Brendan Duke: Cheltenham 2018 delivered just enough to match the hype

Our resident racing lover, looks back on this year’s edition of the Greatest Show on Turf and gives us a few tips for the meetings ahead…


Cheltenham done for another year. The most hyped meeting in the calendar is behind us and what did it leave us with?

Well I caught a cold. My defences weakened by four full on days, I succumbed on the Saturday. I’m almost fully recovered now though. The desolate wilderness that is my wallet may be slower to bounce back. A few near misses were as close as I got.

While, it’s obviously disappointing to lose money, we can’t measure everything in pounds and pennies (or euros and cents).

Whether Cheltenham can ever live up to its billing is questionable. If measured in sleepless nights, preview evenings and column inches the meeting probably faces an impossible task in that regard.

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It got very close this year though. The three most prestigious races were all thrillers. In the Champion Hurdle Melon found the perfect jump at the last. He headed Buveur D’Air. The head that wears the crown did indeed look most uneasy, but champions usually find a way.

Sure enough Buveur dug it out to retain the title by a narrow margin. At the time, I was fairly sure the ‘race of the meeting’ award was a done deal, but in fact the title was held only for the lifespan of a Mayfly. Wednesday served up another delight.

Douvan produced some truly breath-taking jumps down the back as he tanked to the front. Such a shame to see him come down just as the opposition began to feel the pinch.

His stablemate took up the cudgels and looked to have the favourite in big trouble. Once again though a combination of exceptional ability and a warrior’s heart saw Altior surge past Min to triumph at his third consecutive festival. Definitely the race of the meeting then?

Wrong again though at least it hung on for two days this time. The Gold Cup was one for the ages. Relentless galloping and pin point accurate jumping saw Native River and Might Bite separate themselves from the field some way out.

In the end the superior stamina of Colin Tizzard’s charge saw him home. It was a protracted and bruising battle. Both horses will have had to go to a very dark place to summon such courage.

It would come as little surprise if neither horse will ever be the same again.

Even if that does prove the case, from such darkness they produced a luminous and unforgettable race. Certainly, the best contest of the week.

Like a shark, we must keep moving forward. This weekend the flat turf season kicks off in England and Ireland. The Lincoln is the highlight of Doncaster’s card on Saturday and the Irish version will be run at Naas for the second time on Sunday.

David O’Meara won last year’s race with a cast off and holds a strong hand this year too. Lord Glitters looks a worthy favourite, but I prefer another O’Meara inmate at a bigger price. Escobar was a highly promising two-year-old.

He didn’t go on as expected last season. Difficult second season syndrome isn’t that unusual and it can often pay to follow these types as 4 year olds.

His former trainer Hugo Palmer also struggled for most of the 2017 campaign so that could also provide hope for the horse going forward.

O’Meara certainly saw something he liked and went to 100K to secure him at the horses in training sale. Hopefully he has sniffed out a spot of value and at 14/1 I think the horse looks a more than fair price to deliver an immediate dividend this weekend.

Finally, I like the look of one in the Irish National and think he’s worth backing now. Identifying likely runners here is tricky.

Plenty of the fancied horses were in action at Cheltenham and with a small window for recovery many of them will likely swerve this race.

Pairofbrowneyes won recently on his debut for Willie Mullins. He couldn’t have been more impressive and lurks on a dangerous mark for the big one at Aintree. Indeed, that was the race his trainer mentioned after the Gowran romp.

Unfortunately, his mark is too attractive and he almost certainly won’t get in to that race. He will definitely be high enough in the handicap for Fairyhouse. With Mullins desperately trying to retain his Irish trainer’s title it’s hard to see him passing up the big bucks on offer at Fairyhouse to wait for a Liverpool miracle.

Granted the penalty structure of the Irish National sees him only 1lb well in, but his trainer can be expected to eke out further improvement.

It would come as no surprise to see him vying for favouritism on the day and the 25/1 that Paddy currently offers looks a big price.

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