CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL REVIEW

by Guest Blogger

3/21/2016 6:42:38 PM


Written by Adam Morgan (@Adam­­_Morgs), a sports journalism graduate from Derby who describes himself as a lover of all sport including cricket, football and of course horse racing.

We wave goodbye once again to the Cheltenham Festival for another year after being spoilt to four phenomenal days of National Hunt racing which touched on every emotion of the human body.

You had the initial anger with Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins for the rerouting of Vautour. The relief and joy when Annie Power stormed up the hill and finally got her Cheltenham victory. The sheer emotion and poetry of Sprinter Sacre rolling back the years and the triumphant scenes that met him in the winner’s enclosure after. On Thursday you watched in awe as first Vautour and then Thistlecrack blitzed the opposition in the main events. And to wrap the week up you had the heart stopping drama of Cue Card going down when looking like mounting a challenge in the big one, then PENDO mania to finish the week off!

There was so many stories this year you could fill a 239 page book but let’s have a look at some of the horses we can look forward to in the future.

ALTIOR stormed up the hill in the Supreme Novices to easily account for the scalp of MIN. It is easy to envisage Nicky Henderson's charge returning in 12 months’ time to line up against the big boys in the Champion Hurdle. To get there I can see a return to Cheltenham for the International in December or a trip to Kempton at Christmas where he could get his first crack at Faugheen.

The other Henderson Supreme chance BUVEUR D'AIR was an eye-catching third and a chaser in the making and will surely lead the home defense in the 2017 Arkle. His chief opposition could well be YORKHILL who took the Neptune with ease and could be a star in the making. This horse could be anything and could be a Gold Cup horse in time. For now Willie Mullins needs to decide whether he goes fencing or sticks to timber where he then becomes an obvious player for next year’s Champion Hurdle.

What do we make up MIN? I'm loathed to write him off too early. On the bare looks of his run on Tuesday he is no Douvan or Vautour but I still think he has a bright future and I’m inclined to think this strong traveler could be seen to better affect with a step up in trip. 3 mile is maybe stretching the petrol tank but 2m4f at Aintree should give a good indication of what the future has in store for this 5 year old.

ANNIE POWER finally got her Cheltenham victory when 'doing a Dawn Run' on her rivals but even Mystic Meg would struggle to predict where she will end up in the future. The Aintree hurdle seems perfect for her over two and a half miles and I hope they bring her back across the Irish Sea for this. If not then the stable has a ready-made winner for the race in Champion Hurdle third NICHOLS CANYON who was not disgraced last week. The Graham Wylie owned 6 year old was an impressive winner of the novice event over course and distance at Aintree last year and could easily turn up under the radar from a punting point of view for this. Moving forward I expect him to be next year's World Hurdle horse and to be the main challenge for the returning Jezki by the time March comes around.

DOUVAN was the most impressive Arkle winner since SPRINTER SACRE and following the latter's spectacular revival on Wednesday you are left salivating at the thought of next December's Tingle Creek and next year’s Champion Chase. It would be some effort for an 11 year old to defend his crown and this would be a fitting swansong for the champion to hand over the baton to his younger rival to take forward.

Elsewhere on the card on the Tuesday VROOM VROOM MAG did as expected and I would love to see her return chasing next year. Melling Chase please next Willie. Whilst MINELLA ROCCO looked a national type for the future when getting every inch of the 4 miles in the National hunt chase.

With the National in mind then you have to take HOLYWELL and CAUSE OF CAUSES with you in your Aintree notebook, HOLWELL loving every minute of his return to spring ground and with his beloved blinkers back on whilst CAUSE OF CAUSES will be racing without a penalty for his destruction job on a decent if not incredible Kim Muir field.

YANWORTH was the main disappointing horse on Wednesday and I’m not sure we saw a true reflection of the horse in the Neptune. He was beaten by a potential superstar on the day but Barry Geraghty got himself into plenty of trouble and the horse failed to quicken as impressively as he had previously. It will be interesting where they go next, Alan King likes having runners at Aintree and the 2m4f novice contest on the Saturday seems ideal to give 'the orange machine' a chance for redemption.

There were some good juveniles on show in the Fred Winter with the Paul Nicholls pair of DIEGO DU CHARMIL and ROMAIN DE SENAM two to look forward to next season. Over in Ireland, the last hurdle fallers of VOIX DU REVE and CAMPEADOR are two to take out of the race and go into the notebook maybe for Punchestown whilst MISSY TATA is one to watch for the Mares programme in Ireland next season.  The Triumph was an Irish benefit and produced an impressive winner in IVANOVICH GORBATOV who I’m hoping turns out to keep improving against his elders next season. Runner up APPLE'S JADE was the only horse able to keep up with the victor and could come back to try and continue Mullins’ dominance in the Mares race next season.

You had to like the way BALLYANDY fought on up the hill to land the bumper and is one I can see coming back Neptune bound next season as a novice hurdler whilst you will have to respect what the strong travelling BATTLEFORD could do over timber.

Thursday was all about the breathtaking performances of both VAUTOUR and THISTLECRACK who destroyed their respective fields in the Grade 1 features. Not much needs saying about how they won apart from Wow, but what a proposition for next season if the Gold Cup is on the agenda. VAUTOUR vs THISTLECRACK vs DON COSSACK (and whisper it quietly in case he hurts himself) and a returning CONEYGREE

DON COSSACK did as ratings suggested he should and there can be no complaints that the best horse in the race won. However, we will never know what CUE CARD had left in that petrol tank and one would think father time will be against the enigmatic chaser if he was to return for one last crack at the big one in 12 months’ time. DJAKADAM looks to be the perennial bridesmaid but is still young enough to maybe get his day in the spotlight if a monsoon was to arrive next March.

The three mile division is further deepened when you add in the main protagonists from the Novice events this year. BLACKLION is the tough, battle hardened type that never goes away, with BLACK HERCULES in a similar mould who shall surely step back up to three miles now for the Wylies alongside the consistent SHANESHILL. BLACKLION could be a Charlie Hall horse early season when Nigel Twiston-Davies' horses traditionally fly followed by the Cotswolds’ chase along the route back to the festival. BRISTOL DE MAI I feel will eventually make a 3 mile chaser and the extravagant ‘lepper’ went down on his shield when faltering up the hill in the JLT. I expect them to stay at 2 and a half miles for the future and could be a November Gold Cup horse back at HQ before going down the Ryanair 2017/Gold Cup 2018 route as an older, stronger horse.

LIMINI is a little monster and it will be fun following this one on her flat outings in the summer with the Mares Hurdle for next year looking the obvious target for 2017.

Two to take out of the Martin Pipe for novice chasing next season are the winner IBIS DU RHEU and FLYING ANGEL who are both finally getting to grips with the game.

Of the beaten horses over the last two days, L'AMI SERGE ran a blinder in the JLT but was running on fumes coming up the hill and a return to 2 miles is surely in order now. IF IN DOUBT was perhaps the unluckiest loser of the week and could easily make amends in the similar 3 mile handicap hurdle at Aintree whilst CHAMPERS ON ICE never runs a bad race and seemed to handle good ground well enough to suggest a Sefton Novices Hurdle bid could be next.

BARTERS HILL was disappointing in the ‘potato’ race and one just wonders if the horse was fully right on the day and will still be one to look forward to next season for the likable Ben Pauling. AUX PTITS SOINS ran a blinder in the World Hurdle for a horse that hadn't ran for a year. If the bounce factor doesn’t strike, a Liverpool Hurdle bid looks on the cards and is a novice chaser in the making for next season.

Gold Cup wise, SMAD PLACE did as expected and faded quickly and the best chance of getting that Festival victory the horse deserves is to surely just light him up in the Ryanair and jump them into submission. He is also the most obvious National horse you will see however you can't blame connections for not wanting to take a chance. DON POLI was majorly disappointing and it was a surprise how badly he handled conditions and I doubt the Aintree Bowl as muted will suit, with ROAD TO RICHES for me looking the much more likely Gigginstown horse to claim that prize.

Finally I always counted myself lucky I grew up with the festival victories of Kauto Star, Denman and Big Bucks but this year’s memories surpassed those and then some. National Hunt racing is booming and we've got the biggest race in the world only three weeks away.