Cheltenham Festival

news: Cheltenham Festival

The “Gold Cup curse” continued to mar the run-up to this year’s climax of the National Hunt season, stretching over four action packed days for the first time ever. Following injuries to the highly fancied Best Mate and Kingscliff, another runner with a winning chance, Farmer Jack, died of a suspected heart attack only days before the big race. It was therefore fitting that Friday’s jumping crown was taken in emphatic style by the Irish-trained favourite Kicking King, who was himself ruled out with flu a week earlier, before making a lightning recovery.

The only other real hero to emerge from the meeting was Moscow Flyer, who defied all manner of statistics to take the Queen Mother Champion Chase by two lengths from the rapidly improving young pretender, Well Chief.Moscow Flyer, the highest rated chaser in training thus remains unbeaten provided he has completed the course.

On the opening day Hardy Eustace landed his second Champion Hurdle in a row, thus emerging from the long shadow cast by previous multiple winner Istabraq. Some lofty reputations were left in tatters on the same card when 20-1 shot Arcalis ran away with the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Unbeaten, Gold Medallist bit the dust on Wednesday’s Royal Sun Alliance Hurdle won by No Refuge, and Miss That put paid to Kieran Fallon’s hopes on Refinement in the Champion Bumper. On Thursday, all eyes were on World Hurdle favourite Baracouda, ridden by Tony McCoy, but he failed to stay with the younger Inglis Drever up the Cheltenham Hill, going down by three lengths.

Altogether this year’s renewal lacked the glamour and public appeal of previous occasions, this perhaps being a season of transition with old champions retiring to make way for younger horses yet to acquire a name for themselves. Irish eyes were smiling though with Kicking King adding to a total of nine Irish winners, more than financing St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.