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Stars aplenty as the show went on in 2020

A year obviously like no other, 2020 still saw star performances aplenty, although only a handful of people were lucky enough to witness the exploits of the equine headliners.

With spectators a fleeting presence across a smattering of venues, many were just grateful to see the show go on – even from a distance – after more than two months on the sidelines because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here, from Al Boum Photo’s second successive Cheltenham Gold Cup victory to Serpentine’s unlikely runaway victory in the Derby, the PA news agency tells the story of racing’s 2020 via pictures.

January

Envoi Allen and Davy Russell
Envoi Allen and Davy Russell (Brian Lawless/PA)

With no hint of the disruption to come, the 2020 half of the National Hunt season began with Envoi Allen maintaining his flawless form when taking the Grade One Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle in fine style for Gordon Elliott on January 5, his third victory at the highest level.

Defi Du Seuil ridden by Barry Geraghty jump the last to win the The Class One Betfair TingleCreek Steeple Chase ahead of Un De Sceaux ridden by Paul Townsend (left)
Defi Du Seuil, ridden by Barry Geraghty, jumps the last to win the The Class One Betfair TingleCreek Steeple Chase, just ahead of Un De Sceaux, ridden by Paul Townsend (left) (Mark Kerton/PA)

The crowd-pleasing Un De Sceaux ran for the last time on January 18 when finishing behind Defi De Seuil in the Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot. The popular front-runner had racked up 23 victories, 10 at Grade One level, and accumulated more than £1.5million in prize money.

February

Itchy Feet ridden by jockey Gavin Sheehan goes onto wins the Betway Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown
Itchy Feet, ridden by Gavin Sheehan (right), wins the Betway Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown (Steven Paston/PA)

Olly Murphy claimed his first Grade One success courtesy of Itchy Feet, winner of the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase under jockey Gavin Sheehan. Murphy, previously assistant to leading Irish trainer Gordon Elliott, first took out a licence in his own right in 2017 and was aged just 28 at the time of the victory.

Altior ridden by Nico de Boinville clears the last fence before going on to win The Betfair Exchange Steeple Chase Race run during Betfair Super Saturday at Newbury
Altior and Nico de Boinville clear the last fence before going on to win the Betfair Exchange Steeple Chase at Newbury (Julian Herbert/PA)

After being beaten by Cyrname in the 1965 Chase the previous November, Altior bounced back with a decisive victory in Newbury’s Grade Two Game Spirit Chase – his 21st career success.

Leighton Aspell lifts the trophy as he celebrates after victory on Many Clouds in the 2015 Grand National
Leighton Aspell lifts the trophy as he celebrates after victory on Many Clouds in the 2015 Grand National (Mike Egerton/PA)

Dual Grand National-winning jockey Leighton Aspell retired for good in February, having previously hung up his boots in 2007. A return in 2009 brought about some of 43-year-old’s best days in the saddle, including back-to-back Grand National victories aboard Pineau De Re in 2014 and Many Clouds in 2015.

March

Crowds in the stands during day four of the Cheltenham Festival
Crowds in the stands during day four of the Cheltenham Festival (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Despite increasing pressure to limit public gatherings in the wake of the growing Covid-19 outbreak in Britain, the Cheltenham Festival went ahead as planned, with more than 250,000 spectators over the four days – a figure only 5.5% lower than the previous year.

Champ ridden by Barry Geraghty (centre) on their way to victory in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase during day two of the Cheltenham Festival
Champ and Barry Geraghty (centre) on their way to victory in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Barry Geraghty rallied to an unlikely victory in the RSA Chase aboard the Nicky Henderson-trained Champ. Approaching the home straight, the 4-1 shot was some eight lengths behind leaders Minella Indo and Allaho, but accelerated after the last to find a gap in the middle and prevail by a length.

Jockey Paul Townend celebrates on Monkfish after winning the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle during day four of the Cheltenham Festival
Jockey Paul Townend celebrates on Monkfish after winning the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Simon Cooper/PA)

A thrilling finish to the Albert Barlett Novices’ Hurdle saw Latest Exhibition, Fury Road and Monkfish battle it out – with the latter prevailing by a neck, and just a nose separating the second and third.

Al Boum Photo ridden by Jockey Paul Townend wins the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo and Paul Townend win the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

Al Boum Photo became the first horse since Best Mate to win successive Cheltenham Gold Cups, taking the race by a neck from Santini under Paul Townend, the jockey who also steered him to victory in 2019.

Locked gates at Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool, following the announcement that the 2020 Randox Health Grand National, due to take place on Saturday April 4, 2020, has been cancelled
Locked gates at Aintree, following the announcement that the 2020 Randox Health Grand National was cancelled (Martin Rickett/PA)

Just three days after the Festival, Covid-19 forced the cancellation of the Grand National for the first time since World War II, with British racing then going behind closed doors for 24 hours before ceasing altogether from March 18. Irish racing battled on without spectators for a week before it too was suspended on March 25.

April

Action from the Virtual Grand National
Action from the Virtual Grand National (PA Media)

In the absence of a real race, the Virtual Grand National filled the ITV slot usually reserved for the Aintree showpiece, with a peak audience of 4.8 million tuning in to see the Christian Williams-trained Potters Corner take first place. Bookmakers donated all profits from the race to NHS charities, with a total of £2.6million raised.

Brian Hughes during the Cheltenham Festival
Brian Hughes during the Cheltenham Festival (Nick Potts/PA)

With the season cut short, Brian Hughes was officially named champion jump jockey for the first time in his career. When the sport was suspended in March, Hughes was leading four-time champion Richard Johnson by 19 – having racked up 141 victories.

May

ParisLongchamp welcomed back raicng at the start of May
ParisLongchamp welcomed back racing at the start of May (Nick Robson/PA)

French racing returned with a cracking card at ParisLongchamp on May 11, with German action having resumed four days earlier at Hannover. British racing was, meanwhile, working towards a June 1 resumption.

Jockey Ross Coakley onboard Regal Eagle in the parade ring ahead of Irish Stallion Farms EBF at Gowran Park Racecourse
Jockey Ross Coakley on Regal Eagle in the parade ring before the Irish Stallion Farms EBF at Gowran Park (Brian Lawless/PA)

HRI confirms June 8 will see the resumption of Irish racing, after successful lobbying of the Irish Government saw the sport’s return advance from an initial slot at the end of June.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden (Yui Mok/PA)

The British Horseracing Authority finally gets the Government rubber stamp to start racing on June 1, with Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport saying racing will be “first out of the gate” as elite sport resumes.

June

Zodiakos (orange) won the first race at Newcastle on June 1
Zodiakos (orange) won the first race at Newcastle on June 1 (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Zodiakos wrote his name into the history books as he won the first race at Newcastle, as racing resumed with a bumper 10-race card Flat card, conducted with only essential parties in attendance and everyone on site required to wear a mask and comply to strict health and safety protocols.

Ghaiyyath, ridden by William Buick, winning the Coronation Cup
Ghaiyyath, ridden by William Buick, winning the Coronation Cup (George Selwyn/PA)

Ghaiyyath wins the first Group One of the season, the rearranged Coronation Cup at Newmarket, by two and a half lengths for Charlie Appleby.

Kameko ridden by Oisin Murphy wins the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket
Kameko and Oisin Murphy win the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Andrew Balding’s Kameko triumphed in the first Classic of the season, a late renewal of the 2000 Guineas. Unbeaten juvenile star Pinatubo, who started as 5-6 favourite, disappointed in third – with Oisin Murphy steering the winner to prevail by a neck from Wichita. Love won the 1000 Guineas 24 hours later, for Ryan Moore and Aidan O’Brien.

Battaash ridden by Jim Crowley wins the King’s Stand Stakes during day one of Royal Ascot
Battaash, ridden by Jim Crowley, wins the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Royal Ascot kicked off in its usual slot, albeit very different circumstances with top hats and high fashion replaced by empty stands. Charlie Hills’ crack sprinter Battaash shelved his luckless Ascot past with an easy win in the King’s Stand Stakes, forming part of an opening-day treble for jockey Jim Crowley and owner-breeder Sheikh Hamdan, with Motakhayyel winning the Buckingham Palace Handicap and Nazeef taking the Duke of Cambridge Stakes.

Stradivarius ridden by Frankie Dettori wins the Gold Cup during day three of Royal Ascot
Stradivarius and Frankie Dettori win the Ascot Gold Cup (Megan Ridgwell/PA)

Stradivarius joined an elite list as only the third horse to win three Ascot Gold Cups, taking the 2020 renewal by a remarkable 10 lengths, defying unsuitably testing ground following heavy rain.

Hollie Doyle after riding Scarlet Dragon to win The Duke of Edinburgh Stakes during day four of Royal Ascot
Hollie Doyle after riding Scarlet Dragon to win The Duke of Edinburgh Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hollie Doyle chalked up her first Royal Ascot success aboard aboard 33-1 shot Scarlet Dragon in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, becoming only the third female jockey to ride a winner at the meeting.

Mon Mome and jockey Liam Treadwell celebrate winning the Grand National
Mon Mome and jockey Liam Treadwell celebrate winning the Grand National (David Davies/PA)

Racing mourned the loss of Grand National-winning jockey Liam Treadwell, who died at the age of 34.

July

Trainer Olly Murphy speaks to jockey Adrian Heskin after Enemy Coast Ahead had won the signsolutions.org Offering Retail Solutions Novices’ Hurdle (GBB Race) (Div 1) at Southwell Racecourse
Trainer Olly Murphy speaks to jockey Adrian Heskin after Enemy Coast Ahead’s win in division one of the signsolutions.org Offering Retail Solutions Novices’ Hurdle at Southwell (Edward Whitaker/PA)

The National Hunt season made a delayed start at Southwell on July 1, with Olly Murphy saddling four winners across the card and a small handful of owners also in attendance as part of a BHA trial to get connections back on track.

Serpentine ridden by jockey Emmet McNamara (right) on their way to winning the Investec Derby at Epsom
Serpentine, ridden by jockey Emmet McNamara (right), dominates the Investec Derby at Epsom (Dan Abraham/PA)

The Derby meeting was condensed into one card run four weeks later than usual, but that did not stop Aidan O’Brien registering a Classic double. Love’s wide-margin success in the Oaks was probably not hard to predict, but 25-1 shot Serpentine was certainly a Derby surprise as he made all under an inspired ride from Emmet McNamara- routing the field by five and a half lengths.

Ghaiyyath and William Buick (blue) winning The Coral-Eclipse from Enable (pink cap) at Sandown Park
Ghaiyyath and William Buick (blue) winning the Coral-Eclipse from Enable (pink cap) at Sandown Park (Dan Abraham/PA)

Ghaiyyath galloped his rivals into the ground as he dethroned turf queen Enable in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown, with the dual Arc winner well held on her seasonal bow.

Oxted ridden by Cieren Fallon win The Darley July Cup
Oxted and Cieren Fallon win The Darley July Cup (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Cieren Fallon Jr, son of acclaimed jockey Kieren Fallon, rode his first Group One winner on Oxted in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket – also trainer Roger Teal’s first top-level success.

Barry Geraghty, who announced his retirement in July, aged 40
Barry Geraghty, who announced his retirement in July, aged 40 (Tim Goode/PA)

Barry Geraghty announces his retirement after a career that encompassed 43 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including two Gold Cups, a Grand National win and a plethora of big-race successes and champion jockey titles.

Enable ridden by jockey Frankie Dettori (left) wins the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes
Enable and Frankie Dettori (left) win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes (Bill Selwyn/PA)

Enable raises the bar again as she becomes the first three-time winner of the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, just days before stablemate Stradivarius makes his own history when securing his fourth successive victory in the Goodwood Cup – the only horse to ever do so.

August

Ghaiyyath ridden by jockey William Buick on the way to winning the Juddmonte International Stakes
Ghaiyyath and William Buick on the way to winning the Juddmonte International Stakes (David Davies/PA)

Ghaiyyath won his third successive Group One when taking the Juddmonte International Stakes at York, seeing off the mare Magical in style.

Love, ridden by Ryan Moore, wins the Darley Yorkshire Oaks
Love, ridden by Ryan Moore, wins the Darley Yorkshire Oaks (David Davies/PA)

Dual Classic heroine Love notches an impressive victory in the Yorkshire Oaks, cruising home under Ryan Moore as 4-9 favourite.

Hollie Doyle at Windsor Racecourse
Hollie Doyle at Windsor Racecourse (Dan Abraham/PA)

Hollie Doyle becomes the first female jockey to ride five winners on the same card, pulling off an 899-1 five-timer at Windsor on August 29.

September

Galileo Chrome ridden by jockey Tom Marquand (right) celebrates winning The Pertemps St Leger Stakes
Galileo Chrome, ridden by Tom Marquand (right), wins the Pertemps St Leger (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Not to be left out, Doyle’s partner Tom Marquand secures his first Classic win on Galileo Chrome in the St Leger at Doncaster, with the jockey landing the ride at the last minute after regular partner Shane Crosse tested positive for Covid-19.

Magical ridden by Seamus Heffernan (right) beats Ghaiyyath (right) to win the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes
Magical, ridden by Seamus Heffernan (right), beats Ghaiyyath (right) in the Irish Champion Stakes (PA)

Aidan O’Brien’s Magical ended Ghaiyyath’s winning streak in a thrilling Irish Champion Stakes, in what was to be the final start for Charlie Appleby’s brave front-runner.

Pat Smullen
Pat Smullen (David Davies/PA)

Racing pays tribute as nine-time Irish champion jockey Pat Smullen dies aged 43, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years earlier. His death came a year after the Pat Smullen Champions Race For Cancer Trials race, which helped Smullen raise over 2.5million euros for charity.

October

Enable winning her third King George at Ascot
Enable winning her third King George at Ascot (Hugh Routledge/PA)

Enable is retired after finishing sixth when chasing a record third victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The superstar mare won 15 of her 19 career starts for trainer John Gosden and owner Khalid Abdullah, including 11 Group Ones.

Trainer Tony Mullins with Princess Zoe
Trainer Tony Mullins with Princess Zoe (PA)

While Enable came up short in the Arc itself, there was plenty of success for the raiding party in the supporting races at ParisLongchamp, including a fairytale success for the Tony Mullins-trained Princess Zoe in the Prix du Cadran under apprentice Joey Sheridan. Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa won the Prix de l’Opera, and One Master recorded a memorable hat-trick for William Haggas in the Prix de la Foret. Aidan O’Brien did not have any runners on Arc weekend because of an issue related to contaminated feed, however.

Jockey Oisin Murphy
Jockey Oisin Murphy (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

It was confirmed at the start of October that champion jockey Oisin Murphy had tested positive for metabolites of cocaine, at a meeting in France earlier in the year. Murphy, who went on to be be crowned champion for a second time and rode his 1,000th domestic winner, was banned for three months following a hearing in November after France Galop found that the positive test derived from “environmental contamination”.

Hollie Doyle after winning aboard Glen Shiel at Ascot
Hollie Doyle after winning aboard Glen Shiel at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA(

Hollie Doyle stole the headlines at Ascot as she enjoyed a double on Qipco Champions Day, including her first Group One success aboard Glen Shiel in the British Champions Sprint. Tom Marquand also rode two winners, most notably steering Addeybb to victory in the Champion Stakes itself.

November

Twilight Payment gave Joseph O'Brien a second Melbourne Cup
Twilight Payment gave Joseph O’Brien a second Melbourne Cup (PA)

Joseph O’Brien once again scuppered his father Aidan’s bid for a first Melbourne Cup win as Twilight Payment held the late charge of Tiger Moth at Flemington. Melbourne standing dish Prince Of Arran took third for Charlie Fellowes – his third placing in the Group One event in as many years.

Glass Slippers triumphed in America
Glass Slippers triumphed in America (PA)

British and Irish raiders struck gold at the Breeders’ Cup meeting at Keeneland, with Glass Slippers landing the Turf Sprint, Audarya lifting the Filly & Mare, Order Of Australia springing a Mile shock and Tarnawa impressing with her Turf success.

Cloth Cap came home alone at Newbury
Cloth Cap came home alone at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Cloth Cap hacked up for Jonjo O’Neill and Tom Scudamore in the ultra-competitive Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury, making all before galloping 10 lengths clear at the line.

December

Racegoers in the grandstand at Ludlow
Racegoers in the grandstand at Ludlow (David Davies/PA)

A limited number of racegoers returned to tracks under Tier 1 and 2 Covid-19 restrictions in England – but as infection rates spiked again, the sport ended up back behind closed doors come the end of the month.

Bryony Frost and Frodon in full flight
Bryony Frost and Frodon in full flight (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Bryony Frost becomes the first woman to ride the winner of the King George VI Chase as she executes a perfect front-running ride aboard her old ally Frodon at Kempton on Boxing Day.

A Plus Tard was the star of Leopardstown's Christmas meeting
A Plus Tard was the star of Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting (Niall Carson/PA)

The Savills Chase at Leopardstown draws one of the best fields of its kind outside of the Festivals, and it does not disappoint with a humdinger of a finish as A Plus Tard edges out Kemboy in the shadow of the post to bag the Grade One honours.