Cheltenham Review (belated)

It may be old news at this stage but in my defence I was moving house and I was without internet access for a period. Therefore I hope you will forgive me for belatedly reflecting on this years Cheltenham festival.

1. A disappointing Cheltenham

Cheltenham 2010 was a disappointment. All the races were run and we got some new champions but it lacked any performances that will live long in the memory. In the Gold Cup we saw the best of neither Kauto Star nor Denman and thus far the winner Imperial Commander (Flemensfirth x Ballinlovane by Le Moss) ranks as a good but not a great winner.

The Champion hurdle got the result we expected in 2009 but not so much in 2010 with Binocular triumphing (see full pedigree review ) . He was a good winner and although runner up Khyber Kim (Mujahid x Jungle Rose by Shirley Heights) franked the form by winning the Aintree hurdle the belief remains that the current crop of 2 mile hurdlers are unexceptional.  As an aside it is worth noting that Binocular was effectively declared a non-runner a few weeks before Cheltenham and he drifted to 999-1 on betfair.  It is interesting to compare the media fawning over Nicky Henderson with their treatment of other trainers who have ruled fancied horses out of big races before doing a u-turn.

Master Minded failed in his attempt to join the legends of the game by winning a third Champion Chase. The winner Big Zeb (Oscar- Our Siveen by Deep Run) looked good and is another marker of the skills of his trainer Colm Murphy.

Of the defending champions in the big four races only Big Bucks (Cadoudal-Buck’s by Le Glorieux) retained his crown and enhanced his reputation. He followed up at Aintree and is now unbeaten in his last 7 runs over hurdles.

 The potentially star hurdler that we expected to see was last years bumper winner Dunguib (Presenting-Edermine Berry by Durgam). However the Irish banker was only third behind Menorah (Kings Theatre-Maid for Adventure by Strong Gale). Criticism of Dunguibs jockey was unwarranted as he was never travelling like the superstar that so many had expected to see.

Key Numbers

There were 12 Group 1 races over the four days of Cheltenham.  The influence of Sadler’s Wells was never far away and 6 of the races fell to his grandsons and one to his great grandson (Binocular). For the record King’s Theatre had a double with Menorah  and the Bumper winner Cue Card (King’s Theatre-Wicked Crack by King’s Ride) and Oscar matched his achievment with Big Zeb and  Peddlers Cross (Oscar-Patscilla by Squill) winning the 2mile 5 novice hurdle. Accordion had a winner with Alberta’s run in the Ryanair chase and Golden Tornado who like Accordion was unraced, sired Berties Dream winner of the 3 mile novice hurdle.  Golden Tornado is a half brother to the American trained Irish 2000 Guineas winner Fourstarsallstar who sired the cross country chase winner A New Story.  The non-Sadlers Wells line stallions with Grade 1 winners were the Alleged horse Flemensfirth with Imperial Commander,  Cadoudal with Big Bucks, Pistolet Blue with Arkle winner Sizing Europe, Presenting with RSA winner Weapons Amnesty although he is out of an Old VIc mare and finally Triumph hurdle winner Soldatino who has a very obscure French pedigree being sired by Graveron a non-stakes winning grandson of Mill Reef out of an AQPS mare (“autre que pur sang” — “other than thoroughbred.”)

Ireland v France

The media often bill Cheltenham as an Anglo-Irish battle, but an equally interesting battle has arisen between Irish and French breds.  This year only 3 of the 12 Group 1’s went to French breds (Binocular, Big Bucks, Soldantino) but they still managed 9 winners overall and relative to their numbers they are disproportionately successful compared to their Irish and UK rivals. This years battle may have gone to the Irish but the war is far from over. It has been interesting to note how Irish studs have started to invest in proven or promising French jumps stallions as happened with Pistolet Bleu and more recently with Robin des Champs and Robin des Pres. Given the larger book sizes in Ireland, the buying power of Irish studs tends to be greater and it will be interesting to see whether the French repeat the mistakes of the 1970’s and 1980’s when they failed to hold onto their best flat stallions such as Lyphard, Riverman and Nureyev.

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