It may have been curtailed a little but the 2019/20 National Hunt season was still a belter and top man Mick Fitzgerald gives us his 10 best moments.
1. Chepstow, October 2019
The Silver Trophy on the Chepstow card that marks the start of the jumps season always has to be taken seriously as a form guide. And not just for the winner, either.
Flash The Steel won it but the runner up Champagne Court won its next two starts, while the third Imperial Aura went chasing and then won at Fakenham and the Festival. The fifth, Indefatigable won the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle at the Festival, with sixth-placed Ballyandy won the Haydock Champion Hurdle trial.
Bold Plan finished 10th and went on to land a huge gamble at Haydock Park and Beaufort West won who was a place behind, won its next two starts. Paul Nicholls Greaneteen went up 17lbs over the season with wins at Fakenham and Musselburgh before finishing fourth in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham. Even Zanza who pulled up at Chepstow, won at Newbury next time and ran a solid race sixth in the Betfair Hurdle four months later.
Definitely a race to keep an eye on in the new season.
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2. Christy 1965 Chase, Ascot, November
Altior v Cyrname was billed as a match and it didn’t disappoint. Cyrname claimed the scalp of the record holding Altior and broke his 19-run winning sequence. A lot has been said since then, but riding a Nicky Henderson-trained horse first time out on bad ground against a Paul Nicholls-trained one and my money would always be on Paul’s.
Unfortunately my allegiance to Altior ruled my head as Cyrname won! The race defined both their seasons. Altior’s King George plan was aborted but he bounced back to win at Newbury in the Game Spirit Chase just before the Festival.
However, he missed the Champion Chase hat-trick bid while Cyrname flopped in his next two starts also showing that the race took its toll on both of them.
3. Tingle Creek, Sandown, December
The might warriors Un de Sceaux and Defi du Seuil served up a thriller with the younger Defi Du Seuil just coming out on top with Waiting Patiently flashing home to finish third.
Despite no Altior or Chacun Pour Soi, Defi Du Seuil blotted his copybook in the Champion Chase when fourth of five to Politologue, while Un de Sceaux was retired and returned to France this week.
4. Welsh Grand National, Chepstow, December
🏆 What a performance from Potters Corner to win the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow in attritional ground!pic.twitter.com/a7psC9ZopC
— ODDSbible Racing (@ODDSbibleRacing) December 27, 2019
The feature race of the Christmas meeting at the Welsh track is a day that trainer Christian Williams and jockey Jack Tudor won’t forget in a hurry. The 17-year-old jockey looked very polished when pulling off a remarkable feat aboard Potters Corner for his Welsh trainer, who had ridden Denman to a couple of wins when a jockey with Paul Nicholls.
A great day for Wales.
5. Cheltenham, New Year’s Day
“TAKE YOUR PICK!” 😱
A three-way photo at the line in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase @CheltenhamRaces and it goes the way of Harry Skelton!
🥈 Saint Calvados
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) January 1, 2020
New Year’s Day at Cheltenham and the Paddy Power Handicap Chase saw a three-way ‘go’ to the line where a nose and a nose separated them at the finishing post.
The Skelton’s Oldgrangewood came out on top with St Calvados in second and Lalor, rejuvenated by headgear ran a blinder to finish third. What a way to start 2020!
6. Dublin Racing Festival, February
Faugheen created the biggest buzz of the 2020 Dublin Racing Festival when bravely fighting off stablemate Easy Game to win the Flogas Novice Chase at the age of 12
— Racing Post (@RacingPost) February 2, 2020
Faugheen rolled back the years to win the 2m 5f Novice Chase and returned to an unbelievable reception in the Leopardstown winner’s enclosure.
Plenty feared the worst for him when he fell at the second last when running over hurdles 14 months earlier, but won three novice chases at the vteran stage of his career, before going on to finish third to Samcro at Cheltenham in March.
7. Supreme Novices Hurdle, Cheltenham, March
It’s a week since The Festival 2020 @CheltenhamRaces got underway with a thrilling Supreme Novices’ Hurdle:
🥉 Chantry House pic.twitter.com/TjUJ1uvlqo
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 17, 2020
There’s no way any season review can be complete without the Festival and there were four particular highlights for me. The opening Supreme Novices Hurdle had everything.
A drifting ante-post favourite in Shishkin, a front-runner in Asterion Forlonge who kept jumping to his right and knocked out a couple of big players in the process and and the classy Abacadabras whose rider Davy Russell must have thought he was going to win, before Shishkin and Nico de Boinville prevailed in a photo-finish.
What a way to start the opening day.
8. RSA Chase, Cheltenham, March
Week five in lockdown:
Still wondering how Champ won the RSA 💨 pic.twitter.com/h5ZmhCl6oy
— ODDSbible Racing (@ODDSbibleRacing) April 26, 2020
On the Wednesday, we witnessed a minor miracle as Champ came from way back to dive between Minella Indo and Allaho late on to land the RSA Chase.
9. Marsh Chase, Cheltenham, March
Samcro is back!
What a finish and what drama in a thrilling Marsh Novices’ Chase.
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 12, 2020
The Marsh Chase on Thursday offered Samcro his shot at redemption after a stop-start campaign since winning the Neptune Novice Hurdle two years earlier impressively.
On the run to the line, the Gordon Elliott runner got his head in front after a mighty tussle with Melon with Faugheen the Machine back in third.
10. Gold Cup, Cheltenham, March
I’ve saved the best for last though and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
No horse since Best Mate had won back to back Gold Cups and Willie Mullins took the same route with Al Boum Photo to try and repeat his 2019 win.
Market rival Santini had the headgear on to sharpen him up and Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation was on a retrieval mission but Tizzard’s yard hadn’t performed all week.
The first horse to win back-to-back Gold Cups since Best Mate in 2004!
— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) March 13, 2020
As they turned for home there were lots with a chance and with Paul Townend committing early – it was game on. Santini battled hard up the hill but ran out of real estate as the line came just in time for a worthy champion.
Having waited so long for a Gold cup win – suddenly Willie Mullins had won two-in-a-row.