One week on and the dust is finally starting to settle after a Cheltenham Festival that will live long in the memory after some outstanding individual and team performances. We take a look back at some of the highs and lows, from a last fence blunder which saved the bookies a fortune to one of the great festival training displays of all time.
The first day must surely have been a heart stopping one for any bookmaker. In the weeks and months leading up to the festival, the support behind a Mullins onslaught grew significantly and punters, particularly in Ireland, came in their droves to back Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Annie Power.
Douvan opened the festival with a comfortable 4 ½ length win over Shaneshill in the Supreme Novices, while Un De Sceaux led from first to last to overwhelm an in-form field in the Arkle.
Faugheen overcame a wonderfully talented group in the Champion Hurdle to extend his unbeaten run to nine races, leaving the shortest priced horse of the day, Annie Power, to mop up in the OLBG Mares Hurdle… or so it seemed.
Prior to the festival, Ruby Walsh had made it known that Annie Power was his banker for day one, and with three winners already to his name, bookies were understandably shaken. Having travelled beautifully throughout the race, she coasted into the lead without coming off the bridle but fell unceremoniously at the last when three lengths in front to deny Mullins and Walsh a four-timer for the day. It’s estimated that the fall saved the British bookmaking industry £50 million, although it served to prove that horses aren’t machines and even the best horses are susceptible to costly errors.
After purportedly being short of fitness in a fast-paced race at Ascot back in January, Sprinter Sacre was fancied by many to reverse the form with Dodging Bullets and win back his crown at Cheltenham.
Unfortunately, the fairy tale ending wasn’t to be. It seemed almost insulting that Dodging Bullets hadn’t been installed as favourite for the race given his hugely impressive runs in the Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chase. There came a moment in the race when Geraghty asked for Sprinter Sacre’s legendary acceleration, but it just wasn’t there. The harder he pushed, the further he retreated, while Dodging Bullets and then every other horse in the race slowly bypassed him until he was pulled up before the last.
Undoubtedly one of the great horses of the past decade, he looked unenthusiastic and physically incapable of maintaining a charge at this level. Whether we’ll see him again remains to be seen, although as wasn’t the case with Mohammed Ali, Michael Schumacher and George Foreman, sometimes it’s best to retire while you’re still at the top.
Coneygree Makes History
The beautiful thing about horse racing, and indeed all sport, is that everyone has an opinion. While some are more educated than others, the general consensus throughout the week was that Coneygree had given up a great opportunity of winning the RSA Chase in favour or entering, but not winning, the Gold Cup.
He certainly wasn’t weak in the market and had attracted some support, but up against the likes of Silviniaco Conti, Many Clouds, Djakadam and Road to Riches, he looked unlikely to become the first novice winner of this prestigious race since 1974.
Come the Friday, the ground was perfect and the merits of a strong, front-running display had already been franked by the likes of Cole Harden, Uxizandre and Vautour with the latter putting in one of the displays of the festival by sauntering home in the JLT Novices Chase by 15 lengths.
Leading from first to last, Coneygree still had enough in the tank to repel the late challenge of Djakadam in spite of a heart-stopping veer to the right on the run in. As much as the horse clearly has exceptional talent, nothing can be taken away from the Bradstock yard’s incredible training performance.
So that’s it for Cheltenham Festival 2015 at Betting Gods, although the bookies are already setting their stall ahead of next year’s meet. Mullins is currently priced 20/1 to win each of the champion races and, given the outstanding prospects that have already proven themselves this year, it may well be a punt worth taking.