A WEEK on from another memorable Cheltenham Festival, the dust is starting to settle on a meeting that once again had everything from outstanding brilliance and unparalleled joy to utter despair and dejection.
From the myriad of races there came any number of highlights and there were three in particular that stood out with pride of place going to A Plus Tard for his devastating Gold Cup performance. There have been times in the past when the Gold Cup hasn’t so much been about the classiest horse but rather the most dogged and doughty but this was a year in which class prevailed to a spectacular extent.
Henry de Bromhead’s efforts in producing his charge to perfection have to be acknowledged and the gelding was the recipient of an outstanding ride from Rachael Blackmore who yet again showed that she brings a tactical nous to the biggest stage that is compelling to behold.
Then there is A Plus Tard himself. A winner of the now defunct novice handicap chase at the meeting when a mere five-year-old, he was beaten in the following year’s Ryanair and then had to give best to Minella Indo in the Gold Cup 12 months ago.
However, he was just different class to his Gold Cup rivals this time around and rare indeed is the winner of this race that can find such a stunning level of acceleration on the run-in. It says much about the winner that he only led at the last but had extended his margin of superiority to some 15 lengths at the line.
It might seem strange to say it about a horse who has Gold Cup and Ryanair Chase defeats to his name but he looks one of the best winners of the race in the last 40 years.
Three days previously the de Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle passed her biggest test yet with flying colours in the Champion Hurdle. She now occupies a unique place in racing history by virtue of being the only mare to win this race twice and forever she will be hailed as one of the all-time great mares.
Such an accolade rests easily on her shoulders as her two Champion Hurdle wins have been accompanied by some commendably bold campaigning by her connections. Of her 11 Grade 1 successes to date, nine have come outside of mares-only company and this only adds to her standing as one of the great mares – a title which transcends the confines of National Hunt racing.
Cheltenham 2022 cannot pass without mention of the remarkable Willie Mullins who produced his team in absolutely stunning shape, with the trainer’s Friday five-timer an incredible feat by the standards of a man who sets the bar ever higher each year.
A first Champion Chase success was this year’s centrepiece for the trainer but it was one of his rare reversals which really captured the imagination as one wonders just how high and how far Galopin Des Champs can go. He was in the process of producing one of those unforgettable displays in the Turners until that untimely exit at the final fence.
His standing as a novice chaser of rare distinction is beyond reproach already and such are his range of abilities that it is not hard to envisage him winning at the top level at either end of the distance spectrum. One of the most intriguing aspects of next season will be to see what direction connections opt to take with a horse who looks to have it all.
A five-day Cheltenham Festival a retrograde step
ON a different note, the week at Cheltenham began with news that a five-day festival is not yet a done deal according to the Jockey Club chief executive Neville Truesdale.
Some of his other comments did make one pause for thought and in particular the following quote struck a chord: “It’s all about attracting a new audience without spoiling what you’ve got. However, I think the issues around entries and field sizes is a separate one and not relevant to five days.”
From this vantage point such a view is fairly extraordinary not to say utterly tone deaf as there is a pretty clear corelation between an enhanced offering of races and smaller field sizes. The belief that further expansion of an already bloated programme, which would take place if the festival moved to five days, isn’t relevant to the number of entries and runners strikes one as fanciful.
There are also appears to be a focus on the Cheltenham Festival encompassing a day at the weekend rather than ending on a Friday. Such a suggestion goes against long standing tradition and pits the meeting against major sporting fixtures such as the Six Nations but it is understandable.
However, the festival doesn’t have to become five days just to get to the weekend. It could always start a day later if the powers that be really crave a weekend slot but this comes up against broadcasting constraints and economic realities.
The simplest solution would be to leave National Hunt racing’s showcase at four days but you just know that some day Cheltenham is going to stretch out to a fifth day and this will be a retrograde step when it does finally happen.