A few days have passed now since the best racing week of the year. You need time to recover, it does take it out of you, you know!
As always though a truly engrossing week. So much to get your teeth into. So much to enjoy. And when, as it always does, Friday evening arrives and you face up to the realisation that it will be another year before we go again, you can go home satisfied that this year, as normal, there is so much to look back on.
So two blogs. The good bits and the not so good bits.
This is the good bits. There will be far more of these than the other, and no doubt I’ll keep remembering more over the next 24 hours.
So where to start. With the horses of course. 2019 had its share of memorable performances, right out of the top drawer, with the Gold Cup leading the way.
What a duel between the aggressive Native River and the stalker Might Bite. I’ve always been a big Might Bite fan – and felt Native River just wasn’t good enough to win a Gold Cup – but I was happy to applaud the winner for the way Richard Johnson took the race by the scruff of its neck outstaying Might Bite up the run-in. No criticism of Nico de Boinville or Might Bite, I thought he had a great trip, but on the ground and over the extended Gold Cup trip the winner wasn’t for stopping. It was a wonderful finish with the rest nowhere. People often say the roar for the Supreme at the beginning of Tuesday is something, but the loudest roar of the week is always in the Gold Cup as the runners turn for home. It was spine tingling and both the first two horses emerged with reputations enhanced.
Another horse with so much credit in the bank is Altior. Have you ever seen a horse fly up the hill like he does? He jumped the last level with Min, having seemingly been in trouble coming down the hill but what a sensational burst of speed to put seven lengths between him and the second. Interesting to see if they go up in trip with him next year.
Samcro was devastating. He was my only ante post bet to come in and I’ve already backed him for next year’s Arkle (he’d better go chasing and not to the JLT either). I was a believer after seeing him at Leopardstown and I’m even more so now.
Other positive mentions for Balko des Flos who won what I thought was a substandard Ryanair, but won with great authority, for Buveur D’Air – only good horses win two Champion Hurdles and also for Footpad and Presenting Percy who were very impressive in winning the Arkle and RSA respectively, with both looking potential Gold Cup candidates next year.
One good lesson learnt was that the best two bets of the week turned out to be away from Cheltenham. On the Wednesday at Huntingdon, a horse trained by Gavin Cromwell and ridden by Rachel Blackmore came over from Ireland to run in a tiny lady rider’s handicap hurdle. That went under the radar, winning comfortably at 5-2. Shame not to realise that until it was too late. But one we did get on was the following day. If the question was “why is Nico De Boinville going to Towcester for one ride (a mare who hadn’t been seen for for over 1,000 days) rather than being at Cheltenham?” the answer was to ride an easy winner, available at bigger than 2-1 in the morning but going off at 10-11. The lesson is make sure to check the smaller meetings for the plots which become obvious after the event.
In the ultra competitive bookmaking offers markets there were a few great value bets if you could find them. I thought the best was the 3-1 offered for the Samcro and Altior double, though backing Altior at odds against felt a great bet as well.
Away from the horses what else was good? Well the weather for one thing. It was nice of the weather gods to ensure that almost all the rain that fell did so at night, and even the coldest day, the Wednesday, was the one day when we watch the racing from the warmth of the Wheatsheaf pub in Cirencester.
We found a very nice bar upstairs in the Guinness village which didn’t ever get over crowded – something not easy with somewhere between 65,000-70,000 people there every day.
The more you go, the more people you know on the course and it is always great to catch up with friends, old and new in such a wonderful event. The discussions are almost all about horseracing – whether this meeting or others – and you just get caught up in a completely different world for a few days, away from work and all the normal frustrations of life. Great to meet up with football friends Adam Hills and Jonny Wright, the two halves of the Handicap Breaker team
on twitter who finally tipped their first successful yankee on Day One winning big money.
All in all an excellent festival. It always is of course. For me, next year will be Festival number 30. Gosh I’m old! Bring it on.