1. The Young Ones
In The Young Ones, Neil, Rick and Mike were more predictable than Vyvyan, but it was Ade Edmondson’s character who was the most popular, his erratic behaviour marking him out as a favourite.
At Cheltenham this weekend, the unreliable sorts were in fashion once more, with The Young Master producing back-to-back wins for the first time since 2014 and Nietzsche landing the Greatwood from out of the handicap, the first time he’d made the frame since winning at Catterick back in January 2017.
Both were well handicapped on their old form, and it shows the importance of having a bit up your sleeve when it comes to these big meetings.
2. Wide open space
Clearly, volunteering to ride half-tonne animals over large obstacles may suggest that it takes a certain person to be a jumps jockey, but Paddy Brennan showed that he’s got plenty between the ears when adopting the Christophe Pieux approach this weekend, taking several mounts noticeably wide on the course in order to race on better ground.
It paid off, too, with Red Hot Chilly landing a competitive novices’ handicap hurdle and Coolanly winning a Grade 2 hurdle on the first day, and then Needs To Be Seen running well above himself the following afternoon.
It shows the value of considering all aspects when backing a horse, with some jockeys worth their salt and others worth much less.
3. Jumping Jack Flash Mark Grant
He may be less sought-after than a soft Brexit, but Mark Grant managed to turn his 27th ride of the season into a win, grasping success from the jaws of defeat, thanks to a fantastic sit at the second-last in Friday’s novices’ chase.
Count Meribel hit the fence harder than a Boris Johnson football tackle, and Grant was thrown out of the saddle, forward over the horse’s neck. Luckily for those who supported the 4/1 chance, Grant managed to cling on, and – when White Moon departed at the last – his mount found plenty up the hill to see off Le Breuil.
“He’s as good as I’ve ridden,” was Grant’s assessment of Count Meribel after he had provided his jockey with his first ever win at the track, drawing him level with Olympic eventer Tina Cook, former RUK broadcaster Lorna Fowler, and moving him one ahead of Victoria Pendleton.
4. Wonderful Williams
Another British eventer, Vicky Laing, won the St Patrick’s Day Derby charity race at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, on a horse trained by Ian Williams. And the Midlands-based handler saddled a high-profile double on Saturday, with First Assignment and Speedo Boy both advertising the trainer’s expertise with improving handicappers (and exploiting their underestimated handicap marks).
Ballyalton gave the yard its first Festival winner when landing the novices’ handicap at the 2016 meeting, and it won’t be long before Williams – who has saddled a horse to win at every racecourse in the UK – has a Grade 1 breakthrough if he continues on the same upwards trajectory.
He has had a career-best 63 winners on the Flat in 2018, and is already on 16 – just six shy of last season’s total – for the current jumps season.