Klassical climbs to the top of novice hurdling ranks
The opening race of the meeting set the tone for what was a week full of emotional stories, with Klassical Dream (154) winning the Supreme in the colours of John Coleman, for whom it had always been a dream to own a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. Sadly, Coleman passed away in July, but there will likely have been many a pint of Guinness raised in his memory on St Patrick’s Day, and his family and friends could yet be toasting many more big days with Klassical Dream. Indeed, he is now Timeform’s top-rated novice hurdler and has the physique and demeanour to suggest that he will come even more into his own if going over fences next season.
Similar comments apply to City Island (151p), who took the marked step up in grade in his stride to beat the standard-setting Champ (148p) in the Ballymore, and the Albert Bartlett hero Minella Indo (147), who was typically the lowest-rated of the three Grade 1 novice hurdle winners at the meeting. Meanwhile, Pentland Hills (146p) ran out a ready winner of the Triumph following the sad injury to Sir Erec, and he remains open to further progress given that that was only his second start over hurdles, with the potential there to win races back on the Flat, too.
Frodon establishes himself amongst the elite over fences
Bryony Frost and her loyal companion Frodon (167) lit the touch paper on a thrilling Thursday at this year’s Festival, when putting on a typically swashbuckling display to win the Ryanair. In the process, Frost became the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 at the meeting, though she was keen to deflect credit to the horse, who put up a performance – speaking strictly in terms of ratings – that would have been good enough to finish third in the Gold Cup. Whether he could repeat that form in such different circumstances (notably the longer trip) remains to be seen, but we could find out next year, when a potential crack at the blue riband will be in the offing.
The 2019 renewal went the way of Al Boum Photo (170), a first Gold Cup winner for Willie Mullins who is young enough (still only seven) to make an impact in the race for a season or two yet. Such longevity is by no means assured, however, and it is that point that makes the feats of Altior (180p) and Tiger Roll (165) at this year’s Festival even more remarkable. Indeed, that pair each became four-time winners at the meeting, when landing the Champion Chase and Cross Country, respectively, and neither show any signs of slowing down yet.
More roller-coaster ride than walk in the Park
Emotions at Cheltenham on Thursday were already running high after Frodon’s success, but they went through the roof following the Stayers’ Hurdle just 40 minutes later, with Paisley Park (166p) adding another amazing chapter in the well-publicised story of owner Andrew Gemmell. Blind since birth, Gemmell relies on the racecourse commentary to learn how his horses are faring in their races, and he wouldn’t have liked what he heard as the field turned in, with Paisley Park still around seven lengths down with as many rivals ahead of him. His extraordinary surge to the front from that point is testament to the freakish brilliance of this mere seven-year-old, and he will surely add his name to the list of multiple winners of the race in years to come.
Meanwhile, what to make of a Champion Hurdle in which none of the trio who dominated the market were anywhere to be seen at the finish? It certainly makes the race harder to assess, but winner Espoir d’Allen (170) clearly improved stepping up to championship level for the first time, beating last year’s runner-up Melon (162) by 15 lengths, and there is no reason to doubt his new status as a top-class hurdler until proven otherwise, with eight wins from nine starts to his name overall.
One to watch
The winners of the three Grade 1 novice chases at the meeting – Duc des Genievres (165p) in the Arkle, Topofthegame (162p) in the RSA and Defi du Seuil (157p) in the JLT – all produced efforts well up to standard for their respective races, but the horse who created the deepest impression in this sphere was arguably A Plus Tard (161p). He produced a performance of staggering authority to win the novices’ handicap, jumping impeccably and surging away from his rivals in the straight in a way that suggested he’d have been a major player in any of the Grade 1s. Still only a five-year-old and in his first season in Ireland, it’s hard to say quite where his limit may lie.