Cheltenham Reflections …

March 18th, 2018 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

Hi there!

The first thing to say is that I expect Cheltenham’s clerk of the course Simon Claisse is sleeping more easily after what must have been a very stressful few weeks leading up to the Festival.

There is obviously a limit to what he can control when it comes to the weather, but he can respond to its effects by covering certain areas and other forms of husbandry. However had the meeting fallen a week earlier or a few days later I suspect we would still be waiting for the fourth day to take place.

By the end, though, I am not sure what the ground was really like. We had horses that were thought to be unsuited to easy conditions running well and winning – none more so than Mohaayed in the County Hurdle – and the horses were not finishing with the wide intervals that one normally associates with testing ground.

Then, on the other hand, we had Jessica Harrington describe the ground after the Gold Cup as “appalling”, with her stable-jockey Robbie Power suggesting that Supasundae would have won the Stayers’ Hurdle had the rain kept away.

Overall I was surprised, from the outset, at how well the horses were coming home. On the first day the winning distance of every race apart for the Arkle was half-a-length or less, while the horses were still finishing quite well on the remaining three days.

I am sure a few results would have been different on the more traditional ground we expect from the meeting, but it is significant that the ‘right’ horses dominated the leading races. The favourites won the Champion Hurdle, Arkle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Gold Cup went to the strongly-fancied Native River.

Here are some brief observations from what proved to be a truly stimulating week of action.

I was delighted that Summerville Boy won the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but have to add that I have never seen a horse that jumped so badly win this fiercely competitive race. His mistake at the second last cost him about three lengths and a loss of momentum, but he showed tremendous courage up the hill to catch the gallant Kalashnikov.

Willie Mullins had been extolling the talents of Footpad since his chasing debut back in November and his opinion was vindicated in no uncertain terms. Talk of the Gold Cup is, though, rather premature given the horse’s Flat-based pedigree.

The big mystery of the week, for me, was the market support for Melon. Hammered from around 14/1 to 7/1, he ran way above the form of his previous three starts and I can only assume he had been doing something special at home. This was real inner sanctum stuff and it would be good to know the reason why he attracted such strong support.

The winner Buveur D’Air had to get down and dirty, suggesting that Nicky Henderson’s concerns that the horse may be a race short of full fitness were well founded. Looking at what’s around he will be hard to beat again next year.

I was sorry to see Ms Parfois just get mugged in the National Hunt Novices’ Chase. The mare put in some mighty leaps, possibly losing the race with an error at the second last. Mister Whitaker justified the confidence of Mick Channon by defying concerns about the ground in the Close Brothers Handicap.

Samcro did everything expected of him in the Ballymore without totally blowing me away. I like the way Aye Aye Charlie plugged on at the finish. He is not in this class, but has a future in staying chases down the line.

I became very keen on the chance of Presenting Percy as the race approached. The seven-year-old had the form, the jockey, the stamina and the ground in his favour. He will be rated in the mid to high-160s after this and that could see him creep into the Gold Cup picture.

I was very impressed with the way Altior won the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Turning for home I thought he was beaten and mindful that he had only just come back from a breathing operation wondered what he would find, but in responding so gamely from the last he showed he has the courage to match his ability. It was a shame to see Douvan depart four from home. He was looking on very good terms with himself at the time.

Tiger Roll was another horse to defy concerns about the ground while on the third day it was frustrating to see Glenloe pipped on the line by Delta Work. Had the runner-up jumped any one of the last three hurdles better he would probably have held on.

Cloudy Dream ran another sound race in the Ryanair, confirming yet again that when he has the chance to race on genuine good ground he will land a decent race.

In the Stayers’ Hurdle the ground just went against Supasundae, but then again it should not have suited the winner Penhill, but the week’s most impressive winner was Laurina, who looked a different class to some useful mares in the Trull House Novices’ Hurdle. She is built to jump a fence, but connections are entitled to consider the Champion Hurdle route on this evidence.

Apple’s Shakira was a rare setback for the heavy hitters in the Triumph Hurdle after racing too freely. Nicky Henderson says she will wear a hood next time, possibly at Aintree.

Everything came right for Native River before the Gold Cup. In fact I was surprised that he didn’t start favourite, but the strength behind Might Bite and Our Duke held the fort.

This was a wonderful spectacle, with Might Bite and Native River looking in a different class to their rivals. The big question was always going to be what Might Bite would find up the hill, and it was no surprise to see him empty on the testing ground from the last.

Next season, on the going more typically associated with this meeting, I expect him to reverse the form. Nico de Boinville may be thinking he should have waited for longer, or held his mount up off the pace, but I don’t think that would have made much different because the winner keeps finding for pressure and probably had more to give.

I thought Djakadam ran another great race despite confirming that he doesn’t get home here at Cheltenham. Total Recall would have gone well but for falling three from home.

Finally, one horse to take away from the meeting is Dolos, who ran in the concluding Grand Annual.

I ambitiously made him my *** bet of the meeting but he is only five and everything was happening too quickly for him in the first mile. At one point he looked like being tailed off, but he made steady late ground from the second last to finish a never-nearer seventh. Keep his name in your notebook.

Bye for now