March 19, 2012 Leave a comment
It was Idarah, the final finisher in the final race that effectively brought down the final curtain of the four day 2012 Cheltenham Festival and in so doing closed another chapter in the meeting’s history books but this year’s Festival has to go down one of the most exciting for years.
Searching for talking points and highlights at the Festival any year is easy but 2012 had so many it is difficult to know where to start and for that matter how to prioritise them.
Certainly one highlight that should stick in the mind of all National Hunt racing fans was the huge round of applause handed out so spontaneously by the 60,000 crowd after the Kauto Star was pulled up in the Gold Cup by jockey Ruby Walsh. Their reaction probably was suitable acknowledgement that the dual Gold Cup and five times King George VI Chase Champion will not be seen competitively on a racecourse again and that he will now be retired to the luxurious pasture he so richly deserves given that he arguable rates as one of the best Steeplechasers the world has ever seen!
Kauto Star’s Stablemate, Big Bucks, however, did not disappoint, once again proving too good for his rivals in the World Hurdle, winning the race for a record breaking fourth consecutive year and in the process winning his 16th consecutive race. His confirmation as the greatest staying hurdler of all time came two days after the Willie Mullins trained Quevega had won the three mile Mares Hurdle also for the fourth consecutive year. Her win confirmed her as the greatest staying mare of all time and possibly the only horse capable of taking Big Bucks on.
A second act of unadulterated spontaneity was witnessed when Hunt Ball won the Pulteney Land Investments Novices Handicap Chase over 2m4f, the final race on the first day. Owner, Anthony Knott, who had accused the Official Handicapper of getting it all wrong with his horse all season, became almost uncontainable when the seven year old romped home by eight lengths carrying 12 stone on his back. His win yet again defied the handicapper and had his owner making that point to everybody on the boisterous but jovial walk back to the winners enclosure. The win was greeted with so much enthusiasm by the crowd, many of which had taken Knott’s advice and backed the 13/2 favourite that it prompted the official handicapper himself to make his way to the winners enclosure to acknowledge that he had got it wrong by shaking Knott’s hand. It was a great and magnanimous and one of those episodes that that go a long way towards making the Festival what it is today. Hunt Ball in fact has earned himself a 50/1 shout for the Gold Cup at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.
With the exit one Festival superstar in the form of Kauto Star a potential replacement announced his arrival on the chasing scene in the form of Sprinter Sacre. The six year old became the first of trainer Nicky Henderson’s magnificent seven winners at this year’s Festival after his seven length victory in Arkle Challenge Trophy. It was a run of such awesome quality, that had jockey Barry Geraghty confirming that he is the best he has ridden and had bookmakers installing him as the 2/1 favourite to win the 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Hendersoncould not have had a betterCheltenham; Sprinter Sacre became his 40th Festival career winner to equal that of Fulke Walwyn, which he was then to shatter with six more, taking him to a new record of 46. His other winners:
Simonsig – Hugely impressive winner of the Grade 1 Neptune Investment Management Novice Hurdle over 2m5f.
Bobs Worth – First home in the Grade 1 RSA Chase and now an 8/1 quote for the 2013 Gold Cup.
Finian’s Rainbow – New Queen Mother Chase Champion after coming on top in a controversial but epic battle up the hill with defending champion, Sizing Europe who went off the 4/5 favourite.
Une Artiste – 40/1 winner of the Grade 3 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. His win completed a 3,382 four timer on the day for the Seven Barrows trainer. It was the first time in the history of the Festival that a trainer had saddled four winners on a single day.
Riverside Theatre – Held on to win a terrific battle in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase over 2m5f with Albertas Run, winner of this race for the previous two seasons.
Belvano – The 20/1 winner of the Johnny Henderson Grand annual Chase and the race named to honour Nicky’s father. There could have been a no more fitting end to the Festival and was made even better when his Tanks For That finished second and Anquetta fourth.
The one surprise defeat of the Nicky Henderson cam was that of Long Run in the Gold Cup who could only finish third, behind winner, Synchronised and the 50/1 outsider, The Giant Bolster. Although this race is not considered a highlight this year due the fact that it was a worryingly low class renewal with only Kauto Star and Long Run being rated more than 180 in the field. Synchronised, in fairness has won at Grade One level and did run a stormer under Tony McCoy to win. However, how the 160 rated runner up The Giant Bolster got so close is something that should not really happen in the country’s most prestigious steeplechase.
Other surprise defeats came in the Champion Hurdle where Hurricane Fly could not justify his 4/6 price, finishing third behind the Paul Nicholls trained Rock on Ruby.