Relive all the drama from last week’s Cheltenham Festival with our free video replays, while we highlight the pick of the eyecatchers from all four days.
Cheltenham Festival Eyecatchers
Vintage Clouds – Ultima Handicap Chase
Another Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham and another excellent effort in defeat by Vintage Clouds.
A faller two out last year when still in there pitching for place money 12 months ago, Sue Smith’s dour stayer performed even better this time around as he boxed on bravely for third behind Coo Star Sivola.
This effort came from a 7lb higher mark and he had to cut out of much of his own running, so he’s definitely an improved horse this season and deserves to pick up a major handicap.
His form all year has been rock solid, including a small-field second to Clan Des Obeaux and a fourth in the Coral Welsh National, and he’s likely to head back for the Scottish National – in which he was seventh last April – with outstanding claims.
If the rain hangs around and the race cuts up, Aintree could yet come under consideration (68th on list currently), but connections would be wise to hold on until next year to have a first crack at the big one, by which point he’ll be a nine-year-old.
Style De Garde – Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Defi Du Seuil and Zarkandar are only the two Triumph Hurdle winners to have followed up in Aintree’s Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle in the past decade and more often than not youngsters emerge from the Fred Winter to lay down a challenge in the Grade One in Liverpool.
There has to be at least a slight question mark over the strength of the form of this year’s Triumph, with only a small field lining up and the front two from Leopardstown fighting out the finish again, so it could pay to focus on the four-year-old handicap for a potential star.
Fred Winter winner Veneer Of Charm clearly got into the race lightly with a mark of 129 after winning a Punchestown maiden hurdle earlier in the season, while the third Nube Negra had finished second to Apple’s Shakira in the autumn.
All this contributes to the idea that runner-up Style De Garde deserves massive credit for his effort, conceding 8lb to the winner and 2lb to Nube Negra.
He’s totally unexposed and, like many of Nicky Henderson’s recruits, will presumably enjoy a switch to better ground when he gets chance.
His win earlier in the year came at Newbury so a flat track also appears to play to his strengths and it wouldn’t be a shock at all to see him make the necessary improvement to go close in top-class company at Aintree.
Supasundae – Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle
Jessica Harrington was understanably cutting a pretty frustrated figure last Friday.
She described the Cheltenham ground as “appalling” after Our Duke’s tame effort in the Gold Cup, while her two runners in the Grand Annual also failed to fire, Don’t Touch It pulling up and last year’s winner Rock The World managing only ninth.
But her only other Festival runner, Supasundae, performed with real credit on Thursday and he, too, would probably have preferred to hear his hooves rattling in proper spring conditions.
Supasundae has raced over three miles on three occasions now and filled the runner-up spot every time, so it’s pretty difficult to argue he doesn’t get the trip.
He and winner Penhill were the only two still on the bridle just after the second last in the Stayers’ and the pair proved a cut above the rest when settling down to fight out the finish coming to the final flight. They took it together and 2017 Coral Cup hero Supasundae arguably landed with a touch more momentum, but Penhill just had too many gears on the run-in.
Supasundae went down on his sword, pulling three lengths clear of third home Wholestone, and it’s hoped he’s aimed toward Aintree again, where he was beaten a length by Yanworth in last year’s Liverpool Hurdle.
The eight-year-old looks a stronger model this time around and, after beating Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle over the minimum trip last month, can surely open his Grade One account over three miles this spring.
The Young Master – Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase
The form of the Kim Muir should work out really well. The winner, Missed Approach, had gone close in the previous year’s four-miler and fought hard to hold off Mall Dini and Squouateur, both of whom had been exceptionally well-prepared for this race and were backed accordingly.
Of those in behind, it was the performance of The Young Master which caught the eye, as he was left with enough to do before staying on dourly up the hill for sixth, shaping as though back in form on what was his first start following wind surgery.
Neil Mulholland’s horse has dropped 10lb this season and is now almost a stone below the mark from which he won the 2016 renewal of the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown, a potential target once more given that he’s fallen so far down the pecking order for the Grand National.
He actually ran well for sixth in last year’s Becher on ground much softer than ideal and it’s a shame he’ll miss out on the big one this time now that he’s managed to complete over the National fences, but perhaps he can confirm himself well-handicapped by winning again at Sandown. From there, who knows… perhaps he might be one for the 2019 National. After all, he’s only nine and, one way or another, there looks to be another big prize in him. Especially if we ever see spring ground again.
Deam Berry – Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
While Blow By Blow was a taking winner of the Martin Pipe and could well emulate the likes of Sir Des Champs and Don Poli, both of whom won this race in these colours and went on to place in the Gold Cup, several of those in behind will remain of interest in handicaps over the coming months.
One is Dream Berry, a huge eye-catcher on his first start for 321 days. Sent off 33/1, he was among the least-fancied of the JP McManus battalion despite having chased home Rather Be at Aintree last spring, presumably because of the absence and the fact that he was racing off a mark some 10lb higher. That Aintree handicap is really strong form, though, and his subsequent second at Punchestown didn’t work out too bad, either.
Here in the County Hurdle, he was given a heck of a lot to do by Jonjo O’Neill’s 3lb-claiming son and finished with plenty in the tank in seventh, right on the heels of the places. Aintree could well be on the agenda again but Punchestown may prove even more suitable, as he’d likely get in off a nice racing weight rather than lump a big one around in Liverpool, while the extra time to avoid the ‘bounce’ factor could prove vital. Either way, he’s one to be interested in and appears adaptable as regards the ground.
Doitforthevillage – Grand Annual Handicap Chase
Paul Henderson deserves great credit for preparing his one Cheltenham runner so well, protecting Doitforthevillage‘s handicap mark after his November win at the course by running him over hurdles, where he’s very well-handicapped and finished a decent second at Huntingdon in February. Henderson had evidently decided that his horse might just creep in at the foot of the weights for the Grand Annual and was absolutely right.
Unfortunately for connections, their big day didn’t go quite to plan, as Paddy Brennan’s mount was hampered three times early on, badly on two occasions, and then made a big mistake at just the wrong time when trying to make his move two from home. Doitforthevillage stayed on well despite the error, but was ultimately well-held in sixth, beaten 16 lengths, which should be enough for the assessor to drop him a pound or two.
Given that he only went up 4lb for winning here last year that might help secure compensation for the Hampshire yard if they’re willing to make what would be their first long trip to Ayr, where the Listed handicap chase over two miles at the Scottish National meeting could prove ideal.
That race tends to attract one or two classy types – Vaniteux won it off a mark of 153 last year, conceding 20lb to the runner-up, while subsequent Grade One winner Simply Ned was seventh – and Doitforthevillage would enjoy whipping round there with less than 11st on his back once more.
Cheltenham Festival video replays
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So follow the links below to immerse yourself in last week’s Cheltenham Festival and reflect on what happened, and what could have been.
Tuesday March 13
Buveur D’Air and Melon duel up the hill
Nico De Boinville celebrates on Altior
Davy Russell celebrates a Balko Des Flos wins the Ryanair
Native Rivers’ jockey Richard Johnson kisses the Cheltenham Gold Cup