I’m cheating already. In this second instalment of 10 of the best races I’ve seen at Cheltenham I’m choosing two for the price of one. That’s because these two races are so similar. They are just great examples of how exaggerated waiting tactics can pay off allowing a horse to jump the last almost swinging on the bridle before running on to win comfortably. Funnily enough the examples come successive runnings of this, albeit two years apart in 2000 and 2002 as there we lost the 2001 meeting due to foot and mouth.
The William Hill NH Handicap Chase, to give it its full name is run on the first day of the Festival. It is a chase over an extended 3 miles. Let’s go in chronological order.
In 2000, Marlborough, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Mick Fitzgerald opened a short price 3-1 favourite but drifted alarmingly, with ‘celeb’ bookmaker Barry Dennis saying it couldn’t win. It actually went off an 11-2 third favourite behind Beau, a typically tough Nigel Twiston-Davies novice and Spendid, trained by Alan King and ridden by Richard Johnson, who both went off as 5-1 joint favs.
Mick Fitz settled Marlborough at the back and quietly hunted round the first circuit. Commentator Simon Holt only really picked him up when he hit the downhill fence on the first circuit and not again until the top of the hill on the second circuit where he was spotted making smooth progress as Beau galloped on remorselessly in front.
As they turned for home Marlborough was still only 4th but you could he see was going best, and with Fitzgerald angling to the inside he jumped past Beau at the last in the Ogden colours and ran on to win comfortably. Beau kept on to claim second.
It was a similar story in the same race two years on. This time the horse was Frenchman’s Creek, trained by Hughie Morrison and ridden by one of the most stylish and natural jockeys you could ever wish to see in Paul Carberry.
Funny enough, as with two years earlier Richard Johnson was aboard the favourite, Gunther McBride, this time trained by Philip Hobbs at 4-1. Frenchman’s Creek was sent off 4th favourite at 8-1. Carberry, typically, settled his mount at the rear of a packing field of 23 runners.
After a circuit Frenchman’s Creek still had far more in front of him than behind. Running away into the country Carbury Cross, blinkered for the first time for Jonjo O’Neill and Liam Cooper began to break away. Running down the hill and at three out Frenchman’s Creek still had over 10 lengths to make up but he was the one you could see running on. Second turning for home, Carberry took aim and he glided into the lead halfway up the run in before passing the valiant Carbury Cross to win easily.
In both cases the winners were put to sleep for a circuit. They stealthily made progress through the final circuit to get into contention coming down the hill and running round the home turn they were the horses you wanted to be on. In the end they both won easily. Certainly when you’ve backed horses with that run style, when it comes off there is almost no better sight in racing, especially if it is at the Cheltenham Festival. Others will have done it but these two have always stuck out as great examples of the best waiting rides you could wish to see.