Horse Racing: 5 things we learned from the Cheltenham Festival

You learn something new everyday, tbf.


1. Respect Gordon Elliott’s runners in handicaps

Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott won exactly half of the Festival’s races between them with seven victories apiece. But the make-up of their individual totals was very different. While Mullins had a single success in handicaps, Saint Roi giving the yard a fifth win in the County Hurdle since 2010, Elliott struck in no fewer than four such races.

Aramax took the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (in which Elliott also saddled the third and fourth), Sire du Berlais won the Pertemps Final for the second year, with stable-companion The Storyteller runner-up, Milan Native justified support as the stable’s only runner in the Kim Muir, and favourite Chosen Mate led home another Elliott one-two, from Éclair du Beaufeu, in the Grand Annual.

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2. Festival and course form is hard to ignore

Al Boum Photo was the most notable former Festival winner to be successful again when becoming the first since Best Mate to win back-to-back Gold Cups. A similar feat was accomplished by Sire du Berlais under top weight in the Pertemps Final, while stablemates Envoi Allen and Samcro were others winning at the Festival for a second time.

Four more winners – Champ, Politologue, Min and Concertista – had all been runners-up at least once at previous Festivals, the last-named going one better in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in which she had been beaten a short head on her hurdling debut at odds of 66/1, 12 months earlier.

Six more Festival winners this year had been successful at other Cheltenham meetings within the preceding 12 months, including Plate winner Simply The Betts who had beaten the subsequent novices’ handicap chase winner Imperial Aura in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase on Trials day in January.

Altior wins Queen Mother Champion Chase
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3. Results suggest Altior was missed

The Queen Mother Champion Chase was perhaps the most eagerly anticipated race of the Festival, so it was disappointing that both Altior, seeking a hat-trick in the race and a fifth Festival win in all, and Chacun Pour Soi were both late absentees.

The result of the Champion Chase certainly made Altior’s absence look all the more regrettable given that winner Politologue had finished behind Altior in the two previous renewals. More recently, Altior had comprehensively beaten the Champion Chase runner-up Dynamite Dollars in the Game Spirit at Newbury. The Ryanair Chase, won by Min, was another contest to go the way of one who’d been no match for Altior in past encounters.

tiger roll wins cross country

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4. Tiger Roll’s Grand National hopes took a knock

Unlike Altior, Tiger Roll at least got the chance to register a fifth Festival success when sent off at odds on to land the Glenfarclas Chase over the cross-country course for the third year running. He’d been a devastating winner in 2019 before following up in the Grand National for the second year, but produced a below-par performance on Wednesday which was an undoubted blow to his chances of making history next month.

Possibly still needing the run on his second start after a setback earlier in the season, Tiger Roll was no match for younger French rival Easysland in the closing stages, weakening tamely on the run-in and by all accounts finishing very tired.

Conditions on the cross-country course were more testing than on the racecourse proper, the race taking more than nine minutes to run for the first time in its history, so the heavy ground was a plausible excuse.

honeysuckle mares hurdle

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5. Excellent Festival for mares

With the addition of a chase to the two hurdles already reserved for them, there will be three opportunities for mares to compete against their own sex at next year’s Festival. In that context, the fact that no fewer than five females were able to win in open company at Cheltenham last week was significant.

Four years after Annie Power, Epatante became the fifth mare to land the Champion Hurdle, and there could have been an all-female one-two-three if Honeysuckle and Benie des Dieux had not contested the Mares’ Hurdle instead.

Burning Victory became the first filly to win the Triumph Hurdle, albeit very fortuitously, since Snow Drop in 2000, while Put The Kettle On’s Arkle success was the first in that race by a mare since Anaglogs Daughter in 1980. Dame de Compagnie in the Coral Cup and Indefatigable in the Martin Pipe were the other mares to be successful.

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