1. The final flight
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Though all the hurdles at Cheltenham are the same height – regardless of whether they are on the New Course or the Old Course – some have claimed a larger share of the limelight over the years, most notably the final flight.
Considering the size of the liabilities that bookmakers claimed at the time, it’s a surprise that a blue plaque wasn’t erected after the final hurdle fall of Annie Power in 2015.
Whilst that costly crash came on the Old Course, it was the New Course that claimed another victim on Saturday as Brewin’Upastorm hit the deck.
While Birchdale was alongside, Brewin’Upastorm had yet to be asked any questions at the time by jockey Richard Johnson and, having dictated just a modest pace throughout, he may well have had plenty left in the tank.
The New Course has a slight peculiarity in that most of the hurdles are jumped early on in the race, with only two hurdles being jumped in the last seven furlongs, the last being just a furlong and a half from the winning line.
As a result, a good (or bad) jump at the final obstacle can be even more crucial than is usually the case.
It’s impossible to say who would have won on Saturday, but the two were miles clear at the time, and it’s evident that in both Champ and Birchdale, Nicky Henderson and J.P. McManus have leading candidates for the novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival.
2. Like father, like son
There have been many famous horse racing dynasties down the years, the likes of Willie Mullins and David Pipe both examples of trainers who have followed in famous footsteps.
Shoes don’t come much bigger to fill than those of Aidan O’Brien, but his son Joseph is having a good crack at it, the young trainer clearly adding a great deal of skill and experience to the added bonus of having good horses to work with.
Officially, the 2016 Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov was a sixth Cheltenham Festival winner for Aidan, however, all the credit went to Joseph, who had looked after the horse prior to getting his own license, and O’Brien Jnr looks to have several leading candidates as he seeks a first Cheltenham Festival winner in his own name.
Le Richebourg’s form is rock-solid, and he looks sure to go off favourite for the Arkle if winning the Irish version this weekend, while Triplicate could be the sort to bounce back in the spring with big runs in either the Supreme Novices’ or the County Hurdle.
Meanwhile, new contenders emerged for the Triumph after an O’Brien one-two in the Finesse Hurdle on Saturday.
Fakir d’Oudairies never looked like failing to land the huge morning gamble, and dented the form claims of the best of the British-trained juveniles in the process, while his stablemate Fine Brunello ran a blinder in (a distant) second, considering he looks the sort to come into his own over further in time.
3. The bigger picture
It’s easy to judge people/horses/places on one experience, and while there is some truth in the well-known saying about first impressions, sometimes it’s wise to stand back and look at the bigger picture.
Before Saturday, Paisley Park’s previous trip to Cheltenham had resulted in a heavy defeat in last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since that day (his sole appearance in headgear).
Perhaps it was the memory of that effort, or the fact he’s not trained by one of the big names, but it was a surprise to see him sent off at 100/30 for the Cleeve Hurdle, despite having beaten most of Saturday’s rivals comfortably in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot the previous month.
Paisley Park is the first Grade 1 winner to reside at Lavelle’s Wiltshire yard, but the yard knows how to train winners at the Cheltenham Festival, and Paisley Park has now leapfrogged last season’s Stayers’ Hurdle winner Penhill in the ante-post market for this year’s race.
Mind you, while connections of the Willie Mullins-trained horse will have been impressed by Saturday’s winner, the beaten horses in behind hold no fears, and it looks a two-horse race at this stage (three if Supasundae runs).