Tag Archive for: Cheltenham Festival

What Happens on Next Run After The Cheltenham Festival?

Despite the turf flat slowly beginning to click into gear, I am going to dip my toe back into the world of National Hunt racing for one final time this season, writes Dave Renham. With the Aintree and Punchestown festivals to come there is plenty of great jumps racing still to look forward to.

In this article I will look at the performance of horses on their very next start having had their last race at the Cheltenham Festival. What should be looking for? Is a win at the festival a positive for the next run? How do Cheltenham Festival runners fare at Aintree? What about if they return to the racetrack at the Punchestown Festival? These questions and more will be examined in what follows. Let's dive in.

The data have been taken from 2015 to 2024 and profits / losses calculated to Betfair Starting Price less 5% commission.

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What impact does Cheltenham Festival finishing position have on next start?

The first port of call is where the horse finished last time out (LTO) at the Cheltenham Festival. Here are the splits:

 

 

Fallers look to be a group of runners to ignore next time: their one in eight win rate came at a cost of over 38p lost for every pound invested. Likewise, those who finished 11th or worse but completed the course had an identical strike rate and similarly eye-watering (-33%) ROI.

In terms of positives, winners at the Cheltenhm Festival have an excellent record on their next start, doubling up just shy of 40% of the time. As a group, they have also returned a steady profit of better than 18p in the pound. Not only that, but they have a positive A/E index of 1.05 implying sustainable profit. If we look at the yearly figures for Cheltenham Festival winners, we see the following in terms of profit / loss:

 

 

Seven of the nine years have turned a profit, albeit a small one in some cases; and the two losing years were far from disastrous. It looks as though Cheltenham Festival winners require very close scrutiny on their next start.

Somewhat surprisingly given the success of LTO winners, horses that finished second at Cheltenham have performed quite poorly when considering the profit/loss column, losing over 33p in the £ and with a low A/E index of 0.74. These runners look to be significantly over-bet and well worth a swerve.

Which Courses have been best for LTO Cheltenham Festival runners?

Next, I wanted to investigate which courses fared best when Festival runners visited on their follow-up run...

 

 

Three courses recorded a profit – Ascot, Cheltenham and Punchestown. However, the Cheltenham bottom line is completely skewed by Premier Magic who was successful in the 2023 Hunter Chase at the huge BSP of 110.14 having been pulled up in the same contest a year earlier.

Next time out at Fairyhouse

At the other end of scale, horses that have headed to Fairyhouse have performed poorly from a decent sample size. Indeed, at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival from last weekend, 23 Cheltenham Festival runners showed up but only one won - Jade De Grugy at odds of 7/4. The 22 beaten included Ferns Lock at 2/7 and Zarak The Brave at 5/6 as well as six other horses at 9/2 or shorter.

It may be worth noting that only 7% of Cheltenham Festival runners make their next start at Fairyhouse.

Next time out at Punchestown

The vast majority of next time out Punchestown runners (roughly 90% of the qualifiers) did run at the Punchestown Festival which is held at the end of April / beginning of May. There are two stats worth noting in terms of these Punchestown runners:

  1. Horses that won LTO at the Cheltenham Festival have an excellent record when turning out at Punchestown next time: there were 34 winners from 75 runners (SR 45.3%) in the sample period for a BSP profit of £40.97 (ROI +54.62).
  2. Clear favourites have also turned a profit at the Irish track thanks to a 50.8% strike rate (63 wins from 124) amounting to a small profit of £13.64 (ROI +11%).

Not many horses head to Ascot on their next outing after the Cheltenham Festival but they tend to run well. There have been six winning years out of nine and with no winners returned above 20/1 the stats have not been enhanced by big priced scorers. Clear favourites have done well from a limited sample winning 9 from 16 (SR 56.3%) for a BSP profit of 12.34 (ROI +77.1%).

Next time out at Aintree

Focusing in now on Aintree, of the 927 runners that ran at the Liverpool track next time 867 of these ran at the showpiece Grand National meeting. 92 of these won (SR 10.6%) for a BSP loss of £55.45 (ROI -6.4%).

If we focus solely on horses that started in the top three of the Aintree betting, we can sneak into profit to BSP. This subset of runners won 67 of their 306 starts (SR 21.9%) for a profit of £13.41 (ROI +4.4%).

Cheltenham Festival winners have also done a good job of backing up that win when turning out next time at Aintree with 18 winners from 62 (SR 29%) for a profit to Betfair SP of £12.54, just over 20p in the £ ROI.

In terms of negative stats, it looks best to swerve horses that were either beaten by 30+ lengths at Cheltenham and those who failed to complete the course. These runners when coming to the Aintree Festival have combined to win just 14 races from 233 runs (SR 6%) with heavy losses of £105.81 (ROI -45.4%)

Race type – handicap v non-handicap

There is a significant difference in terms of performance between horses that contest a handicap after the Cheltenham Festival as opposed to a non-handicap. If we compare the A/E indices of each group we see a marked differential:

 

 

Horses that run in a non-handicap after the Cheltenham showpiece have been far better value than those who went on to contest handicaps. If we look at the BSP returns, we can see that the figures correlate strongly with the A/E indices:

 

 

As can be seen, horses that ran in a handicap next time lost over 20p in the £, whereas non-handicappers lost less than 4p. In fact, if we stick to horses that raced in a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival and then contested another handicap next time, the record is even worse:

 

 

These results make for very poor reading. I wonder if it is because most of the horses would have been trained with Cheltenham as their main target. Whatever the reason, I would not be keen on backing handicappers from the Cheltenham Festival when contesting another handicap next time. I should add that one of the handicap winners was priced 94.51 BSP so taking that one out means the other 1326 runners would have lost you over 32 pence per £1 staked, even more distressing than the 25% losses with that brief respite included!

 

Days since Cheltenham Festival run

Let's now consider the time between a horse's Cheltenham Festival run and its next appearance. Here are the splits:

 

 

A very small proportion of runners are seen again quickly (within two weeks) and this group has made a profit from a one in four strike rate. A good proportion of the 43-to-70 days group ran at the Punchestown Festival which perhaps explains the strike rate, the small losses and decent A/E index. The 181-to-270 group has the most interesting results for me. We are roughly talking about a break of between six and nine months which essentially takes us to the start of the following National Hunt season. These runners have just about broken even to BSP, with a near to one in four win rate and a very solid A/E index. Horses that started clear favourite after this 181-to-270-day break have performed well thanks to 125 wins from 235 (SR 53.2%) for a BSP profit of £24.24 (ROI +10.3%).

 

Market factors for LTO Cheltenham Festival runners on their next start

The next area I wish to look at is the price of the runners on their next start after the Cheltenham festival. I am look at the Betfair SP price and the table below looks at the key stats:

 

 

Although the 2.02 to 3 group have incurred relatively big losses, it generally has been preferable to stick to horses BSP priced under 9. Horses priced 21 or more have offered poor value and incurred significant losses of over 28p for every £1 staked.

If we compare the A/E indices between horses priced 9 or lower with those 9.2 or higher, we see a big difference:

 

 

To get the best value, horses priced 9 or shorter are the ones to concentrate on. Also, given the non-handicap data I shared earlier, it should come as no surprise that if sticking to this shorter price range in non-handicaps the record improves further. This subset of runners has edged into profit thanks to 443 wins from 1275 runners (SR 34.8%). The profit stands at £19.15 (ROI 1.5%).

Class Move Next Time after Running at Cheltenham Festival

Before finishing the main body of the article I have a couple of additional stats to share based on the race class difference between the Cheltenham Festival run and next start – they are both negative:

 

 

UK-trained horses going up in class on their next start have struck less than once every 18 starts for an enormous 43% loss, while those trained anywhere stepping up to Grade 1 level from a lower class run at the Cheltenham Festival were similarly catastrophic to follow in terms of both strike rate and ROI. Horses from these groups should generally be avoided!

 

Summary – Key Takeaways 

Below are the key findings from this article.

 

 

It's a pity publication has followed the (early this year) Fairyhouse Easter Festival [apologies, my fault - Ed.] as that was predictably disastrous for Cheltenham Festival follow-up runners. But, with Aintree and Punchestown still ahead, as well as the start of the next season, there's plenty to heed, and hopefully profit from, to come.

- DR

Tellherthename to hold out for better ground after Cheltenham effort

Ben Pauling is retaining plenty of faith in Tellherthename and is relishing the prospect of running his star novice again this season when ground conditions improve.

The five-year-old has always been the apple of the Naunton Downs handler’s eye and he advertised his star quality with two bloodless victories at Huntingdon either side of a disappointing showing in Aintree’s Formby Hurdle on Boxing Day.

That no show on Merseyside came on testing ground and connections’ wariness of slow going was shown when a wet February curtailed a Betfair Hurdle bid.

Despite the rain continuing to fall in the build up to the Cheltenham Festival, Pauling still felt it was worth chancing his talented operator on the treacherous opening day ground in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Tellherthename heading to post at the Cheltenham Festival
Tellherthename heading to post at the Cheltenham Festival (Adam Davy/PA)

However, having led the runners into the straight, Tellherthename was unable to quicken as he was passed by the majority of the field in the Festival’s opening event, giving his team the evidence they needed to firmly seek good ground in the future.

“I think for Tellherthename it (the Supreme) went perfectly and he travelled and he jumped brilliantly,” said Pauling.

“He looked very much in his comfort, but we now know if you ask him to quicken in that heavy ground, he just can’t do it.

“He’s definitely got another run on his agenda this season and whether that be Aintree or somewhere else I’m not sure, but he’s come out of it like a horse that hasn’t had a hard race. He’s bouncing.

“We’re looking forward to the rain stopping and the ground drying. He’s a classy individual and I just adore him but he just cannot quicken on that ground and I just think now we know that we can avoid it.

“We were confident that was the problem at Aintree (in the Formby) but it was the Festival and we wanted to roll the dice and at least it was wet ground, but he’s just a classy horse with plenty of speed and testing ground just doesn’t suit him.”

There was both joy and agony for Pauling and his team over the four days of the Festival, exemplified by the contrasting fortunes of the Harry Redknapp-owned pair Shakem Up’Arry and The Jukebox Man, with the former giving Pauling his fourth Festival victory and the latter coming desperately short in his bid to be number five.

There was also a near miss for Twig in the Ultima, but there was some mixed results as well throughout the week, with the handler regarding Handstands’ Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle disappointment as the biggest blow of the meeting.

Handstands going to post before the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle
Handstands going to post before the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle (Adam Davy/PA)

Heading to Prestbury Park on the back of a brilliant Sidney Banks victory at Huntingdon, hopes were high he could make his mark up against Irish hotpot Ballyburn.

However, he could only finish last of the six finishers with Pauling feeling it may have been a case of one too many runs this term.

“Handstands was probably the biggest disappointment of the week and was a horse who we went into it not knowing where his limits lay,” continued Pauling.

“He fell far short of what we needed and Harry Cobden said he felt like he was never really on a going day.

“He only won his point-to-point in November and he has run three times including the Huntingdon Listed race en route, so maybe he just had one run to many.

“He’s finished for the season and is off doing dressage for a month now. He will come back as a lovely novice chaser for next season.”

Needham happy to miss Aintree with Festival star Sine Nomine

Fiona Needham has revelled in the Cheltenham Festival heroics of Sine Nomine – but there will be no shot at the Cheltenham-Aintree double this year for her star mare.

The Catterick clerk of the course was successful in the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase as a rider in 2002, partnering her father Robin Tate’s Last Option to victory.

And she joined the list of famous names to both ride and train the winner of the ‘amateur Gold Cup’ when saddling bargain buy Sine Nomine, who cost just £2,400 as a three-year-old, to topple the JP McManus-owned Its On The Line in the hands of John Dawson.

Owned by her father, Sine Nomine sported the same colours Needham wore to victory herself 22 years ago, with the joyous scenes seen in the winner’s enclosure carrying on right through the weekend.

“She put in a stellar performance and she’s very full of herself since,” said Needham.

“It was a wonderful day and really was the stuff dreams are made of. Her jockey gave her a brilliant ride and the bit of drama where he had to switch at the last didn’t do a lot for my heartrate at the time, but probably made the race more exciting.

“You would have to say she would have won quite easily but for that, but it really showed she is quite gutsy and determined. She quickened up a lot better than I expected up the hill.”

Sine Nomine winning at Cheltenham
Sine Nomine winning at Cheltenham (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Dawson received a 14-day ban for using the whip two times more than the permitted seven which will see him on the sidelines while the Randox Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase takes place during the opening day of Aintree’s Grand National meeting.

However, some relief for Dawson will be Needham deciding against trying to replicate On The Fringe’s achievement of completing the same Aintree-Cheltenham hunter chase double, with a return to Cheltenham for their hunter chase card in early May followed by a crack at Stratford’s Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters Champion Hunters’ Chase later that month in the back of the trainer’s mind.

She said: “We debated Aintree but she did just knock a joint a little bit, which is fine and settling down, but I just want to give her a bit longer and she does not have an entry for Aintree.

“She jumps well but she’s quite bold and I’m not sure that’s the best way to be at Aintree.

“It could be straight to Cheltenham for the hunter chase meeting or Stratford and there re one or two options.

“Obviously it might depend on what the handicapper does with her, but we will see. One route could be the Cheltenham evening meeting and then it could be the Horse and Hound Cup (at Stratford), but that would all be ground dependent because it is going to dry up at some stage. If it keeps raining then great!”

Having savoured a second big afternoon at the Cheltenham Festival, Needham’s thoughts also turn to the eight-year-old returning to Prestbury Park in a bid to join the plethora of back-to-back winners.

Jockey John Dawson celebrates on Sine Nomine after winning at Cheltenham
Jockey John Dawson celebrates on Sine Nomine after winning at Cheltenham (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

On The Fringe (2015 and 2016) and Pacha Du Polder (2017 and 2018) were the most recent to win the race in consecutive years and Needham would be keen to give a repeat a chance after Sine Nomine proved with aplomb she can handle the white hot atmosphere of Gold Cup day in the Cotswolds.

“I’m not sure my nerves will stand it, but you do get repeat winners at Cheltenham,” continued Needham.

“One thing you never know until they get there is the occasion, because it is a big occasion for the horses, and she took it well – she thought everyone was coming to look at her, which is the best way to be.”

Galopin Des Champs parades to hero’s welcome in Leighlinbridge

Galopin Des Champs was once again welcomed home by an adoring crowd as the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner paraded before locals in the village of Leighlinbridge in County Carlow on Tuesday evening.

Victorious in the pinnacle of National Hunt racing last year, this time the Willie Mullins-trained gelding was able to take his career to the next level when becoming one of a select few to retain the title.

The 11-10 favourite under Paul Townend, Galopin Des Champs never looked threatened by any of his rivals and it was only the loose Fastorslow that ever threatened to thwart a repeat of last year’s triumph.

All smiles outside of the Lord Bagenal Inn
All smiles outside of the Lord Bagenal Inn (Damien Eagers/PA)

Victorious by three and a half lengths from Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe, the Audrey Turley-owned eight-year-old has put his name among the greats of the race and next year could join the likes of the mighty Arkle and Best Mate as a three-time winner.

Galopin Des Champs was joined by State Man, winner of the Champion Hurdle in a another memorable meeting for Mullins, with his nine-winner haul including his 100th Festival success when Jasmin De Vaux took the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

“He’s much more mature and more settled this year,” said Mullins.

“I think it shows he has improved, and it will take a lot less out of him as well. That means he can race for longer, it will extend his career that he’s not running too free and extending himself too much in the early part of a race.

“He’s at that age now when he’s strong and mature enough, he’s answered every question.

“At the moment he’s going to Punchestown. I’m very happy that he’s a tough, hardy horse. There’s good prize-money there and I’m hoping we’ll be able to go there.”

On his remarkable achievement of training 100 Cheltenham Festival winners, he said: “Look at Nicky Henderson, we always pray that something like that doesn’t happen to us.

“His horses just got sick the week of the races, and it’s like a team in a football final say getting food poisoning the night before the match and everyone is sick. It’s the one fear of every sporting organisation, not just racehorse trainers.

Willie Mullins with Jasmin De Vaux, his 100th Cheltenham Festival winner
Willie Mullins with Jasmin De Vaux, his 100th Cheltenham Festival winner (Damien Eagers/PA)

“You never know, people expect us to get those winners. We go over there hoping to get the winners – there’s a big difference between that and expecting. Nothing is given.

“We take nothing for granted. But I must say I thought the horses were in spectacular form at home this year and the run-up to the Festival went so well.

“That (son Patrick riding his 100th winner) was the icing on the cake.”

Kargese and Telmesomethinggirl delight Kenny Alexander team at Cheltenham

The Kenny Alexander camp has expressed their pride after star mares Kargese and Telmesomethinggirl went close to getting on the scoresheet at the Cheltenham Festival.

Spring Juvenile winner Kargese was part of a strong team of juveniles Willie Mullins saddled for the Triumph Hurdle and despite racing keenly in the hands of Danny Mullins, shaped the most likely winner jumping the final obstacle before being reeled in by the hugely talented Majborough in the closing stages.

It is the second year in a row Alexander has had to settle for a silver medal in the juvenile Grade One following Gala Marceau’s second to Lossiemouth in 2023.

Kargese (left) had to settle for second behind Majborough in the Triumph Hurdle
Kargese (left) had to settle for second behind Majborough in the Triumph Hurdle (Adam Davy/PA)

However, Kargese could now continue to chart the same path her stablemate took 12 months ago, with both Punchestown’s feature juvenile attraction and Auteuil’s Prix Alain du Breil in the equation for later in the campaign.

“Kargese’s run I was watching and thought ‘we’ve got this, she’s going to run away’ and I have to admit I was gutted for the first hour or so after the race,” said the owners racing manager, Peter Molony.

“Looking back now, we have to be very proud of the run. She pulled her head off and fought for her head the whole way round and I think ultimately, that may have cost her. I know the winner looks seriously good but I think she would have given him a proper race if she settled a bit better maybe.

“We’re hugely proud of her. She is most likely to go to Punchestown and Auteuil for the French Triumph will also have to be under consideration – we were lucky to win that with Gala Marceau last year.”

Cheltenham Festival 2021 – Day Three – Cheltenham Racecourse
Telmesomethinggirl is a Cheltenham specialist (Tim Goode/PA)

Alexander has enjoyed many special moments at the Cheltenham Festival – mainly down to the exploits of dual Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle, who bowed out after her fourth straight victory in the Cotswolds in last year’s Mares’ Hurdle.

The owner came close to keeping his hands on the Mares’ Hurdle trophy after the fine effort of previous Festival heroine Telmesomethinggirl, as she just failed in her challenge of taking on Lossiemouth in the day one contest.

“We were so happy with Telmesomethinggirl,” continued Molony.

“We thought after her last run at Naas there was still a huge amount of improvement in her and Henry was very bullish she was going to give them something to think about, including Lossiemouth.

Telmesomethinggirl (red cap) bumped into Lossiemouth in the Mares' Hurdle
Telmesomethinggirl (red cap) bumped into Lossiemouth in the Mares’ Hurdle (Mike Egerton/PA)

“The difference in her physical appearance between Naas and Cheltenham shows you how good Henry is at tuning them up for the big day and she was trained right to the minute, she looked magnificent.

“I think the ground was a little bit against her and she would have preferred good ground, although I’m not sure she would have beaten Lossiemouth on any ground – she’s a monster. But we were very proud of Telmesomethinggirl’s run.”

Now nine, the Henry de Bromhead-trained mare already has the next stage of her career mapped out for her, with a date with Blue Bresil already pencilled in.

However, she could get one more chance to showcase her talent on the racecourse having raised her game once again when visiting Prestbury Park.

Rachael Blackmore and Telmesomethinggirl on the gallops at Cheltenham
Rachael Blackmore and Telmesomethinggirl on the gallops at Cheltenham (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Molony added: “She’s nine and is booked in to Blue Bresil and will hopefully be covered at some stage. Hopefully if she comes into season and everything is right, maybe in the next six weeks and we will try and maybe get one more run into her, maybe Aintree or Punchestown.

“However, I do think she is a 10lb better mare at Cheltenham, she just seems to love the place.”

One member of the Alexander string who slightly under performed last week was Jade De Grugy, who was sent off the 2-1 second favourite for a red-hot Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

A winner in France before transferring to Closutton, the Mullins-trained five-year-old impressed in her first two starts in Ireland, but was unsuited by the muddling pace in the Cheltenham Grade Two and, having had her momentum checked at a crucial moment could only finish fourth as the sprint for home unfolded.

Jade De Grugy could now be given a chance to make amends in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Honeysuckle Mares Novice Hurdle on March 31 – a race the great Honeysuckle won herself in 2019.

“Of the horses that were placed, I think she was the biggest disappointment for us,” said Molony.

“They just crawled and it turned into a sprint and she got a bit scrummaged at the wrong time as they were quickening, so we were a little bit disappointed to be honest.

“We know she is going to be a very good mare and we’re going to have a lot of fun with her if please God she stays in one piece.

“Willie will have a look and see what he thinks and how she has come out of the race. There was talk before the race that if she came out of it well enough she could go for the Honeysuckle in Fairyhouse. That is a very quick turnaround, but we will see.”

Monday Musings: Some Absurde Numbers

There was plenty of talk last week about what a numbers game racing has become, writes Tony Stafford. Cheltenham became hostage once more to Irish stables, Willie Mullins leading the way of course. I have come to enjoy his successes if only that it gives me another chance to show that in his constant interviews, he is the most polite, unassuming man you could get for all that success. Then again there was plenty of excitement going around after Ballyburn.

Dan and Harry Skelton were second only to Willie, and if Dan could usurp his long-time mentor Paul Nicholls and win a first trainers’ championship that would also be nice, joining brother Harry who was champion jockey a few years ago.

No, but it’s two other different numbers that have taken my fancy: 11 (and a little bit) and 3,000. One concerning race times – the other an auction price that shows even modest investments can sometimes buy into some exceedingly desirable bloodlines at a time when everyone is there to have a crack.

First the race times. I think last week provided some of the most testing ground ever to have been seen, certainly since before the days of racecourse drainage systems.

I can now reveal that one race last week was run in a slower time than any of the Grand Nationals since 1883. So, what could it be? The ground was certainly heavy for the running of the 4m2f Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter on Saturday, with Irish-style water on the course in places.

The winner went round in 9 minutes 43.10 seconds, slower than any of the Aintree showpieces since Red Marauder and Richard Guest led home three surviving rivals in a funereal 11 minutes, 0.1 seconds 23 years ago.

But it wasn’t that time that stands supreme. Hexham operated last week with a going stick figure of 3.2 - I cannot remember one of those. It was heavy at the corresponding meeting in 2023, when the four-mile handicap chase was completed in 9 minutes 57.57 seconds. Last week it took Breeze Of Wind a mind-numbing 11 minutes 0.20 seconds, equivalent to between three and four furlongs extra in distance.

If you think he must have been left all alone in that race – far from it. Five of the six runners were still in contention coming to the final fence as the rather unlikely distances over the line reveal: 1.25 lengths, short head, neck and then 3.75 lengths to the final finisher.

You might also expect any horse to have undertaken the gruelling examination of Hexham that day to need to stay at home for a few weeks of R and R. Not a bit of it. Philip Kirby’s Heritier De Sivola galloped clear of his rivals to win Thursday’s three-mile handicap chase eased down by 32 lengths. Two days later at Newcastle, carrying a 7lb penalty for the Hexham win, he bolted up by more than five lengths, again on heavy ground on one of the country’s most demanding tracks.

Reverting to the time question, it took Breeze Of Wind and chums one-tenth of a second more to complete the four miles of the BK Racing Hexham Marathon Handicap even than Red Marauder to win his Grand National in the days when the big race was a full 4m4f. His time had not been exceeded since 1883 when owner-rider Count Karel Kinsky won on Zoedone in 11 minutes 39 seconds flat.

With the ground everywhere – except the amazing track that is Kempton – susceptible to the slightest shower, so high is the water table, fears for the prospective going for the Lincoln this week and the Grand National next month are realistic.

Now for the other number. Imagine you are at a bloodstock sale and have your eye on a two-year-old filly – in this case from the remaining dispersal of the late Sir Robert Ogden’s horses - and are waiting for lot 618, a filly by Showcasing.

But you’ve also looked at lot 617, a daughter of Kingman – stud fee 125k – and accept she will be way out of your price range. There was a negative about her, though, as she had scarred knees and the white obviously scared everyone off risking the unraced two-year-old.

But Julia Feilden had done her research and found out that before he died in March 2022, Sir Robert sanctioned a £20,000 operation to help correct a serious physical problem with the filly’s forelegs, the impact of the splints leaving unsightly (to some) white hairs on her knees as a consequence.

While wanting to wait for her number one pick, Julia watched in amazement as the bidding stalled on the Kingman filly, and after she stepped in, stopped, to her amazement, at her bid of 3,000gns.

The following lot was knocked down to Sam Sangster for 50k – “miles beyond my limit”, recalls Julia, but that filly has won already, second time out in a novice for the Brian Meehan stable at Southwell and looks set for a decent career as a three-year-old.

Already named when she bought her, Julia formed a syndicate of which she is a ten-per-cent shareholder. On Saturday night at Southwell, having learnt her trade on turf in the summer/autumn, she brought her all-weather form figures to 3211, adding to a recent Chelmsford success.

Dylan Hogan – “either he or my daughter Shelley ride her every day – she’s very buzzy” came from a long way back to get up near the line, Notre Dame showing lots of speed. Rated only 60, Julia reckons she needs to win on the turf to maximise future financial potential. But whatever the truth of that, it does prove that for the professionals, there’s always one that defies logic and slips though the net.

**

The thorny question of how the Irish do so well at Cheltenham was broached upon by the BHA’s Julie Harrington in an earnest publication even as the one-sided (though not quite as much as in some years) battle continued. I think a good proportion of the blame falls to the issue of how our handicappers treat the Irish and then our own horses.

To illustrate my point, you get the feeling that the BHA team hate horses winning races. It seems their brief is to allow one win, maybe two and then to put the handbrake on.

Last week I felt so sorry for Sophie Leech and family and their owners for the treatment of their Madara after he won at the Dublin Racing Festival. Only one of three runners from the UK to go over there in early February he added to a nice win at Cheltenham by collecting a valuable 2m1f chase at Leopardstown.

Just a five-year-old, the ex-French gelding came with a flying run that day under James Reveley, beating Henry de Bromhead’s Path d’Oroux by 2.5 lengths. The BHA handicapper’s response was to raise his mark from 133 to 143. Meanwhile the runner-up went up by only 3lb!

In the end neither enjoyed the Grand Annual at the Festival, possibly because of the ground, Madara fading away and the de Bromhead horse always at the back.

Another ridiculous piece of handicapping was the mark allotted to Ebor winner and Melbourne Cup seventh Absurde, a 110 flat-racer. From spring last year, this six-year-old was given a programme that suggested just how highly he was regarded in the Willie Mullins stable targeting big prizes under both codes.

Phase one jumping – aimed at getting a handicap mark – as lenient as possible, so he wins his novice at Killarney in May first-time out very easily at 2/7. Phase one flat – Royal Ascot where he was second to stable-companion Vauban in the Copper Horse Handicap, but 7.5 lengths behind the winner.

Phase two jumping – Listed race at Galway, sixth of nine. Phase two flat, wins Ebor off 104 under Frankie Dettori.

Phase three flat, 7th in Melbourne Cup off new flat mark of 110.

Phases three and four jumping, pulled up behind Coldwell Potter, the 740k buy from the Elliott stable; then 4th at levels and 33/1 behind Ballyburn. Now he’s eligible for a mark.

Phase five, with 138 jumping compared to 110 flat – so with probably at least 12lb and likely a bit more to spare, he shows brilliant speed to stop yet another well-laid-out Skelton fancy going up the hill. Too easy – if you’re Willie Mullins and you have an Ebor winner to work with!

As if that wasn’t enough, ten of the only 13 finishers in the Boodles Handicap Hurdle for four-year-olds were Irish-trained. The Noel George team – with a McManus horse the handicappers dropped 10lb off one run of evidence, Milan Tino – and I’m not sure if he counts as training in France, was 6th; Jack Jones with an ex-Joseph O’Brien horse (he trained the winner) An Bradan Feasa was 8th; and Fergal O’Brien with the Jim Bolger capture Teorie was 10th.

In the old days trainers aiming at Cheltenham used to try to buy from the October HIT sale when there was just the Triumph Hurdle and its field of up to 30 runners to aim at. Now with this handicap to target, the Irish get going well before that. There needs to be a much better co-ordinated programme of worthwhile juvenile contests from August onwards as horses need at least three runs to get a handicap mark.

- TS

Dan Skelton gearing up for trainers’ title push

Dan Skelton will be giving it his all to win the trainers’ championship after adding to his brilliant Cheltenham Festival with winners at both Uttoxeter and Kempton on Saturday.

Fresh from being the standout British trainer in the Cotswolds, when saddling a career-best four winners over the four days, he edged ahead of Paul Nicholls in the trainers’ standings when keeping the ball rolling across the cards on Saturday.

However, he is predicting a tough battle to end his former Ditcheat boss’ stranglehold on the trophy and is hoping he has the right horses in reserve to run at the latter end of the season.

Dan Skelton celebrates the victory of Protektorat at Cheltenham
Dan Skelton celebrates the victory of Protektorat at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

“I will give it a good go to win it and Paul will give it a good go to defend it and it will have to be worked for,” said Skelton.

“I will give it a go, but what I won’t be doing is running horses unnecessarily. Horses like the bumper horse, Royal Infantry, it’s correct for him to finish his season now, so I won’t be asking horses it is inappropriate to do so to come out. However, those that are, will.”

Skelton saddled a double at Uttoxeter thanks to the victories of Santos Blue and Gwennie May Boy, while Boombawn made a successful return from 302 days off the track in Kempton’s Read Nicky Henderson’s Exclusive Unibet Blog Handicap Hurdle.

The progressive seven-year-old was once again showing his love for Kempton having struck in Listed company at the Sunbury track in October 2022 and after travelling with real enthusiasm in the hands of Harry Skelton, the 13-2 chance dug deep to hold off the rallying Titan Discovery at the finish.

He told Racing TV: “We had him ready for the Silver Trophy at Chepstow in the autumn, but it was an unusually wet autumn and then we had him ready two weeks later for somewhere that went soft or heavy and in the end I just sent him home to one of his owners, Sarah Faulks, and she just gave him a week off at home and freshened him up.

“We got him back around Christmas time and he’s just been aching for this bit better ground. I know it’s not officially good today, but it’s a lot better (than it has been) and he’s entitled to be progressive – what you saw at Aintree (on his last start) showed you he was going in the right direction.

“He will have Aintree, Ayr and Sandown on the last day of the season on his agenda and we might even consider going over fences with him, depending on the time of year and if there are any races we can get him in.

“If it got to May and he was beyond the rating ceiling to get into a novice chase, we could even take him to France.”

Grey Dawning was one of Skelton's Cheltenham winners
Grey Dawning was one of Skelton’s Cheltenham winners (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Meanwhile, Skelton is hopeful his quartet of Festival winners will be a part of his arsenal for his title challenge after providing a positive update on their wellbeing.

“They are all really good. Langer Dan just has a little infection in a leg and all the other winners are good. Langer Dan is fine by the way, it is just something that is mentionable,” Skelton added.

“Grey Dawning will probably run (again) at three miles, Protektorat will have the option of two (races) and I would love to step Langer Dan up to Grade One company. Unexpected Party will have a heap of entries and we will see what’s best.”

Henderson seeking answers after Festival disappointment

Nicky Henderson is planning a quiet few days as he tries to get to the bottom of the issue that scuppered his Cheltenham Festival hopes.

With Constitution Hill ruled out of a Champion Hurdle defence the week before the fixture due to a respiratory infection, Henderson’s week got off to an inauspicious start with five of his six runners pulled up on Tuesday.

That prompted the Seven Barrows trainer to rule out a string of leading contenders, with Jonbon missing his Champion Chase date, ante-post favourite Sir Gino sidestepping the Triumph Hurdle and Shishkin ruled out of his Cheltenham Gold Cup assignment due to an unsatisfactory scope.

A handful of Henderson runners did perform with credit at Cheltenham, most notably Champion Hurdle third Luccia, and Persian Time offered a further glimmer of hope when digging deep for a neck verdict in the Try Unibet’s New Acca Boosts Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

Henderson has no entries until Spring Note at Newbury on Friday and will now attempt to establish what has troubled his recent runners.

Luccia performed best of Henderson's Cheltenham runners
Luccia performed best of Henderson’s Cheltenham runners (David Davies/PA)

He told Racing TV: “It has been a difficult 10 days because to be fair, I think we knew before we went there that they hadn’t been running to what you would hope for.

“It’s nice just to sort of close the whole week down, we have nothing else (running) today.

“We probably will have hardly any runners next week and let the whole thing settle down and see if we can get to the bottom of what has been ailing, although it’s difficult to say ailing as they seem to be well, everything checks out right but they certainly checked out wrong at the top of that far hill last week – they couldn’t get over the top of it.

“I think we just take the whole thing apart and try to put it back piece by piece to see if there is a piece missing anywhere. I think there is something missing – there is no doubt about that – they’ve got to keep ticking over and I’d like to go quietly for one week and just let the whole thing die down.

“Everyone has been so incredibly helpful and I really appreciate it. We have just to got to see if there is a piece of the jigsaw missing and I hope it’s as simple as that, but it’s not there in black and white.

“Normally with the blood tests and scopes you can identify a problem – there’s just no sign of an issue. I do think the horses look well, they seem to be well, their work has been good, everything checks out right but they just weren’t performing at all and at the end, we just didn’t run – you were just getting scared to run.

“We will be quiet next week, hopefully we can then kick on to Aintree and Punchestown. There’s a lot still to come and they will come back I am sure. We have got a wonderful team at home and are surrounded by great people and we will get it back on track.

“I think everyone knows what Cheltenham is to nearly all of us and to come out of there like that – we’ve just had some wonderful years but you’re never going to get complacent about it. The amazing thing was the support we have had, everybody has been fantastic and I’m very grateful.”

Persian Time was last seen when pulled up behind Ginny’s Destiny at Cheltenham’s Trials day in January, but after bouncing back to form, a trip to Ayr could now be on the agenda for the gelding, who is owned by the McNeill and Stone families.

Henderson added: “He’s been good at home. On Trials day, he didn’t really want to have a cut at his fences there, then he was much happier today. He was tanking going down to the start and you could tell after the first three fences he was a different horse today.

“He’s a nice fellow and he’s going the right way, so let’s hope we can keep it going. There will be plenty more for him this season I would hope.

“I know Ayr is their (owners) very favourite track so I would think we might be scouring the programme book to see what there is for him there. he ran very well in a novice hurdle up there last year and just got touched off by what’s turned out to be a decent horse – Ayr could be good.”

Harrington warns Irish dominance is ‘damaging for the sport’

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington has warned the dominance of Irish trainers at the Cheltenham Festival is “damaging” for the sport.

Irish handlers won 18 of the 27 races across the four days, with 12 of the 14 Grade One contests also going their way and Willie Mullins accounting for eight of those on his own among an overall tally of nine winners for the Closutton team – a total which also took him over 100 Festival winners.

Dan Skelton flew the flag for Britain by sending out four winners, including a memorable top-level double with Ryanair Chase victor Protektorat and Turners Novices’ Chase hero Grey Dawning on Thursday, with Ben Pauling, Paul Nicholls, Kim Bailey, Jeremy Scott and Fiona Needham also getting on the scoresheet.

While Harrington praised those achievements, she feels the Irish supremacy is “becoming more pronounced”.

Dan Skelton (left) finished second to Willie Mullins in the top trainer battle at Cheltenham
Dan Skelton (left) finished second to Willie Mullins in the top trainer battle at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

She said: “I would like to offer my congratulations to every winner this week, and everyone connected with those horses. We again tip our hat to the Irish, and in particular Willie Mullins whose achievement in reaching 100+ Festival winners is truly remarkable.

“Congratulations also go to the British trainers who secured winners this week, in particular Dan Skelton for his impressive haul.

“I have no doubt that the men and women who train horses here in Britain are more than a match for their Irish counterparts. However, they need the ammunition and at present the balance of power and the best horses are going to our colleagues in Ireland, and in particular one yard.

Protektorat was a Grade One winner for Skelton
Protektorat was a Grade One winner for Skelton (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“This is not a new issue. The direction of travel has been set for a number of years now. The sport has been alive to this and taken measures to seek to address it, through attempting to tackle funding issues associated with the sport, seeking increased investment, looking at the race programme, and more recently the delivery of the recommendations of the Quality Jump Racing Review.

“However, the Irish domination of the Grade One races this week has illustrated that the issue is becoming more pronounced and more damaging for the sport on both sides of the Irish sea.”

Following a nightmare Festival for the home side in 2021 which saw just five winners for British trainers, the BHA set up the review group which made a series of recommendations that were unveiled at the start of 2022, with further tweaks to the fixture list this term in an attempt to improve the upper tier of British National Hunt racing.

However, Harrington concedes more now needs to be done and at a faster pace to ensure no further ground is lost.

She said: “Put simply, the rate of decline of jump racing in Britain at the top end has outstripped the measures that have been put in place to tackle it. We must do more, more quickly, and in a more coordinated and decisive manner if we are going to restore British jump racing to the standing at which it belongs.

“Central to this is the delivery of the industry strategy. The strategy is all about growth. At the core of this is investment in the top echelons of our sport, with a view to incentivising the best horses to be bred, owned, trained and raced on these shores. An additional £3.8million in prize-money has already been earmarked for investment in 2024 across the top end of the sport in both codes.

“The strategy is also about much more than just investing in prize money. We need to grow our fanbase by encouraging new fans and retaining existing fans and owners, improve the experience of ownership and attending and viewing racing, and much more besides.

“To achieve this the sport must work together with urgency and clarity of purpose. The times of being reluctant to embrace change or new ideas, lack of transparency and focusing on narrow self-interest must be put firmly behind us.”

Galopin Des Champs secured successive Gold Cup wins for Willie Mullins
Galopin Des Champs secured successive Gold Cup wins for Willie Mullins (Adam Davy/PA)

Talks are currently ongoing between the BHA and bookmakers on levy reform, which Harrington believes is another key factor in improving British fortunes in the future.

She concluded: “The very visible deterioration in British racing’s competitiveness with our international colleagues has also been at the heart of our discussions with the betting industry and DCMS around the levy, and our representations to Government around the risk of the damaging impact of affordability checks.

“We have seen great progress in the last 18 months and a spirit of collaboration is clearly developing. I am confident that if the sport and its allies work together around this shared goal then it can flourish once again. Not just across four days in March, but across the whole year. Jump racing’s popularity in Britain is immense and its potential limitless.”

Punters edge Cheltenham Festival battle with bookmakers

Galopin Des Champs’ brilliant Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup double left bookmakers licking their wounds at the end of the Cheltenham Festival.

Willie Mullins’ defending champion was sent off the well-backed 10-11 favourite and barely gave his supporters a moment of worry as he stormed to back-to-back triumphs in the blue riband.

It means that three of the four feature-race favourites obliged over the four days and although the layers received temporary relief on day two when El Fabiolo fluffed his lines in the Champion Chase, Galopin Des Champs’ victory only compounded the misery inflicted by State Man and Teahupoo earlier in the week.

Paul Townend and Galopin Des Champs were the toast of punters at Cheltenham
Paul Townend and Galopin Des Champs were the toast of punters at Cheltenham (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

“When the Festival’s leading trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend team up on the reigning Gold Cup champion and hot favourite in the biggest betting race of the week, victory for the combination is never going to be anything other than bad news for the bookmakers,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

“Overall it’s been a rollercoaster week for us, but Galopin Des Champ’s Gold Cup double means plenty of punters have ended this huge week on a high.”

BoyleSports were another firm losing on the Gold Cup, with spokesperson Lawrence Lyons adding: “It was already a bruising week with so many Mullins winners going in, but he rubbed salt in our wounds on Friday and Galopin Des Champs was the knockout blow as he was the best backed horse of the week.” 

However, it was not all bad news for the old enemy, with BetVictor relieved to escape relatively unscathed after an up and down week.

Bookmaker in action at Cheltenham
Bookmaker in action at Cheltenham (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Sam Boswell of the firm explained: “After a bruising day one and day two – which could have been much worse if El Fabiolo had obliged for the many multiple bets – days three and four proved fruitful for the bookmakers with only Galopin Des Champs being a significant negative result.

“It is safe to say both bookmakers and punters had lots of fun at this year’s Festival and it is more or less honours even, perhaps a small win for the punters, over the last four days.”

Paddy Power’s Paul Binfield echoed those sentiments adding: “El Fabiolo’s unfortunate defeat in the Queen Mother was the turning point of the week.

“It went downhill from there for punters and the books have come out on top after a rather worrying start.”

Gold Cup hat-trick firmly on Mullins’ mind after Galopin to glory again

An attempt to emulate three-time winners Arkle and Best Mate is uppermost in Willie Mullins’ mind for Galopin Des Champs having watched his stable star smoothly add a second Boodles Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

While last year’s race had its moments of concern before he eventually stamped his class on the contest, this time around it was much more straightforward.

In fact, the biggest worry was when Fastorslow, his nemesis from the Punchestown Festival and the John Durkan Chase earlier in the season, loomed up alongside him – the difference being this time his old foe had unseated earlier in the race and was riderless.

“The loose horse was obviously a worry, I was trying to work out if it was an English or an Irish one! But I could tell by Paul’s body language that he was comfortable throughout,” said Mullins.

Galopin Des Champs powers up the hill
Galopin Des Champs powers up the hill (David Davies/PA)

For Mullins, the old saying ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again’ certainly rings true where the Gold Cup is concerned.

Before Al Boum Photo won the first of his two Gold Cups in 2019, the master trainer had finished second in the blue riband an incredible six times.

“The two horses don’t really compare, Al Boum Photo was more of a galloper who would stay all day while this fellow has a bit of class but he’s still able to pull it out at the end of three and a quarter miles,” said Mullins, who was winning his fourth Gold Cup in six years.

“We’ve been very lucky that after six seconds we’ve now won four in six, we’re also very lucky to have Paul. He’s level with Pat Taaffe now (on four winners), that’s esteemed company.

“To win the 100th Gold Cup is amazing. The horses have been running so well, the jockeys have been riding so well, it’s like a perfect storm, that’s what it is, just the perfect storm.”

Where Al Boum Photo came up short in his bid for a third Gold Cup, Galopin Des Champs’ biggest test may come from within in the shape of Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase winner Fact To File.

“The aim now has got to be to get him back next year and go for a third and I imagine we’ll run a similar type of programme as we did this year,” said Mullins.

“Looking at the amount of horses he’s beaten, he’s probably run more times than most Gold Cup horses but I’m a believer that if you’ve got a good, sound horse and the prize-money is there, run them.

“I’m sure it’s a big help that we got those runs into him early in the season. He took the runs really well and gave us no reason not to run and that enabled us to come with race fitness rather than hope.

“It’s awesome that it looks like we might have other Gold Cup horses coming through, but we know through bitter experience how hard it is to get three-mile chasers back to the track, it’s a tough game. It would be great to bring him back but if he doesn’t, hopefully we have A, B and C as well.”

For Townend, who you sometimes feel would rather be anywhere else than the centre of attention, he has, as Mullins pointed out, matched the Gold Cup record of Arkle’s legendary rider.

“He’s felt stronger this year so we were able to ride him differently, he’s more grown up, he’s tough,” said Townend.

“It was more straightforward this year, last year we sort of had to fight our way through but this was a different race on a different day.

“You obviously never know what a loose horse is going to do, but he actually behaved himself quite well and my horse was very professional. He was also something for me to race with.”

For Mullins, the Gold Cup was his ninth winner of the week in a year he brought up an incredible 100th Festival success and put the seal on yet another remarkable meeting.

“The other morning before we came, we were all in the office and I said to them all ‘is it me or is everything in place this year’. The horses we were running at home were winning and the ones that were coming here were all in tip-top order and that has proved to be the case,” he said.

Willie Mullins has come to dominate at Cheltenham
Willie Mullins has come to dominate at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

“It’s hard to say which is bigger, 100 winners or another Gold Cup, but there’s a Gold Cup every year – not many people will train 100 winners. I never dreamt I would and I didn’t aspire to do it, but you hope to have a Gold Cup winner.

“I obviously tried for a lot of years and couldn’t do it, but a few years later here we are with four out of six. You dream it would happen, but you don’t dream what has happened to Closutton in the last 20 or 25 years.

Townend, who had the misfortunate of being compared to Ruby Walsh when he took the top job, has now established himself as the man for the big occasion.

“It’s been an amazing journey and it’s all down to Willie, he gave me a lot of experiences as a young rider behind Ruby and I’m just grateful to be able to repay him with winners this week and every year,” he said.

“He gives you huge confidence riding the horses because if it’s not going to Plan A, you have the confidence to be able to go and do something else. I don’t remember us ever having a row!”

Comparing Townend to Walsh, Mullins said: “Totally different rider, different style of riding and a different way of viewing a race, but it works. I always admire Paul’s style of riding for different reasons – and he’s really settled into the top job hasn’t he.”

Mullins also had a poignant word for his late parents, Paddy and Maureen, the latter having died last month at the age of 94.

“I would have loved to have had my mother and my father here, for the whole week, not just the Gold Cup, but it’s not to be,” he said.

When asked what was left for him to achieve now, Mullins said: “Paul alluded to it coming in after winning on Absurde when he said ‘what the hell were you doing down in Melbourne with him!’.

“We’d like to go back. In the context of Flat racing, we’re never going to win a Guineas so we target the staying races and the Melbourne Cup is the one I’d really like.”

Sine Nomine seals famous Festival success for Needham

There was a winner for the north at the Cheltenham Festival as Fiona Needham’s Sine Nomine edged out 11-8 favourite Its On The Line in a thrilling finish to the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase.

The market leader’s jockey Derek O’Connor was attempting to enter the record books by winning all three amateur rider events in the same week, but it was Catterick clerk of the course Needham who added herself to the race’s roll of honour for a second time.

Needham rode Last Option to victory in 2002 for her father Robin Tate and Sine Nomine, who cost just £2,400 as a three-year-old, sported the same Tate colours here.

Sine Nomine and her winning connections
Sine Nomine and her winning connections (PA)

The eye was drawn to Sine Nomine throughout the contest as the eight-year-old travelled with real zest in the hands of John Dawson but there was still plenty of work to do as David Christie’s long-time leader Ferns Lock gave way on the run to two out and eventual third Time Leader took things up.

Dawson elected to make his challenge up the inner where O’Connor was working away urging last year’s runner-up and having found himself short of room after the last, Dawson had to switch and regather his mount before launching one last assault up the Cheltenham hill.

It was a challenge timed to perfection as although Its On The Line soon had Time Leader covered, he had no answer to Sine Nomine’s late thrust as the gallant grey became the toast of Yorkshire at odds of 8-1.

John Dawson celebrates aboard Sine Nomine
John Dawson celebrates aboard Sine Nomine (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Needham was delighted to secure top honours for her father and hailed Dawson’s effort in the saddle.

She said: “This is a dream come true and what a ride by John. I told him to try to save a bit for the final hill and boy did she pick up. She’s a star.

“I was screaming my head off and making it very embarrassing for myself, but it means so much to me and my father Robin. I thought if she was third she’d have run a very good race, and that was where I thought she was going to finish, but then she picked up.

“It’s a long way from Catterick to Cheltenham but the decision to train and then bring her here has paid off.

“You don’t get highs like this at Catterick!”

Sine Nomine finished second in a previous trip to Prestbury Park last May but was a first Festival contender for Needham.

She added: “Last Option won and the following year was third, and since then I’ve just had three or four runners at the hunter chase meeting, none at the Festival.”

Sine Nomine edged out Its On The Line
Sine Nomine edged out Its On The Line (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Dawson said: “It’s just a dream. I just never thought for a moment we’d be mixing it here with these top jockeys – watching Derek O’Connor yesterday; top, top riders, and to have our name on that trophy is something.

“I’m getting on a bit now, riding, I’ve been round the block a bit, and I’ve been down here a few times on long, long shots, and you sort of know your fate before you come here, but with her, I genuinely didn’t know how good she was, and today she’s proved that.

“For Yorkshire and the northern point-to-point circuit to have someone like that flying that flag, and to prove that British point-to-points can produce top-level horses.

“Fiona is fantastic to ride for and there’s no pressure. She has the knowledge and experience, she understands what will go wrong and right, and they are fantastic supporters of point-to-pointing – year in, year out they will have five or six pointers, and have stuck at it.

“I’m just pleased to be on a really, really nice one.”

‘Horse of a lifetime’ Corach Rambler does Russell proud in defeat

All reads lead back to the Randox Grand National for Corach Rambler after Lucinda Russell’s pride and joy “ran his socks off” to finish third in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The 10-year-old is a dual Festival winner having claimed back-to-back victories in the Ultima Handicap Chase, an achievement only bettered by his dominant success in the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree last spring.

Corach Rambler disappointed on his first start of the current campaign at Kelso, but an encouraging third in Haydock’s Betfair Chase in November was a step in the right direction and he had been kept fresh for his return to Prestbury Park.

Settled at the rear of the field for much of the way by Derek Fox, the Scottish raider began to make inroads racing down the hill and just for a fleeting moment halfway up the home straight the dream that he may achieve the extremely rare feat of landing National Hunt racing’s two biggest prizes was alive.

Ultimately his late thrust got him the bronze medal behind Galopin Des Champs, but he nevertheless received a rapturous reception from both his connections and the crowd after returning to the parade ring and he is now as short of 6-1 to successfully defend his National crown on April 13.

“I’d say on Tuesday we weren’t going to run, but I don’t want to run him ever, ever, ever, I just want to pat him and look after him,” Russell said afterwards.

“But he’s a racehorse and he loves his job and yesterday evening I said to Scu (Peter Scudamore, partner) ‘what are we going to do’ and he said ‘look, it’s going to be safe (ground) and as long as it’s safe it’s fine’, and he ran his socks off.

“When he was at the top of the hill I thought he was a little bit further back than usual and then when he came down the hill I thought ‘can he do it again?’. Maybe if the ground had been a little bit better, I don’t know, all I know is I’m delighted with him, to be third in the Gold Cup is fantastic.

“I can’t get over the way the people appreciate him, he’s just lovely – he’s the horse of a lifetime.”

Splitting Galopin Des Champs and Corach Rambler in second was the Gordon Elliott-trained Gerri Colombe.

The eight-year-old was blown away by his conqueror in Leopardstown’s Savills Chase over Christmas, but closed the gap to three and a half lengths on the day that mattered most.

Elliott said: “There was no excuse, the winner was very, very good, but we’re very proud of our horse. He ran a great race and we’re very happy.

“He was up against a superstar. It’s always disappointing when you lose, but the horse that beat him is exceptional.

“The loose horse didn’t help us, but I don’t think it made the difference between winning and losing.”

Back in fourth was the Venetia Williams-trained L’Homme Presse, who for a long way disputed the lead with The Real Whacker and those still in contention into the home straight.

L'Homme Presse in action at Cheltenham
L’Homme Presse in action at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

His emotional co-owner Andy Edwards said: “Amazing, he served it up to them. Charlie (Deutsch) just said the ground is really tacky and the speed he had at Lingfield he just couldn’t show it in that.

“He’s jumped fantastically and he’s enjoyed it. I’m so proud.

“I was standing there calm and I could just see his stride shorten a touch just before the second-last, I knew that was tough for him. He’s had an interrupted season really and for him to finish fourth in the Gold Cup, bloody hell – it’s amazing isn’t it?

“It was brilliant ride from Charlie. If you watch it, they were as one – it wasn’t a horse and a jockey, they were one entity.

“I’m delighted, proud and I’m going to go and have a good cry.”

Galopin Des Champs unstoppable in Gold Cup march

Galopin Des Champs joined the list of Cheltenham Festival greats when brilliantly defending his Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup crown.

Having answered stamina doubts 12 months ago, the Willie Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs was ridden much handier this time by Paul Townend, as the last two Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase winners, The Real Whacker and L’Homme Presse, set the pace.

Townend had edged his way to join the front-runners jumping four out and although the loose Fastorslow threatened to check his momentum as Charlie Deutsch aboard L’Homme Presse set sail for home three out, there were few dramas for the week’s leading rider who looked in complete control jumping to the front two out.

L’Homme Presse and the brave Gerri Colombe looked beaten as Galopin Des Champs (10-11 favourite) approached the last with a clear advantage and he produced the leap of a real champion at the final obstacle before storming up the final climb to finish three and a half lengths clear of Gordon Elliott’s game runner-up Gerri Colombe.

Lucinda Russell’s Grand National hero Corach Rambler stayed on admirably for third, but the day belonged to Galopin Des Champs, who was scoring at the Cheltenham Festival for a third time.

Mullins and Townend were combining for their fourth Gold Cup triumph following Al Boum Photo’s back-to-back triumphs in 2019 and 2020 and Galopin Des Champs’ victory over Bravemansgame 12 months ago and it was a fitting way to cap a stellar week for the master of Closutton and his stable jockey.

Mullins said: “I think he just put himself in the superstar category – to do what he did and the way he did it.

A repeat of last year's celebrations
A repeat of last year’s celebrations (Adam Davy/PA)

“The loose horse was there and Paul was just so positive on him. Hopefully we can come back next year to win a third one – he has the ability to do it and we just have to stay sound, I think.

“He’s doing everything right and is achieving more than I thought he could. It was great to win a Gold Cup last year and we were crossing our fingers this year that if we got him there safe and sound, he’d have every chance of winning and he’s just done that. But you can only dream about these kinds of things.”

He added: “He is class. Paul just jumped out and rode a race on him, he was never afraid to have him up there and in the van, just be at the races.

“We were just afraid about his first couple of jumps, as the last two years he’s come here, he’s just ballooned them a little bit, so this year we thought we’d get him out there, get him racing early on and then settle him down.

“Other than the loose horse, there wasn’t that much to worry about after that. You didn’t know which way he was going to go and I could see Paul thinking ‘I’d like to be on his inside in case he runs off the track into the stable yard gate’.

“He took a brave decision going the other side but it worked out in the end, too. Paul was very brave over the last two fences, he sent him down to them and said ‘go on son, you’d better jump these two’.

“This year, we’ve been all forward with him since we got beat in Punchestown in the John Durkan, so Paul was keen on riding him like a racehorse because we could see the other way wasn’t working.

“Last year, I didn’t want that because he was too free and immature, now he can settle better in races and Paul has full confidence in him. He has more confidence in him than I do, I think.

“But he gallops, he jumps, he stays – what more do you need!”

Cheltenham Festival 2024 – Gold Cup Day – Cheltenham Racecourse
Galopin Des Champs ridden by Paul Townend (Mike Egerton/PA).

On future plans, Mullins said: “Normally, we’d go to Punchestown with him now, so I’ll have a word with the owners and see. Good horses need to run in big races and I like running them and getting them out – if they get beaten, it’s not the end of the world, they are still good horses.

“It’s different with each horse, but he’s not a horse I’m afraid to race.”

Asked if stablemate Fact To File could be the biggest danger next year, he added: “It would be fantastic if they both get there, but keeping these big chasers sound isn’t easy.”

A triumphant Townend said: “Unbelievable. We had to draw on our reserves there. I rode him completely different to last year and he was just so brave for me.

“We were a bit in between at the last and I was afraid about going for it, but it was a Gold Cup and you had to – and he’s pulled out all the stops again.”

Meanwhile, a proud Elliott said of Gerri Colombe: “My horse ran a great race and I’m very proud of him. He was up against a superstar.

“It’s always disappointing when you lose, but the horse that beat him is exceptional.”

Stellar Story denies The Jukebox Man in Bartlett thriller

Sam Ewing and Stellar Story pounced in the very last stride to inflict Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle agony on The Jukebox Man at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Ben Pauling-trained 18-1 outsider, who is owned by Harry Redknapp, had led the field along from flag fall in the hands of Kielan Woods, with Gordon Elliott’s shock 33-1 winner amongst those to track the pace setter.

The sedate early gallop saw plenty in with chances as the runners descended towards two out, but one by one they dropped away as Woods upped the tempo aboard The Jukebox Man and made his bid for home.

Pauling’s charge held the advantage running down to the last, but the six-year-old got in tight and gave Ewing and Stellar Story a glimmer of hope and they took full advantage, rallying to reel in the brave runner-up in the shadow of the post.

It was Elliott’s second success of the week following on from Teahupoo’s Stayers’ Hurdle triumph on Thursday, but for the young rider Ewing, it was not only a first Cheltenham Festival success, but also a maiden strike at Grade One level.

Sam Ewing salutes the Cheltenham crowd
Sam Ewing salutes the Cheltenham crowd (Mike Egerton/PA)

Ewing said: “Absolutely brilliant. He’s a horse that jumps very well, he loved that ground today and he battled very hard for me. He was brilliant at the last as well, when we needed it, so I can’t believe it.”

Elliott admitted he thought Stellar Story’s odds were generous, saying: “To be honest we thought he was overpriced, we knew he’d love the ground and he’s as tough as old nails.

“He stayed very well and Sam was good and positive. We were probably a little bit fortunate that the second horse missed the last as we’ve collared him on the line, but it was brilliant. I knew he was getting there, I just didn’t think he was getting there in time.

“To tell you the honest truth, I wasn’t going to run him. I was going to run Croke Park in the race and he was lame on Wednesday morning, so I brought this horse over late. I was going to send him to Aintree for a three-mile hurdle, so it shows what I know.

Stellar Story (left) chased down The Jukebox Man
Stellar Story (left) chased down The Jukebox Man (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He was bought to be a big chaser, that’s what he is. He’s a lovely horse.

“Sam is a big part of the team and I’m delighted for him.”

Owner Michael O’Leary added: “It’s a relief as I was getting a bit desperate. I had a bad day yesterday as my wife was presenting the Ryanair trophy to an ex Manchester United manager (Sir Alex Ferguson) and I’m a lifelong Man City supporter.

“I’m happy that’s the only trophy Man United are going to win this year, but I’m a bit disappointed it was the Ryanair trophy.

“It’s a complete fluke as we had Croke Park for this race and Gordon only put this horse on the box on Wednesday night. Sam gave him a peach of a ride.

“It was just a slog fest, but I’m very happy to win it. That relieves an awful lot of pressure.

“Winners here are so hard to get, if you don’t appreciate being in here you should give this game up. I tried to give it up about five years ago!

“To get in here is just fantastic.”