The Racing Week That Was 15-3-20

This week's blog will focus on the Cheltenham Festival 2020.

10-3-20

Day one of the Cheltenham Festival 2020. The Coronavirus hung heavily over the meeting.

A field of 15 runners went to post for the traditional Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser, with the Willie Mullins-trained Asterion Forlonge sent off the 9-4 favorite. The grey made much of the running under Paul Townend, but jumped violently right three flights from home, impeding some of his rivals, while at the following obstacle his stablemate Elixir D’Ainay exited the piece and brought down Captain Guinness. So impressive in winning his last two starts, Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin had long been towards the top of ante-post lists but drifted out to 6-1 come the off. Despite never traveling with much fluency, he began to make inroads on the leaders racing down the hill and tracked the strong-traveling Abacadabras into the home straight. The pair settled down to fight it out on the run-in and flashed by the post almost as one before the judged confirmed the Nico de Boinville-ridden Shishkin the winner by a head. The winner’s stable companion, Chantry House, was third. I think you can mark Shiskin up a fair bit for this given his troubled run in the race. Fiddlerontheroof ran no race. Asterion Forlonge jumped appalling a really dreadful round.

It was the Arkle up next, Prolific mare Put The Kettle On showed the boys the way home in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy. Despite having won four of her previous five starts over fences, the Henry de Bromhead-trained six-year-old was a 16-1 chance on what was her first competitive appearance since landing the Arkle Trophy Trial over the course and distance in November. Ridden by Aidan Coleman, Put The Kettle On was always close to the pace and was in front rounding the home turn, with Fakir D’oudairies her nearest pursuer. The latter did himself no favours by walking through the second fence from the finish — and while he tried his very best to bridge the gap racing up the hill, Put The Kettle On refused to bend and passed the post a length and a half to the good. Rouge Vif ran a fine race in third, with the winner’s stablemate Notebook — the 5-2 favorite on the strength of successive Grade One wins at Leopardstown — ultimately disappointing. I think if Fakir D’oudairies had jumped the second last better he could have won. Fakir D’oudairies was advised 1.5pts each way at 4/1.

The Conditional clung on grimly to emerge victorious in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham. A winner over the course and distance in October, David Bridgwater’s charge went on to fill the runner-up spot in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury before placing fourth when favourite for the Classic Chase at Warwick in January. The eight-year-old was a 15-2 chance on his return to Prestbury Park and traveled strongly for much of the thee-mile-one-furlong journey in the hands of a confident-looking Brendan Powell. There was a scare for The Conditional’s supporters at the second fence from the finish, but he winged the final obstacle and galloped all the way to the line to hold the persistent challenge of Kildisart by diminishing neck. Discorama and Vinndication, the 11-2 joint-favorites, finished third and fourth respectively. It was a great result for our members. The Conditional was advised 1pt each-way at 9/1 wins Kildisart advised 1pt each-way 10/1 placed.

Epatante justified strong market support to provide trainer Nicky Henderson with a record eighth victory in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. Few would have marked the six-year-old down as a likely contender for the two-mile hurdling crown following an abject display in the Mares Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. However, after following up on a sparkling seasonal reappearance at Newbury with an equally impressive success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, the JP McManus-owned mare was sent off the well-supported 2-1 favorite. Always traveling well in the hands of Barry Geraghty, Epatante loomed into contention before taking over the lead from Darver Star at the final flight. Sharjah came from a long way back to throw down a challenge on the run-in, but Epatante never looked in serious danger of being caught and passed the post a facile winner — much to the delight of the majority of the crowd. Henderson was completing a double on the day, having earlier landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Shishkin, and is once again the winning-most trainer in Festival history with 66 winners, one clear of Willie Mullins. Epatante was advised to our members 1.5pts win at 7/2.

Honeysuckle got the better of Benie Des Dieux in a titanic tussle for the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. The Willie Mullins-trained Benie Des Dieux claimed the Grade One prize in 2018 and looked sure to follow up 12 months ago until suffering a crashing fall at the final flight. Having since won Grade Ones at Punchestown and Auteuil before making a foot-perfect comeback in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park, she was the 4-6 favorite to regain her crown, despite facing a serious rival in Henry de Bromhead’s 9-4 shot Honeysuckle. Unbeaten in seven previous starts, including a victory in last month’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, the six-year-old traveled strongly for much of the way under Rachael Blackmore but looked at the mercy of Benie Des Dieux in the hands of a motionless Paul Townend racing down the hill. However, Honeysuckle quickened the better of the two rounding the home turn to steal the advantage, and try as she might, Benie Des Dieux could not get back on terms in the straight, with half a length separating the pair at the line. This was sure won by Rachael Blackmore's move at the home turn nipping up the inside, it was a brilliant piece of race riding.

Imperial Aura justified strong market support to win the Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase for Kim Bailey and David Bass. Second twice at Cheltenham already this season, he was sent off the 4-1 joint-favorite and stayed on powerfully up the hill. For the second time in the afternoon, Davy Russell turned into the straight with a double handful — this time on Galvin — but once more he had to settle for second best on the other market leader. Imperial Aura relished the climb to the line, pulling three and a quarter lengths clear. Hold The Note was third, Whatmore was up for fourth. Hold the Note was advised 1.5pts each way at 10/1 placed.

Jamie Codd saluted the crowd after claiming a third win in the National Hunt Chase aboard the Gordon Elliott-trained Ravenhill. Previously successful in the race aboard Cause Of Causes (2015) and Le Breuil (2019), Codd rode a waiting race on this occasion before allowing his mount to join the pacesetting Lord Du Mesnil for the lead. There was little to choose between the pair jumping the final obstacle, but 12-1 shot Ravenhill had that bit more in the locker and was well on top at the finish, scoring by a shade over two lengths. Elliott said: “It’s brilliant — Jamie gave him a great ride. I was worried about him staying, so we said we’d hunt away. I’m very lucky to have Jamie riding for me — he’s a star.“He traveled brilliantly and I’m absolutely thrilled to have a winner after hitting the crossbar a couple of times.“He’ll go straight to the Irish Grand National now.”Red-hot favorite Carefully Selected never threatened to land a telling blow and was booked for minor honors at best when parting company with Patrick Mullins at the final fence. Lord du Mensil advised 1pt each-way at 7/1 placed.

11-3-20

Day Two of the festival

Envoi Allen lived up to the hype with a supreme display in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Unbeaten in seven career starts heading into the opening race on day two of the Festival — including in the Champion Bumper last season — the Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old was settled on the inside by Davy Russell. At one point it looked as if long-time leader The Big Getaway had slipped the field under Paul Townend coming down the hill, with only Rachael Blackmore covering the move on Easywork, who had been keen enough. But an ice-cool Russell has not gained the experience of over 20 years in the saddle for nothing and began to make ground just before the turn for home. On the long run to the last, the 4-7 favourite quickened impressively and powered four and a quarter lengths clear up the hill. His stablemate Easywork stayed on gamely for second, with The Big Getaway third.

Elliott said: “He was our best chance of the week. Everyone was here to see him and he did everything he needed to do. He jumped, he stayed and when he got to the front, he did what he had to do. “He was bit tired after the race and knows he had a race today. Davy said they went a proper gallop and he showed how good he is. When he swung off the home turn I thought he was too far out of his ground, but listen both our horses ran great races, Easywork in second and him winning — it was brilliant.“He was our big runner of the week, so there was big pressure on us. I have to discuss it with the owners, but we will enjoy today and see what happens. He was bought to be a three-mile chaser and that’s all I’m saying.“I’d imagine Punchestown will now be the plan. It wasn’t an easy decision (to go for this race over the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle), but thankfully it worked out right.”

Russell said: “He’s just a marvellous horse. It’s great to be associated with him.“It’s a hard one to call. When he settles he switches off the engines and runs in neutral for a lot of the race. You don’t know when to pick him up then, because if you set him alight early he could do too much.“These horses are hard to come by, so we will enjoy today. Hopefully he can keep progressing and he will have to, as in this game you can’t rest on your laurels and you need to keep improving.“His attitude (I was impressed with). He has taken everything in — it is quite a long way to the two-mile-five start and it is a good test of a novice.“He travelled when I needed him and he jumped fantastic. If he wasn’t as good as I thought he was he wouldn’t have won, as I gave him plenty to do as in they had stretched and gone a good gallop and the ground is dead.“He had to work for it, and that’s what you get when you get a good horse.“Today was just perfect.”

Chris Richardson, managing director owners Cheveley Park Stud, said: “He has just confirmed what everybody thought he was — a proper champion.

For me personally this was a brilliant performance. It also resulted in an excellent financial result for me. I backed Envoi Allen at 17/2 for this race. Starting last April right through the summer. I was joined on this journey with my brother Dave. These days almost never come off but it did on this occasion thankfully. It was some thrill when Envoi Allen was surging to the last hurdle. I love everything about this horse, he jumps, he has tactical speed and a real will to win. It is a long time since I have felt as strongly about a horse I was not directly involved in. Envoi Allen joins Florida Pearl, Istabraq, Moscow Flyer, Jezki, Bregawn, Klairon Davis, Vautour, Don't Push It and Kauto Star on my personal legends list. It was also a good start on day two for our members 4pts win 5/4 on Envoi Allen.

The RSA chase was up next what a race this was. Barry Geraghty produced one of the special Cheltenham Festival rides as Champ came from the clouds to deny Minella Indo and Allaho in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase. In what looked like a re-run of last year’s Albert Bartlett, Allaho and Minella Indo were prominent throughout if both just doing a little more than their riders perhaps wanted at respective stages of the race. Coming down the hill towards the third-last there were nine runners still in with a chance, with the two Colin Tizzard inmates, Copperhead and Slate House, the first to give way. Davy Russell had charted a wide path on Battleoverdoyen, but cut out quickly before the second-last, as the front two went clear. Minella Indo had just got the upper hand when making a mistake at the last, giving Allaho another chance, but all the while Geraghty was asking Nicky Henderson’s Champ — who was always thought to have been named after Sir Anthony McCoy — for more. Almost 10 lengths down at the last, the 4-1 chance began to eat up the ground and what had looked impossible started to seem inevitable half a furlong from home, as he powered between the two Irish raiders, winning by a length from Minella Indo. This was an absolute killer, to be honest with Minella Indo advised 1.5pts each way at 9/2 placed Allaho advised 1pt each-way at 4/1 placed.

The Coral Cup was up next Dame De Compagnie justified strong market support in the Coral Cup to continue a golden start to the Cheltenham Festival for Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson. With three Grade Ones already in the bag courtesy of Shishkin, Epatante and Champ, Henderson showed he is just as adept at getting one ready for a handicap. The unexposed mare was sent off the 5-1 favourite on the back of an easy win in December, a race that later saw Henderson appeal the fact she was put up an extra 2lb due to collateral form. The panel found in his favour and she was allowed to run off her initial rating. In the end she had two and a quarter lengths to spare over Gordon Elliott’s Black Tears, with Thosedaysaregone third and Cracking Smart fourth. These types of races at the festival are great for bookmaker concessions. One came to our aid here as Bachasson got up for the sixth place special 1pt each-way at 33/1. The members also had Dame De Compagnie 1pt each way at 10/1 she was really well backed into 5/1 fav.

The Queen Mother was the feature race. Politologue led his rivals a merry dance to win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase in tremendous fashion. With the late withdrawals of Altior and Chacun Pour Soi, it appeared Defi Du Seuil faced a relatively simple task given the way his stellar season had gone. But while he was sent off the 2-5 favourite, Barry Geraghty was sending distress signals out a long way from home and he never looked like getting on terms. Remarkably, the winner and stablemate Dynamite Dollars were the first runners of the meeting for Paul Nicholls and he filled the first two places in one of the biggest races of the week. Harry Skelton — riding at the request of owner John Hales — was positive in front on the grey, making his fifth Festival appearance with his previous best coming when second to Altior in this 12 months ago. The result barely looked in any doubt once he got loose coming down the hill and the chance had nine and a half lengths in hand crossing the line. Defi Du Seuil trailed in a well-beaten fourth. It was the fifth time for Politologue to race at the Cheltenham Festival, he very much deserved his day in the sun.

Easysland denied dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll a fifth Cheltenham Festival success as he ran out an impressive winner of the Glenfarclas Chase over the cross-country course.Tiger Roll was sent off the 8-11 favourite to win the race for a third successive season for Gordon Elliott and Keith Donoghue, but on this occasion, he found a rival four years his junior too sprightly. Bought by JP McManus after winning over the course in December, Easysland (3-1) had since won at home in France for trainer David Cottin. Ridden by Jonathan Plouganou, he was never far from the pace — but did take the odd chance at a few fences, jumping low. Tiger Roll was given every chance by Donoghue, but the 10-year-old could never quite reel in the long-time leader and once the result looked inevitable, he was allowed to coast home in his own time, with the front two well clear. Easysland crossed the line 17 lengths to the good, with Out Sam, a stablemate of Tiger Roll, a further 18 lengths away in third. Donoghue jumped off Tiger Roll on crossing the line, and after being given plenty of water he was perfectly fine, walking back to the stables having been unsaddled. Another old favourite, Might Bite, traveled well for a long way before dropping away on the final circuit. The win provided McManus with a third of the afternoon thanks to Champ and Dame De Compagnie.

The Boodles Fred Winter handicap hurdle saw the fourth winner on the day for JP McManus. The race went to Aramax who landed a few good bets (11/1 -15/2)It also produced a remarkable result for Gordon Elliott who saddled three of the first four home and five of the first nine home.

Willie Mullins got off the mark for the week at the Cheltenham Festival when Ferny Hollow downed better-fancied stablemate Appreciate It in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. It had been a frustrating first two days to the meeting for Mullins, who hit the crossbar a few times and was forced to rule Chacun Pour Soi out of the Queen Mother Champion Chase on the morning of the race. Paul Townend, riding as first choice jockey for Mullins in his own right for the first time this season, was also suffering, but he gave Ferny Hollow (11-1) a nerveless ride having been last in the early stages. He met trouble in running coming down the hill as Patrick Mullins moved stablemate and favourite Appreciate It into the box position, but the market leader had no answer as Ferny Hollow powered home to win by two and a half lengths. Mullins has now won the race 10 times, having struck first in 1996 with Wither or Which, a horse he rode himself. Queens Brook finished third advised to our members 1pt each-way 6/1.

12-3-20

Day 3 Of The Cheltenham Festival.

Samcro edged out Melon — and Faugheen — in a thrilling race for the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. The 2018 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner has had a chequered career since that Festival highlight — but returned to his best in a finish that had just about everything. The pair battled it out up the famous hill and it could have gone either way, but in the end, it was the Gordon Elliott-trained Samcro (4-1) who snatched the verdict on the line under Davy Russell. Faugheen — with the packed stands willing him on — was right behind the first two in third spot, with Mister Fisher fourth. Sent off the 3-1 favorite, Faugheen was away smartly, but Reserve Tank and Poker Play made the early running before Melon joined the leaders before the fifth fence. There was early drama when Itchy Feet blundered and unseated Gavin Sheehan at the sixth fence. Samcro travelled well and there was all to play for until Faugheen made a mistake three out that cost him ground at a crucial time. It left Samcro and Melon ahead of the pack with the former, wearing the Gigginstown House Stud colours, prevailing by a nose, as Faugheen rallied to be just another length behind. This was a great result for our members Samcro was advised 1pt each-way at 13/2. Melon was advised 1pt each-way at 14/1. I was convinced Melon won when they went past the post. Faugheen lost nothing in defeat and was carried out on his shield.

The Pertemps final was up next Sire Du Berlais led home a Gordon Elliott one-two as he recorded back-to-back victories in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham. Continuing a fine Festival for Elliott as well as jockey Barry Geraghty and owner JP McManus, Sire Du Berlais (10-1) was revitalized by wearing blinkers for the first time. The Storyteller, Sire Du Berlais and Tout Les Permis jumped the last virtually together, and it was the first two from the Elliott stable who pulled away. Sire Du Berlais, carrying top-weight, got on top close home to land the spoils by half a length. Tout Les Permis was six and a half lengths away in third place, with Third Wind fourth and Relegate a never-nearer fifth. I thought Relegate got an odd ride but I would say that our members had a 1.5pts each-way bet at 7/1.

Min was finally a winner in his fourth Cheltenham Festival when grinding out victory in the Ryanair Chase. Always in the front rank, the Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old held the late challenge of Saint Calvados to take Grade One honours under Paul Townend. Min, owned by Rich Ricci, was accompanied by Frodon upfront in the early stages until last year’s winner started to lose touch, although he kept going for fourth. Shattered Love and Aso were others unable to keep pace with Min, who turned up the tempo with Riders Onthe Storm falling three out when trying to get into contention.A Plus Tard laid it down to Min (2-1) from that point, but the 7-4 favourite could not find what was needed from the final fence.Saint Calvados was the last to challenge but the post came in time for Min, who crossed the line a neck to the good. A Plus Tard was a length and a half back in third. Min who has spent years knocking heads with Altior was another horse like Politologue earlier in the week who deservedly got his day in the sun at Cheltenham.

The Stayers hurdle saw yet another boil-over. Lisnagar Oscar caused a 50-1 upset as reigning champion Paisley Park disappointed in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Making smooth progress on the near side, Lisnager Oscar hit the front before the final flight in the hands of Adam Wedge, to put trainer Rebecca Curtis back in the big time. Lisnagar Oscar galloped on strongly up the hill to hold the challenge of Ronald Pump (20-1) by two lengths, with Bacardys (33-1) a further three lengths away in third place. Apple’s Jade had set a decent gallop and opened up a big led until she came back to the field after the third-last flight. The runners bunched up, with several horses in with a chance two out, but it was Lisnagar Oscar who proved strongest to claim the coveted prize. Last year’s winner Paisley Park looked to be in trouble some way out and faded to finish seventh. There is some talk about an irregular heartbeat but that remains to be seen. Apples Jade was retired after the race go well you gave much.

The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate was up next this is a race that has been very good to me and our members. It was not the case this year. The race went to what seemed to be everyone's handicap good thing Simply The Betts who ran out a convincing winner for Gavin Sheehan at 10/3.

Concertista maintained Willie Mullins’ 100 percent record in the five runnings of the Daylesford Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham with a wide-margin success. Just touched off by stablemate Eglantine Du Seuil 12 months ago, Concertista went into this race still a maiden — but put that right in emphatic fashion. Daryl Jacob brought the six-year-old, owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, with a powerful run in the straight and the 9-2 chance shot past stablemate Dolcita as she and stormed up the hill to win by 12 lengths. Rayna’s World passed a host of rivals on the run-in to grab a third-place for trainer Phil Kirby and jockey Thomas Dowson at odds of 100-1. It was a great race for our members Concertista was advised 0.5pt each way at 10/1. Dolcita was advised 1pt each-way at 9/1.

The Kim Muir completed the card. It went in a very impressive style to Milan Native for Gordon Elliott. This was an annoying result as I had been with Milan Native a few times during the season. Plan Of Attack placed for the members 1pt each-way 10/1 and Fitzhenry landed the each way placed special at 12/1.

13-3-20

Day 4 of the Festival

A strange atmosphere as premier league football was canceled the night before. There were serious concerns being raised if Cheltenham should be racing. The action on the track started with the Triumph Hurdle. A dramatic renewal of the JCB Triumph Hurdle saw Goshen crash out at the final flight with the race at his mercy — leaving Burning Victory to record an unlikely success at Cheltenham. Ridden by Jamie Moore for his father, Gary, Goshen looked set to run out a brilliant winner when he approached the last well clear of the opposition, after surging ahead from two out. But there was a miscommunication and he appeared to just clip the top of the last, causing him to jink one way and giving Moore no chance of staying on board, the situation was compounded by Goshens front shoe and back shoe sticking together. Allmankind, who had given the strong-traveling Goshen a lead and had most of the field under pressure, tried to rally, but Burning Victory, who had been ridden patiently, emerged to have her say. With Goshen gone in dramatic fashion, Paul Townend took his opportunity and the Willie Mullins-trained Burning Victory (12-1) stormed up the hill to score by two and three-quarter lengths. Aspire Tower was second, with Allmankind three-quarters of a length away in third place. Goshen looks a serious tool it was another painful blow for ourselves Goshen was advised 1pt each-way at 4/1

Saint Roi landed a gamble to continue a superb Festival for connections with a convincing victory in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.Saint Roi may have been lightly-raced, but money talked and the JP McManus-owned five-year-old delivered in style. Coming to the last, Embittered held every chance, as did a few others, but the Barry Geraghty-ridden Saint Roi was going best of all and the 11-2 favourite pulled away to win decisively by four and a half lengths.Willie Mullins also saddled the runner-up, Aramon, with Gordon Elliott’s Embittered a head away third and another of the Mullins’ team, Buildmeupbuttercup, another head back in fourth.Riding his fifth winner of the week, Gearghty said: “He was electric, for a horse with little experience, the pace they went, he was very good. Willie was sweet on him and he’s not a bad judge.“It’s what you dream of, you come here and one winner is all you want. It’s brilliant when they keep coming. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a privileged position to ride such good horses for good people and it is a pleasure.

Monkfish stuck to his task in tremendous style to win a thrilling race for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and give Willie Mullins a quickfire hat-trick at Cheltenham. The 5-1 chance was always prominent and even a mistake three out could not stop the progressive six-year-old. Four of the fancied horses were in with a shout coming with the last, but it all got a bit tight and Thyme Hill was squeezed for room. Monkfish looked third-best at one stage, but he battled on gamely for Paul Townend and put his head down to beat Latest Exhibition by a neck, with Fury Road a nose away in third. Thyme Hill was a length and a quarter away in fourth after having to be switched. It was a double for Townend after his win on Burning Victory in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. This was another killer of a result that could have easily bounced our way. Latest Exhibition was advised 1pt each-way at 6/1 and Fury Road 1pt each-way at 12/1.

Al Boum Photo galloped into National Hunt folklore as he joined the elite band of horses to record back-to-back victories in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Giving Willie Mullins a fantastic four-timer on the day, Al Boum Photo (100-30 favourite) had to dig deep to see off the opposition in a close finish up the famous hill. Al Boum Photo, Santini, Lostintranslation and Real Steel had led the pack heading to two out, where Presenting Percy fell. Paul Townend set sail after the last and the winning post came just in time as Santini closed the gap to a neck at the line. Lostintranslation was a length and a quarter away in third place, with the always-prominent Monalee fourth and Delta Work fifth, having struggled to get into contention following a mistake at the second fence. The result gave Paul Townend a treble on the day and Willie Mullins a four-timer. For our members, this was another crossbar moment. Santini was advised 1.5pt each way at 5/1 running a blinder, coupled with Monalee 0.5pt each way at 20/1 who picked up the fourth place special money.

It Came To Pass caused a mighty 66-1 upset in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup at Cheltenham. It was a family affair, as the winner is trained in County Cork by Eugene O’Sullivan, who sent out Lovely Citizen to take this prized hunter chase in 1991, and was ridden by his daughter, Maxine. Marcle Ridge made the running and soon had the runners stretched out before he came back to the field and was headed three out. Shantou Flyer went on under his owner David Maxwell, but it was not long before It Came To Pass came on the scene with a well-timed challenge. The 10-year-old put daylight between himself and his rivals and had 10 lengths to spare over 11-4 favourite Billaway at the line. Shantou Flyer was five lengths away in third, with Staker Wallace another three and a quarter lengths back in fourth. Staker Wallace traveled great but we had to settle for the 0.5pt each way at 8/1 (4th place special)

Chosen Mate was the punters’ friend as he justified strong market support to lift the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase. Gordon Elliott’s seven-year-old cruised into the lead at the third-last under Davy Russell and held a clear advantage at the final fence. He got in a bit tight to the obstacle, but it made no difference and the 7-2 favourite powered up the hill to win by a length and three-quarters from Eclair De Beaufeu.Us And Them was three and a half lengths back in third, with Greaneteen a neck away in fourth. Elliott said: “He definitely could win a graded race. I said if you can get him in rhythm over his first four fences he will win. Thankfully he won.“Robbie Power was going to ride him, but then Davy decided he wanted to ride him and I’m thrilled he rode him, as he is a brilliant jockey and I’m lucky to have him.” For us, Jan Maat had a great chance going to the second last down on his nose he went.  Jan Maat could not recover from that. Ballywood ran well for us but sixth was as good as it got.

Indefatigable got up in the final strides to give trainer Paul Webber his first Festival winner in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. Last in the early stages, Indefatigable (25-1) weaved her way through the field and she was only fifth at the final flight. Column Of Fire came down when holding every chance after Great White Shark made a lot of the running. Pileon looked like capitalizing on Column Of Fire’s dramatic exit, but Indefatigable had the rail to help her and she inched her way to glory by a short head in the hands of Rex Dingle to defy top-weight. Great White Shark was three lengths away in third and Happygolucky and another neck back in fourth. The last flight fall of  Column Of Fire produced one last kick in the backside our only bet in the race 1.5pts each way he would have gone very close to winning if not actually winning.

So that was the 2020 festival. Willie Mullins top trainer, Paul Townend top jockey. A brilliant performance from Ireland in general. A star born in Envoi Allen. Al Boum Photo will look to follow in Arkle and Best Mates hoofprints and win three gold cups on the spin. This festival will always be shrouded in should it ever have been run due to the unfolding COVID-19 crisis. Life and racing may never be quite the same again only time will tell.