Cheltenham Festival Countdown – 5 Great Races. As every Cheltenham passes by we call it better than the last, and although this year’s Festival will take place behind closed doors we’re still set for some unforgettable performances.
However, races from yesteryear always seem to get better with age and with the 2021 Cheltenham Festival almost upon us, we’ve dug into the recent history books to pick out some memorable performances from Festival favourites.
Despite arriving at Cheltenham unbeaten as a chaser, Footpad still had something of a point to prove in what looked a red-hot Arkle. He’d beaten Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown a few weeks earlier by five lengths, but given that was Petit Mouchoir’s first run of the season there was plenty, who thought Petit Mouchoir could improve again.
Footpad delivered a superb performance at Cheltenham thanks to a super-cool ride for Ruby Walsh. His first Cheltenham winner since returning from injury just a week earlier.
Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados set a rapid pace from the front which was never going to last in the conditions. Ruby knew that, and made his move at the top of the hill to cruise into the lead when jumping the second last before cantering up the hill, barely off the bridle.
It was a breathtaking performance that confirmed he was a much better chaser than a hurdler.
It was billed as the second coming of Jesus Christ, and it proved to be not far wrong.
Samcro was the horse given the biggest billing heading into the Festival and was tipped up as the Irish banker. However, as a novice hurdler, he had to win at Cheltenham to fulfil his growing reputation. Blowing away the field in Ireland was never going to be enough.
Deliver he did, and in some style as well.
He was given an excellent ride by young Jack Kennedy, one way beyond the years of a teenager, having Samcro in the right place at the right time all the way round Prestbury Park.
Some will argue that given the billing he wasn’t exactly breathtaking, which may be fair comment, but it’s all about being first past the post isn’t?
It was the changing of the gears on the sweep for home that sealed the hype for many punters, going past good horses as though they weren’t even racing.
He could have been better at the last, but in the end, he was going away at the line with plenty still in the tank.
Altior (2018 Champion Chase)
On paper, the 2018 renewal of the Champion Chase looked a classic, and it didn’t disappoint.
It was perhaps the number of question marks over the race that made it so exciting from a spectators point of view. Would Altior be okay after pulling up lame on Monday, was the old Douvan back, could Min reverse the Supreme form?
Throw in the progressive Politologue and last year’s winner Special Tiara and you’ve got a real race on your hands.
AP McCoy had spoken earlier in the week on ITV Racing about what Martin Pipe told him about recognising a good racehorse. “A horse with plenty of one’s next to his name” was the response and in Altior, there is no better example of that theory in practice.
However, it didn’t all go to plan on the day. In fact, if you had been an in-play punter watching through a bookmakers Cheltenham live stream as they went down the back at Cheltenham, your money might have been moved to a bet on Douvan. He looked to be flying and taking one stride for everybody else’s two, that was until he came down, much to punters’ disappointments, when leading at the fourth from home.
That still didn’t open any doors for a pushed along Altior, with Special Tiara, Politologue and God’s Own all still in-front of him.
Three fences from home and the pressure was on with Nico niggling away in the saddle as Min and Ordinary World came up beside him in third.
Sweeping for home with a quick reminder, it looked as though his race was over.
Until, as if by magic, the sound of the Cheltenham roar brought him to life – “This is my stage and I’m going to own it.”
Switching to the outside in a race winning move from Nico de Boinville, he jumped the second last with real grit and started to turn on the power heading up to the last.
Touching down together with Min, he drove up the famous Cheltenham hill to scenes of utter jubilation in the crowd, as he extended his lead to win by an impressive seven lengths.
What a racehorse. What a performance. To pull off a victory like that, when turning for home it appeared that your chance was pretty much dead and buried, was sensational stuff.
He’s a Cheltenham hero, no doubt about that, and a great training performance from Nicky Henderson to get him to perform like that after being lame just two days previous.
Tiger Roll (Cross Country)
Racing fans have always been fascinated by the Cross Country and many attend the Wednesday of the meeting at Cheltenham to see it in the flesh.
Given a great ride by Keith Donoghue, he was up with the pace for the whole way around the gruelling Cross Country course, quickening up smartly around the turn for home to bank a third Cheltenham Festival victory.
Quite remarkably his three Cheltenham Festival wins at that point had come over three totally different distances. 3m 6f for the Cross Country, 4m for the National Hunt Challenge Cup the year previous and 2m 1f for the Triumph Hurdle in 2014.
Not many will have a claim to that kind of record.
Native River (Gold Cup)
When it comes down to a ding-dong battle, the 2018 Gold Cup will live long in the memory.
Despite having a field of 15 runners, there were only ever two that got involved. Challenging each other at the top of proceedings from pillar to post. It was a spectacle that will be replayed for some time yet.
It wasn’t perhaps a vintage Gold Cup, but it was certainly an intriguing one to watch as Might Bite and Native River went hoof-to-hoof.
Coming over the second last, it looked like it was Might Bite’s to lose as he came up beside Native River, seemily cantering all over him.
In the end it was the heavy ground after the last that did away with his chance, finishing 2nd, but let’s not take anything away from Native River.
He was fantastic on the day, and much like his jockey Richard Johnson he had a heart of steel that wasn’t letting anybody past.
The pair were made for each other.
Much like ITV and Sky Sports Racing presenter Matt Chapman had been asking for all season, Johnson got Native River out in front, firing him over fences at a non-stop gallop.
It was steeplechasing at its finest, and a thoroughly deserved winner in both the horse and jockey departments.
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