace. Galopin Des Champs was still out in front as they passed the stands, Bob Olinger 4 lengths back. Galopin Des Champs had firmly put Bob Olinger to the sword going to the last fence. Galopin Des Champs jumped it well however he did not get his feet organised, crumpled on landing and he came down. It was so disappointing an absolute stinker.  Galopin Des Champs looks like a wonderful prospect. I think he could be a King George horse and then on to the Gold Cup. Bob Olinger won the race that is what the history books will say.

The Pertemps was up next. Third Wind (25-1) just got up to take it, with Tom O'Brien in the saddle. A second Festival win for trainer Hughie Morrison. There was a ridiculous stewards enquiry with no likelihood of a result change.  Alaphilippe, Mill Green,Winter Fog and Honest Vic filled out the first five places.

My ante-post moment arrived in the Ryanair Chase. As Allaho was bidding for glory. Allaho built up a 4 lengths lead from the outset controlling the race beautifully from the front.  Allaho runs his rivals ragged to win the Ryanair, the 4-7F. Paul Townend bounces back after his fall on the favourite in the opener. A dominant display from the winner, never headed, the slightly anxious moment at the last kept me honest - but it's back-to-back Ryanairs for WP Mullins. The banker of the week comes in! - 14 lengths clear of the rest. Townend reported afterwards: "Earlier is gone now. I'm OK and the horse is OK, we have a good horse and I was lucky in those colours a couple of years ago in the Triumph and I suppose it doesn't make it any easier but what goes around comes around. "It would make you wonder why I didn't pick him (Allaho) last year, wouldn't it? He's an animal to gallop and jump. He's just really good. I got into a lovely rhythm on him again, it was straightforward. "We took our time in learning about him but I think we've got there now. That's what he likes doing, he's built for it, look at the size of him. I'm delighted." For myself, it was a very satisfying moment my week was more than paid for thanks to this. It is a great kick when something long term like this comes off. Thank you Allaho. The job is to find next year's one now!!

The Stayers Hurdle was next. It was actually an intriguing race. Flooring Porter led early on from Royal Kahala Home By The Lee, Flooring Porter and Lisnagar Oscar. Paisley Park at the back of the field.  Flooring Porter got into a very good rhythm. Flooring Porter still leads at the last, jumps it well and pushes clear to retain his title. Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in a photo for second place. A thrilling finish to the Stayers' Hurdle, but Danny Mullins rode the perfect race on Flooring Porter to keep his rivals at bay. Another great training performance from Gavin Cromwell. I felt despite being on the right side of the resukt at Leopardstown at Christmas it was a false result on the day and the best horse lost. That is exactly how it panned out here. The scenes in the Parade ring with The Flooring Porter syndicate were fantastic. It was really joyous stuff and what Cheltenham is all about. Flooring Porter was advised 1pt each way at 4/1.

There was a heartwarming winner of the Craft Irish Whiskey Co Plate Handicap Chase. As Coole Cody surges clear to take the spoils at 22-1 for trainer Evan Williams and jockey Adam Wedge. The winner clearly likes the undulations of Prestbury Park, looked like he was going to be swamped as they approached the second last, but then he bolted up for what is his fourth win at this racecourse. Coole Cody is a horse who has done me plenty of good turns here at Cheltenham. Even though I backed Imperial Alcazar I could not help but be very happy for Coole Cody.

It was the Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle. Victory went to Love Envoi, with Jonathan Burke in the plate, the winning trainer is Harry Fry. He got home just ahead of Ahorsewithnoname, with Grangee in third. A professional performance from Love Envoi to retain her unbeaten record in fine style - a first winner for Harry Fry at The Festival since Unowhatimeanharry in 2016. I thought Grangee was a little unlucky in third she is one to take forward.

And so on to the final race on day three - the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Handicap Chase over 3m 2f. Victory goes to Venetia Williams' Chambard (40-1), ridden by Lucy Turner. A fourth win in six starts for Chambard. Mister Coffey, one of the joint-favourites, was second; Didero Vallis, another Venetia Williams runner, in third, with Gordon Elliott's Fakir D'alene fourth.

18-3-22

Gold Cup day dawned it was a beautiful day in Prestbury. A record crowd was in attendance with a brilliant atmosphere around the racecourse. The Triumph Hurdle was the first race up. The heavily backed Vauban carried the hopes and dreams of punters into the opener on the final day of the Festival. Mullins trains. Townend rides. Vauban cruised up on the stands' rail and is given the office after the last as he scores from Fil Dor and Pied Piper. Paul Townend was motionless on the winner until the last, but he was untidy at the final flight as well as a number of the other obstacles. However, his class told on the run-in. Vauban has been mentioned as a possibility for the Melbourne Cup on the Flat, while the Champion Hurdle is likely to be his main target over jumps next season. The placed horses were both trained by Gordon Elliott. The first three home were the first three in the market. Since the introduction of the Fred Winter, this really has gone from a race for outsiders to one for fancied runners. Vauban was advised 2.5pts win at 7/4. I was very impressed with Vauban he has a lot of gears.

The County Hurdle was next and the lightly raced Willie Mullins runner State Man was a well-backed 11-4 favourite in a field of 26 runners, with 18 of them trained in Ireland. Eclair De Beaufeu attempts to forge clear, but is reeled in by the closers and State Man justifies favouritism comfortably with First Street filling the runner-up spot. Colonel Mustard was third and West Cork finished fourth. With two races down, we had two winning favourites, with the placed horses also prominent in the betting. I thought State Man looked like a graded horse in a handicap, he had plenty in hand here. The merits of horse getting into these type of handicaps by the road State Man took needs to be looked at in my view, however again the winners write the history. The best horse won no question about that

Hillcrest was the Albert Bartlett favourite and runs for the executors of the late Trevor Hemmings, who loved his stayersThe Nice Guy pulls away from Minella Cocooner after the last to score. It's a one-two for Willie Mullins on a dream day for the master of Closutton. Minella Cocooner did a lot wrong in this race, despite finishing runner-up. He pulled hard and jumped poorly, ballooning many of the obstacles and hitting others on the way around, yet still finished second. Bardenstown Lad ran a belter in third for John McConnell. We obviously see that horse all the time at home. It was nice to see one of our trainers doing well. There was a sad postscript to the race as Ginto lost his life.

The Gold Cup was up next. There was no pace on in the race at all. At the end coming to the second last plenty had chances. A Plus Tard and Rachael Blackmore turned the tables on stablemate Minella Indo to reverse last year's forecast. It looked like any one of five or six could win this approaching the last. A Plus Tard eventually won by 15 lengths. Protektorat who rounded off the first three. Galvin was disappointing but the lack of pace did not play to his stamina strengths. It kind of summed up Gordon Elliott's week. Rachael Blackmore: "So overwhelmed. I just feel so lucky to be getting to ride these horses that bring you places like here." "Not every jockey gets to be in this position. Last year I had a choice of horses that came first and second in the Gold Cup - like, who is that person?!" "I just gave him a better ride than last year, I suppose," Blackmore says of reversing the 2021 placings with Minella Indo. "This is a magical place" Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to ride the Gold Cup winner. I only mention it for historical context Blackmore is absolutely exceptional in everything she does. Our sport is blessed to have her and I mean blessed.

The Hunters' Chase was up next Billaway was the 13/8 favourite. From the clouds! Patrick Mullins and Billaway got up in the dying strides - they looked beat two out. Nine winners for Willie Mullins. Heartbreaker for Winged Leader and Barry O'Neill who had it in the bag it looked. Trainer Mullins: "As much as I'm happy to win it, I feel bad for [Winged Leader trainer] David Christie. I know how it feels to lose in the last stride. And this is his Gold Cup - he's a Hunters' Chase man... but he'll be back."

The Mares Chase saw Willie Mullins have another strong hand. Elimay won it under Mark Walsh giving Willie Mullins ten winners for the week. Massive run from the second and third there. Venetia Williams' horses have ran tough all well - Pink Legend second here at a massive price. Scarlet And Dove photo-finished into third for Joseph O'Brien.

And then there was one!
The final race of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival will be the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle, going to post. Langer Dan for Dan Skelton headed the market. Banbridge took it Joseph O'Brien. Cobblers Dream, Hollow Games and Freedom To Dream filled the places. It was seven winners on the day for Ireland. A Greenwash!! Joseph O'Brien: "Mark [McDonagh] gave him a great ride. Plenty of carnage in behind us throughout the race... fantastic to get a winner, it's been a hard week. We've hit the crossbar a couple of times. It's tough to win here!"

The racing dust settled here are some final thoughts. The number of false starts is now disgraceful. There is no excuse for it at all. This is our major showpiece meeting. The BHA have to do much better. The handicaps were far happier hunting grounds for the home team the, UK handicapper did his job at levelling things up and it aided the home team. People can argue the merits of this, however, that is the reality. Market forces 16 of the 28 winners started at 3/1 or less small fields are a factor here.  Punting wise I had done well the first 3 days, however a near miss Friday meant a damp squib finish and a break even week. I will change a few things up for next year. Certain angles I have used in the past are not working as well these days so need to be changed. The Festival is evolving and that means as a punter you need to evolve with it. Willie Mullins is just incredible. I have no doubt he will train 50% of the winners at a festival before the end of this decade. The great talent of Mullins is to bring horses to a peak. It is not just Cheltenham, look at the Christmas Festivals, The Dublin Racing Festival and Punchestown. Willie Mullins is a wonderful ambassador for our sport and Ireland. I have followed him since the Florida Pearl days, it is fantastic to see him doing so well.

In my view, the only justification for a five-day festival is pure money-making. I would respect the Jockey Club far more if they just state that. There are two factors that have not been given any consideration that I have heard. 1 If Cheltenham got a wet week could the track take five days? The jury is out for me. 2 What about the local population? the festival turns the area upside down. Cheltenham town centre was good on Tuesday and Wednesday, however, Thursday night was not the same vibe with the Police out in force. I saw a number of arrests being made walking around. The price of things at the racecourse has been heavily discussed. This is actually a non-issue for me as I drink very little at the races. It goes with the territory the prices. There has been much discussion about the singing on Friday again I find this to be odd as the vibe was the end of the festival for me. The atmosphere in the racecourse all week was people delighted to be out. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience at Festival 2022. My godchild Daniel a festival debutant said in the taxi on the way to Birmingham " I can't wait for next year's festival" Cheltenham has him now!!