After the euphoria we have the melancholy, as Jump racing’s greatest week is consigned to the history books.
That may sound a little melodramatic but I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a little flat after such an incredible high. Those four days in March are always eagerly anticipated, but this season’s Festival brought so many wonderful highlights that it’s hard to accept the next is almost a year away.
So what were the high points? Who were the stars of this great equine show?
Willie Mullins had the incredible week that many expected and his adversaries feared. He opened his account in the very first race, and his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner looks to be something very special indeed. Douvan oozed class and simply toyed with his opponents. He posted a winning time over three seconds faster than that of Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle. In only his third hurdles start the five-year-old travelled like a dream; jumped every hurdle perfectly; before streaking clear from the last to win with any amount in hand. He looks a future hurdling superstar.
Connections now have a huge question to answer as they already have the Champion Hurdler in the yard. Would they now send Faugheen over fences to allow Douvan a shot at the Champion Hurdle? Of course next season is a long way off and many things can change between now and then, but once again Mr Mullins and Mr Ricci have plenty to ponder over.
After a terrific opening day that saw the Mullins team successful with Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Glens Melody, the second day confirmed the promise shown by Don Poli and propelled him into a realistic future Gold Cup contender.
His participation in the RSA Chase had been in doubt throughout the build-up as trainer and owners took part in one of the strangest of stand-offs. Would it be three miles or four miles? Eventually Gigginstown prevailed and clearly that decision was correct as Don Poli slaughtered the opposition, devouring that famous hill. His jumping was slick and he stayed on powerfully. Indeed the further he went the better he looked. There seemed to be plenty more in the Don’s locker and he is now two from two at Cheltenham Festivals.
Yet no sooner had we returned from the bookies clutching our antepost 2016 Gold Cup slip, were we to witness another astonishing performance. Uxizandre gave AP his Festival winner and Cole Harden took the World Hurdle for the wonderful Warren Greatrex, but it was Vautour that stole the show on Thursday and had jump racing fans gasping in awe.
Clever at one fence, he winged the rest before turning on the turbo up the Cheltenham hill. It may seem churlish to undermine the success of Un De Sceaux, but to put the two performances into context; he defeated Gods Own and Josses Hill by six lengths; whilst Vautour thrashed Apache Stronghold, Valseur Lido, Irish Saint and Ptit Zig by 15 and more yawning lengths. Ruby called it ‘flawless’ and it was clear from his comments and the mere expression on his face that he felt he had just ridden a superstar.
Willie Mullins was also unable to hide his excitement when saying: “That was a spectacular performance. We definitely go down the Gold Cup route.” And at that stage in the proceedings the thought of Don Poli versus Vautour appeared a mouth-watering prospect.
Yet just a day later another novice chaser put in a performance that left many ‘so called’ experts speechless. For many, the inclusion of a novice in the Gold Cup field appeared madness. On just his fourth attempt over fences, Coneygree would be taking on the very best staying chasers around. Winners of the Gold Cup, the King George, the Lexus Chase, Irish Hennessy, and so on and so forth, would line up against the novice sent in to battle by a man with only a handful of horses in training.
Mark Bradstock and wife Sara decided to take the brave route and boy did it pay off. Bred by the late Lord Oaksey, Coneygree had announced himself as a chaser to follow when storming to victory at Kempton over the Christmas period. He then jumped his opponents to sleep in the Denman Chase at Newbury. On Thursday night and into Friday the rain finally arrived and the going changed in favour of Bradstock’s novice.
Sent to the front as always by his regular partner Nico de Boinville, he jumped and galloped relentlessly, forcing errors from his opponents until only two remained within striking distance. Try as they might, Djakadam and Road To Riches were unable to get to Coneygree and history was made.
Sara Bradstock spoke after the famous victory: “He showed them didn't he. He had no idea about statistics or anything. He's the best. It gives everybody hope, you don't need telephone numbers to buy horses and it proves fairytales do come true. Dad would be so proud all these wonderful horses are down to him."
It truly was the perfect conclusion to one of the great Cheltenham Festival’s. The novices had dazzled and given those that love the sport so much to look forward too. Sure Willie Mullins had proved his dominance, and he has horses likely to thrill us for years to come. But high-profile victories for Greatrex and Bradstock warmed the hearts, and proved once again what an incredible sport Jump Racing is.