Irish eyes were smiling
Gary McKenzie looks back on the Cheltenham Festival 2021 and picks out his highlights
I am biased but oddnce again the Cheltenham Festival delivered. In spades. There is always drama. There are always brilliant performances. And there are always stories.
Others with better words, and more actual experience of horses, have waxed lyrical about last weeks theatre so I am just going to drone on about my favourite bits. (Warning: I had six winners so they may feature heavily)
Before the week started I lost the horse I thought was my best chance of a winner when Thyme Hill was withdrawn from the Stayers Hurdle. Fortunately the horse I replaced him with in my ante post yankee won the Champion Hurdle.
Honeysuckle looked a shade big at 9/4 and I let my head rule my heart for once (I am a big Abacadrabas fan) and she got the bet off to a great start. I must admit to being worried at the third last, but this mare has gears and off the second last the race was over.
Bravemansgame was Wednesday’s big hope but he was no match for Bob Olinger who looks a top class prospect. He was still travelling when he hit the front while the others were staying dourly. Bravemansgame has been favourably compared to Denman by his trainer so he could be one to watch over a fence next season.
I was super happy that Allaho was not declared for the Gold Cup. I said in my preview that he does get three miles but that the extra two furlongs of the big race could be a step too far. I was banking on him leading and clinging on at the end due to his greater stamina in what looked a very competitive race.
He was never in any danger. I have to say it was my highlight of the week. I walked around as if I had made the decision to run him in the race myself.
The horse I was looking forward to seeing most was Adagio in the Triumph Hurdle. I thought he would be a major player. And even after his price went from 8/1 to 16/1 during the week I didn’t lose the faith. I have to be happy with his runner up spot as it was his best ever run and the winner, Quilixios, could be a bit special.
Irish trained horses dominated to a ridiculous degree and only Shishkin and Chantry House were successful for us Brits in the Grade One races.
Willie Mullins was the top trainer due to his number of placed horses as he was tied on six winners with Henry De Bromhead. Mr De Bromhead is someone I have always liked. He always comes across well in interviews. And now he is getting his just rewards.
It was great to see Jack Kennedy banging in the winners on the biggest stage. He has been through the mill in the last few years but he is one talented rider. That Gold Cup will mean the world to him and his family.
You have to feel for Jonathan Moore. The jockey celebrated his 27th birthday last week but could only watch as two of his mounts, Flooring Porter and Vanillier, won under different riders. Moore was injured last Sunday and decided on the morning of the Stayers Hurdle that he was still not fit enough to do his mounts justice.
That was a huge decision and pretty selfless.
I really hope he is back next year to bid for his first Festival winner.
But Rachael Blackmore (pictured winning the Triumph Hurdle on Quilixios) stole the headlines. She rode six winners and was runner up in the Gold Cup to Jack Kennedy riding Minella Indo (pictured top right). She just seemed to be in the right place in her races and she exuded confidence.
Allaho was a great front running ride while Honeysuckle was more of a stalking ride off a good pace. Yes you do need to have the horses, but she has been doing this for a few years now and that is why she gets these good rides.
Vintage Clouds won the Ultima on his fifth appearance in the race. At the age of eleven. He is such a lovely horse.
Now we come to Mount Ida in the Kim Muir. The horse was so far back at one point he looked like he would be pulled up. But he ended up winning by six lengths!!! Not surprisingly he traded at 999/1 on the exchanges and £102 was traded at that price. Crazy stuff.
Envoi Allen fell very early in the race so we can’t know if he would have put in the superstar performance we were expecting. I am sure he will back.
The Shunter landed a huge bonus when winning the Plate and once again highlighted the talent of young jockey Jordan Gainford. And he almost became my hero the next day when he was just a length away from winning the County Hurdle on my old friend Petite Mouchoir.
The former Champion Hurdle third ran an absolute blinder off top weight and I was willing him up that hill. He was carrying over a stone more than the winner Belfast Banter.
And so it is over for another year but there is so much to look forward to. The big winners will hopefully be back to defend their titles. All the novice chasers will be tackling the established stars while the novice hurdlers could go into open company or start their chasing careers. It is so exciting.
I am sure I will be rewatching the races over the next few months.
Thanks to a successful week I had some spare cash in my account so I have tried to second guess a few trainers.
I have put a small stakes bet on A Plus Tard to go one better next year. I am hoping Thyme Hill stays over hurdles and again goes for the Stayers.
Appreciate It and Bob Olinger were wide margin winners. Ferny Hollow has beaten both of these. Lord alone knows why I have stuck him in as my Marsh hope for 2022 but there you go. Allaho is in as my King George hope.
If they go in I am Nostradamus. But this time next year you could all be telling me that a fool and his money are easily parted. We will see.