Did you enjoy Cheltenham? Even assuming you did, writes Tony Stafford, you would be hard pushed to have had as wonderful a time over the four days as four-year-old Teddie Charlesworth. An ever-present in the fourth-floor box of his grandfather Danny Charlesworth, boss of distribution company Citipost, Teddie was thrilled to watch his hero Davy Russell ride his way to the Leading Jockey title at the Festival.
That award looked highly unlikely on Wednesday when Russell returned to the weighing room, visibly limping and with face screwed up in pain after a fall in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country race from Bless the Wings.
Before racing on the third day, I was sceptical whether Russell would be fit to ride. He’d won the RSA Chase two hours before his fall on Presenting Percy in the race that ended Ruby Walsh’s competitive involvement in the meeting after his fall from Al Boum Photo. In a Sunday TV interview, Walsh seemed surprised that there was anything odd in his attending the last two days despite aggravating the leg fracture from which he’d only recently returned to action.
They make them tough these jumping boys. But even in the Citipost box there was uncertainty around Davy’s participation, so much so that young Teddie, clearly tired after the first two days’ excitements, slept blissfully through the opener in his younger sister’s pram as his idol played a minor role on an unplaced 66-1 stable outsider behind Samcro.
He was barely coming round even by the second race, but could hardly fail to notice the tumult around the lunch table among Charlesworth family and friends at the exciting conclusion. Russell dug deep to drive home Delta Work in an all-Gordon Elliott finish to the three-mile Pertemps Hurdle Final, having the strength and determination to hold off Barry Geraghty on the J P McManus-owned favourite Glenloe.
Russell, along with Noel Fehilly, winner on the opening day on Summerville Boy, is sponsored by Citipost. Each time he returned in triumph after the four winners – three on Thursday – he paused, looked up to the box and raised his arm in triumph as Teddie, held standing on the balcony rail by his father Greg, roared “Davy!”
Before every race, if you asked him what he fancied, it would either be the name of Russell’s or Fehily’s mount, and you would not have gone far wrong following his advice blind. At one point I asked his mum if Teddie wanted to be a jockey or even a racing writer when he grew up, and she replied: “No, a golfer. A professional coach is coming along to see him soon.” Fair enough: Tiger started at that sort of age.
That Thursday was an epic afternoon for Ireland with the first six of the seven winners, the flood only halted by Warren Greatrex’s Missed Approach in the concluding Kim Muir. Russell’s hat-trick on the day was completed by Balko des Flos and The Storyteller, the latter after another full-on battle to the line with a revived Splash of Ginge.
Danny Charlesworth was quietly satisfied with the commercial success of it all. After every Russell (four) and Fehily (one) win, as they came back along the front of the grandstand, the camera lingered on horse and jockey, and the sponsor’s name emblazoned along the left leg. I reckon after Friday Teddie would have had a long sleep before getting back to the more serious business of golf practice. And school, of course, he’s a bright lad.
The only slight regret for Charlesworth and good friend Eamon Evans was that Gordon Elliott had assumed some way before Cheltenham, that the ground was unlikely to be heavy enough for their horse Diamond Cauchois. He’d won two of his four races in the mud in Ireland since being snapped up out of Sue Bramall’s stable, and in between was third to Presenting Percy at Gowran Park in a three-mile hurdle. As the mudlarks continued to thrive, Evans said: “Gordon thinks he missed a trick and that Diamond would have run well if he’d come for the Albert Bartlett.”
Many great performances, in some cases with horses making light of unfavourable conditions, sprinkled the four days. At the top end Altior, Buveur D’Air and Native River – oddly all British-trained amid the Irish landslide (bit like the rugby) – were deserved winners of the week’s three most highly-prized championship affairs. The first two confirmed (as if it were necessary) Nicky Henderson’s role as almost sole defender of British training pride in the face of Elliott’s, Gigginstown House Stud’s and Willie Mullins’ domination.
Before racing on Tuesday, Colin Tizzard stood on one winner from 67 runs at the last five Festivals, but struck a last-day double, Native River’s fans being encouraged by Kilbricken Storm’s 33-1 success in the Albert Bartlett. Now Native River has a Hennessy – the last – a Welsh National and a Gold Cup among eight wins, a second and four third places in 13 chases, and at the tender age of eight years old. The first winner of the re-styled Ladbroke Chase (late Hennessy) was Mullins’ Total Recall. He had moved into a closing sixth place by four out and may have been just as dangerous a foe as gallant runner-up Might Bite had he not fallen at the next fence. I expect we’ll see him at Aintree on April 14 in which case he’ll carry my cash, what’s left of it, having refrained from staying with Native River on the day.
Richard Johnson was thus adding a belated second Gold Cup to that of Looks Like Trouble for future father-in-law Noel Chance back in 2000. He is sponsored (as Siobhan Doolan, who works for them, reminded me) by M S Amlin, but another Johnson ride that I did want to win, had no luck at all.
In the first part of the Fred Winter, to be known next year as the full-on Boodles (no Fred), great idea as long as they keep sponsoring it – probably three years – I don’t think, Oxford Blu was going along happily on the rail about halfway back. Then Knight Destroyer fell right in his path, causing him to swerve violently to avoid being brought down and drop to the rear, a setback from which he could never recover. There will be other days.
With close on 150 wins for the season it was appropriate that Dan Skelton was able to pick up a second career Festival win with stable-neglected Mohaayed, ridden by future sister-in-law Bridget Andrews in the County Hurdle with brother Harry only sixth on first string Spiritofthegames, but close enough for a pulling-up snog.
Cheltenham is always ready – as Ruby Walsh and many others know only too well – to take immediate retribution, and just as it looked that the well-fancied North Hill Harvey would give the Skelton team a double in the finale, he fell three out and was fatally injured. Harry Skelton was briefly (only seconds) knocked out, but after a hospital visit was declared “fine” by the trainer. He is unlikely to ride much before the weekend.
That means he will be unavailable for Starcrossed’s run should Ray Tooth’s unexpected Huntingdon winner turn out at Ludlow on Thursday – the trainer thinks Haydock the day before looks tough. Bridget looks the obvious replacement. Even Starcrossed’s owner noticed the style of her success in one of the hottest handicaps of the week!