The roar

I HAVE been a little disparaging of the famous Cheltenham Roar in the past, but standing on the steppings of the stand as the field set off for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, I have to admit that rumours of its demise have been exaggerated.

The volume of sound, not only at the start of every Festival contest, but also as the runners passed the stands on the first circuit of races, was remarkable, and the atmosphere was undoubtedly enhanced by such vocal support.

Of course, not all cries from the stands were cheers of approval, but the booing from the crowd when fan favourite Tiger Roll was pipped in the Glenfarclas Cross Country was largely of the pantomime variety, and the first reaction in the Press Room was a collective laugh at such antics.

Some felt that Jack Kennedy was being disrespected for a fine winning ride, but while I’m sure it was water off a duck’s back for the successful jockey, there were some strange opinions expressed about what he should have done when his mount came to challenge.

Nonetheless, the overall impression taken of the general crowd behaviour was positive. While there tend to be complaints that many of the younger generation merely come racing to drink and socialize, my view of the stands and the lawn facing the track during racing was one of massed ranks of enthusiastic racegoers enjoying the sport in the way that it should be enjoyed.

Farewell to a Legend

TIGER Roll’s non-participation at Aintree is a great shame given the enthusiasm he showed in attempting to win his fourth Cross Country at the Festival, but that debate has been closed, and now is the time to celebrate the little gelding’s remarkable career, in which he has won five races at the Cheltenham Festival, and finished second twice, as well as winning on both tries in the Grand National.

To see him go out on his shield after the rain had appeared to ruin his chance of a fairytale ending was a genuinely emotional experience, and Patrick McCann’s photo of Tiger Roll and Delta Work walking side by side back to the winner’s enclosure is undoubtedly the image of the week in my view.

The result was described by more than one person as “quintessential Michael O’Leary”, but while there was much annoyance that the person spoiling the perfect ending for Tiger Roll is the man who wanted it most.

Plenty of people I’ve spoken to thought that Elliott and O’Leary should not have run Delta Work for that very reason, and one fresh-faced journalist even asked the winning jockey if he’d considered not going past, which got the answer it merited, even if it was a question many were thinking.

Spoiled party

I couldn’t disagree more with the sentiment that O’Leary spoiled his own party.

If Tiger Roll has become a legend, it is because of the difficulty he has faced in winning a range of demanding races, and while the majority were willing him to win again, to demand that his task should have been made easier is to miss the entire point of competition.

Gordon Elliott and Michael O’Leary’s attitude to the Cross Country, as with any other race here, was to find a way to win, and entering Delta Work was absolutely the right decision with that goal in mind.

Defeat does not confer shame, and by being beaten in a truly epic battle, I believe Tiger Roll gained much more honour than if he had been handed a walk-over.

The watering

Poor Jon Pullin has had a bit of a kicking during his first Cheltenham Festival as Clerk of The Course, but he deserves sympathy rather than condemnation.

No doubt Pullin does watch Countryfile, and while Paul Nicholls got his notion of Wednesday’s rain from John Craven’s agricultural oracle, those of us who kept checking online forecasts during racing on Tuesday were concerned that the precipitation originally forecast at the weekend was beginning to disappear from updated predictions.

The truth is that Pullin wasn’t unaware of the impending rain, but that he was concerned than a lack of rain would cause the going to become quicker than good on day two of the Festival, with Constitution Hill’s course record in the Supreme suggesting that the ground must have been faster than the official report for the opening day.

I was not surprised to see the taps go on at 6pm, but I was surprised when the expected drizzle on Wednesday did not ease off, but became progressively heavier.


There is an issue here as to whether a reluctance to race on genuinely good, or good to firm ground is a case of racecourses being too conservative, and the surface on Wednesday would not have been unsafe without watering, even if no rain materialised.

That is an ongoing debate which the BHA and racecourses need to have with horsemen, but this desire to see the word soft appear in some form in going descriptions is not something which Jon Pullin has created himself.

While his actions looked embarrassing as we all got progressively muddier on Champion Chase day, that was unfortunate rather that foolish when viewed in context.

It’s also worth considering, that the 5mm put on the course on Tuesday ended up paling by comparison with the 21mm which fell out of the sky the following day, and the idea that the ground would not have become soft without watering is laughable.

Weather forecasts are still notoriously unreliable, even the ones on Countryfile.

The British

THE British are coming! The British are coming! There was no Paul Revere to predict that the much-reviled Prestbury Cup would be a battle to the wire, but one of the highlights of the week has to be surprise resurgence of British stables at Cheltenham.

On Tuesday morning, the home side could not have been gloomier, faced with the embarrassment of a National Hunt Chase featuring no English-trained runners for the first time in the race’s long history.

Declarations for the Turners Novices’ Chase confirmed the feared expressed over the weekend – there would indeed be a Grade 1 at Cheltenham in which there was no British representative.

There were not the historical firsts which the home contingent had been hoping for, and they appeared to confirm that horses trained locally were going to come in for another pasting at the hands of the Irish.

Wins for Constitution Hill and Edwardstone eased the worst of those fears, but it was the handicaps in which British success was most surprising, but also most welcome.

There had been talk that leniency from the British handicapper in dropping high-class jumpers would give them a chance of making a big mark in the handicaps, but the domination of British stables this year came with an array of different profiles.

First five

The Ultima saw British-trained novices fill the first five positions, with Corach Rambler scoring for Scotland, while the Grand Annual went to a horse with well-publicised breathing problems, who was having his first chase start of the season, and with figures over fences reading PP since finishing fourth in the Arkle as a novice, and of the first six home in that race, only one was trained in Ireland.

The handicap hurdles were elusive for the Brits on the first two days, and the Pertemps has been an impossible task in recent years, but this time Winter Fog was the only Irish-trained runner in the top six with Third Wind winning at his second attempt at the race having been best of the locals when fourth to Sire Du Berlais in 2020.

Possibly the most heartening result for British stables, and an antidote to the poisonous “straight to Cheltenham” mantra, was the win of Coole Cody in the Plate.

The Evan Williams runner hasn’t missed a single dance at Cheltenham since joining the yard in the summer of 2020, running at all 12 course meetings in that time. He could hardly be described as hiding his light under a bushel, and this fourth course win is proof that you don’t need to be a stone well-in to win Festival handicaps, over fences at least.

What you need to do is rise to the challenge, and the majority of handicap snips simply fail to show their best form faced with the formidable test which Festival races pose.

The five-day problem

There will be no five-day Festival in 2023, we’re told, but the posturing of both Ian Renton and Nevin Truesdale at Jockey Club Racecourses make it clear that the desire to stretch Cheltenham out to include Saturday is palpable, and that doing so is a matter of logistics.

What is really concerning is that neither Renton nor Truesdale view the pathetic field sizes for race like the National Hunt Chase and the Turners as a cause for concern in terms of such ambitions.

Cheltenham could certainly make money by redistributing the record crowds seen this week, and there is no doubt that more money can be squeezed from such a scenario.

When I spoke to Renton a few years ago about what sort of new races would be added to fill additional spots, he was adamant that his watchword was quality.

However, the fabric of the meeting is being stretched to its limit already, and that is clearly visible.

Adding an extra day at any time in the next few years would be a blatant case of “never mind the quality, feel the width”.

The Old One-Two, or Rachael’s Redemption

There was a distinct sense of deja-vu about the Gold Cup, with Minella Indo leading A Plus Tard into the last, but whereas last year a distraught Rachael Blackmore could only watch a horse she could have ridden maintain his lead on the run-in to deny her Cheltenham’s most coveted prize, this time her waiting ride on A Plus Tard paid the ultimate dividend.

Perhaps Minella Indo didn’t finish as strongly as he did 12 months ago having got tight to the last, but kudos to Blackmore for sticking with last year’s runner-up and giving him a nerveless ride in amongst rivals before smuggling him out of trouble and onto the tail of his stablemate.

At the second last, it seemed that a straight repeat of the 2021 result was on the cards, but where A Plus Tard has lost momentum at the last here and at Leopardstown in recent runs, this time he was fluent over the fence, and away quickly as Minella Indo put in his one sloppy leap of the race.

It was decisive, and as well as gaining a trophy prized above any other in National Hunt racing, she had the satisfaction of righting a wrong in the most perfect of ways. This must have been tremendously satisfying, and she thoroughly deserves to enjoy the moment again and again, as she surely will.