Reflections on the 2017 Cheltenham Festival

Last Updated March 19 2017, 16:47Racing

Min v Altior, Altior v Douvan, Douvan v Yorkhill or none of the above. Ian Ogg looks back at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.

Festival form

It gets trotted out in plenty of the Festival previews but how much attention do we really pay to it? 

Of course, it doesn't take into account how many horses in each race fitted the bill (no, I haven't checked either) and even in this attritional sport you'd hope that the Grade One horses would return year on year.

The roll call is still impressive though with handicap winners Un Temps Pour Tout (9/1), Tully East (8/1), Arctic Fire (20/1), Supasundae (16/1), Rock The World (10/1) and Domesday Book (40/1) all in action at previous Cheltenhams.

Take out the Fred Winter and it's only the Martin Pipe, Pertemps and the Plate (where the second, third and fourth had all done it before) that escaped previous Festival runners.

Cause Of Causes is now a three-time winner and there's stablemates Tiger Roll and Apple's Jade as well as Pacha Du Polder and your Sizing Johns, Altiors, Buveur d'Airs, Special Tiaras, Yorkhills etc.

Special delivery

Special Tiara's victory must have been very sweet for Henry de Bromhead despite Douvan's desperately disappointing display and it was no surprise to hear the trainer describe him as 'a legend'.

At 10 years of age, this was his fourth Champion Chase having finished sixth, third and third in previous renewals and was a welcome highlight in a week which saw three former stablemates in Sizing John, Supasundae and Domesday Book all won races.

Horses changing stables is all part of the game and De Bromhead has been a beneficiary this season with Petit Mouchoir, Sub Lieutenant and Champagne West all winning big races for the yard but it still can't be easy watching them win for someone else so it's just as well De Bromhead had Special Tiara to focus on as well as the highly promising Albert Bartlett runner-up Monalee who travelled like a good one but lost out to the battle hardened Penhill.

Noel Fehily was on board Special Tiara having already won the Champion Hurdle on Buveur d'Air when filling in for the injured Barry Geraghty as he did on Stayers' Hurdle third Unowhatimeanharry and (potentially) on Gold Cup second Minella Rocco. It's a strange game at times.

Min the marvellous

Min may have been denied the opportunity to take revenge on Altior for last season's defeat in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle but his form was still franked.

Not seen since winning the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day by an impressive nine lengths, those behind him did the race proud.

Runner-up Ordinary World was a respectable third in the Arkle while third home Road To Respect fairly dotted up in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate and the sixth and last Tully East won the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.

Not a bad return by any stretch of the imagination.

Keeping everything firmly crossed that everyone makes it through the season in one piece, there could be some head-scratching about where best to place Willie Mullins' stars next season.

Min looks all speed but there's been plenty of talk about letting Douvan move up in trip while Mullins hailed the free-running Yorkhill as a potential Gold Cup horse but perhaps he could end up in the Ryanair Chase as a result unless Djakadam is dropped back to the intermediate trip but then there's Un De Sceaux.

The Champion Chase betting is currently 2/1 Altior, 3/1 Douvan, 10/1 Yorkhill and 12s Min with Yorkhill 10/1 for the Gold Cup and Douvan at 12s while it's 10/1 the pair for the King George with Djakadam twice that price.

Making the grade

Following graded race form in handicaps has proved popular but rather like backing horses that have run at previous Festivals, it's not easy finding the right one.

Tully East and Road To Respect, who Noel Meade had wanted to run in the RSA Chase, both tick that particular box as does former Champion Hurdle second Arctic Fire. 

So, too, does the 'worst horse' that Michael O'Leary owns in Champagne Classic who was third in a Grade Three behind Coral Cup eighth Tin Soldier. Supasundae ran in last year's Supreme and had his previous two runs in graded races, Un Temps Pour Tout and Rock The World are graded race veterans.

Flying Tiger warmed up for the Fred Winter by running in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton and it was only the controversially handicapped Presenting Percy and Domesday Book that prevented a clean sweep.

Festival firsts

While Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson fire in winner after winner after winner you can lose sight of how difficult it is to get on the board at the Cheltenham Festival.

As Mullins himself said after Un De Sceaux's victory: "There wouldn’t be any fun in winning over here if it was easy."

There are any number of leading British based trainers who would agree with that sentiment which makes the achievements of Pat Kelly stand out even more. 

You can count the number of horses in Kelly's yard on your digits but Presenting Percy made it two winners from as many runners at the Festival before last year's Pertemps hero Mall Dini let the side down in only finishing fifth in the Kim Muir.

Stuart Edmunds has made a big impression in a relatively short space of time since taking over from the late Renee Robeson and was understandably over the moon after seeing Domesday Book fight back to deny Pendra with jockey Gina Andrews saying: "This has literally been my lifetime ambition, just to ride here never mind win." 

Spare a thought for Pendra (17th, 3rd and 5th in previous visits) and trainer Charlie Longsdon who were so narrowly denied a first Festival success two days after Willoughby Court provided the trainer's brother-in-law Ben Pauling with his first.

It was a fine training performance from Pauling who admitted to running Barters Hill in the wrong race last season but thankfully for him, he didn't have to wait too long to right that mistake.

Nick Williams has had to wait rather longer since Maljimar lost out to THAT ride from Sir Anthony McCoy in 2009 and one suspects that the celebrations following Flying Tiger's victory will have been all the better for it.

As Robbie Power said after the Gold Cup: "I was 25 when I won the 
 National and thought I would win everything. I’m 35 now and realise I’m not going to win everything."

Whichever level you're operating at, winning is never easy.

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