May 2, 2013 Leave a comment
Sport can often have its dominant forces and the National Hunt sphere certainly had one to drool over this season as Sprinter Sacre was the beacon of the equine world as he toyed and teased with his rivals before stretching them to a point that they could no longer live with.
Nicky Henderson’s superstar was the box office commodity at the start of the Jumps season and those who witnessed his marvellous display in the Tingle Creek Chase at SandownPark were left open-mouthed, as he duly annihilated his rivals with a flawless display and the Seven Barrows star continued to leave an ever-expanding fan base watching on in awe.
A facile winner of the Victor Chandler Chase in january, he was expected to face a stiff assignment against Sizing Europe in the Champion Chase, but he duly brushed him aside with disdain as he romped to a 19-length success in the Blue Riband event, before he went on to crush Ryanair Chase winner Cue Card and Irish luminary Flemenstar in another mind-boggling victory in the Melling Chase at Aintree in April.
It was Henderson’s willingness to campaign him hard that saw his stock enhance further and his win over Sizing Europe in the Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival saw him emulate the mighty Istabraq by winning at all three major spring festivals and duly cement his place as the leading jumps horse in training.
Henderson was crowned Champion National Hunt trainer for the first time since 1987 and along with the incomparable Sprinter Sacre, the Seven Barrows maestro also had the joys of lifting the Cheltenham Gold Cup crown with the battling Bobs Worth, who fought off a spirited effort from Sir Des Champs to add the coveted prize to his Hennessy Gold Cup win earlier in the season.
Another champion who yet again showed his class at the Cheltenham Festival was Hurricane Fly who returned to the top of the perch in the two-mile hurdling division, as Willie Mullins’ stable star regained the coveted crown off Rock On Ruby to win it for the second time in his illustrious career, whilst maintaining an unblemished record throughout the campaign.
Big Buck’s was absent from the Cheltenham Festival through injury, which left the door open in the three-mile division and an old Grade One stalwart of the two-mile sphere tried his hand at the extra eight furlongs and Solwhit duly delivered with a battling success over Celestial Halo in the World Hurdle to show that he could well be a rival to Paul Nicholls’ legendary stayer if he returns next year.
Ireland and Willie Mullins have certainly had a phenomenal crop of horses this season and Quevega secured her place in history by landing her fifth consecutive Mares’ Hurdle at the Prestbury Park extravaganza, whilst Champagne Fever was another who got the Emerald Isle dancing as he fought off the highly regarded My Tent Or Yours in a vintage Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Some other familiar names came to the fore yet again during the jumps season as AP McCoy was crowned champion jockey for the 18th year on the spin but there were a host of names that propelled into the limelight from the virtual unknown in a campaign full of major ups and some significant downs.
Lucy Alexander was to become the first lady rider to be crowned leading conditional jockey, as she continued her meteoric rise up the ranks, whilst a fresh-faced Brendan Powell followed in his father’s footsteps by landing a runaway success at the Cheltenham Festival on board Colin Tizzard’s Golden Chieftain to show the National Hunt jockey scene is in rude health with some talented youngsters emerging.
A new name left tabloid sub-editors licking their lips as Ryan Mania produced a peach of ride on board the Sue Smith-trained Auroras Encore to victory in the Aintree Grand National and the likeable Scot was found conveying the sport in a positive manner on a host of daytime TV shows with the Merseyside marathon proving a gargantuan success with all 40 runners and riders returning safe and sound.
However, this all rather paled into insignificance as the 2012/2013 National Hunt season will be remembered for the horrifying injuries picked up by John Thomas McNamara at the Cheltenham Festival after a crashing fall from Galaxy Rock in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup on the third day of the meeting.
A much-loved amateur around the weighing room, McNamara was expecting to hang up his silks at the end of the season following a superb career, but his accident on the Jonjo O’Neill-trained raider that saw him suffer paralysis left a sense of emptiness around Prestbury Park following the news and racing showed it was like a family as the likes of Barry Geraghty and AP McCoy showed true class as they offered their condolences to McNamara even after wins in the Gold Cup and Albert Bartlett, respectively.
The likes of Messrs Henderson, Nicholls and Mullins may have yet again dominated the big Saturday afternoon races but there were some other stars to propel into the limelight during the season and Venetia Williams notched up the most winners in one season during her career, with the winning machine Jupiter Rex following in the steps of Hunt Ball, who propelled up the ratings in terrific manner.
Harry Fry stepped out of the shadow of Paul Nicholls and showed that he could be a trainer to follow over the coming seasons as his strike rate was an impressive one, whilst Donald McCain continued to go from strength to strength as he notched up the most amount of winners, but will now be looking for a lot more Graded winners next year to try and challenge the Nicky Henderson juggernaut, who should have the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig and Bobs Worth ready to strut their stuff for the 2013/2014 campaign.