There were plenty of talking points following this year’s Cheltenham Festival, sadly many of them were not what you could call good news stories.
Shocking injuries to Ruby Walsh, Daryl Jacob and Bryan Cooper cast an unfortunate shadow over the showcase fixture in the jumping calendar, highlighting the risks jockeys take every time they walk out into the paddock.
The ultra-competitive nature of Festival racing was exhibited unequivocally when Our Conor took a fatal fall in the Champion Hurdle. He will be a big loss to the National Hunt scene and my thoughts are with all those connected with the horse, whose victory in the 2013 Triumph Hurdle marked him out as a future star.
The only certainty with the rules is they breed uncertainty; BHA must address the issue urgently
Of course, there were some magical moments , three of which were enjoyed by Davy Russell on the final day, as his treble was spearheaded by the victory of Lord Windermere in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Russell had not been having the best of seasons, losing his job as number one rider for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, and, up until the final day, had endured a miserable Cheltenham, hitting the deck three times.
But a remarkable 24 hours saw Russell go from zero to hero and provide owner Dr Ronan Lambe and trainer Jim Culloty, the man who steered Best Mate to three Gold Cups, with jump racing’s blue riband.
The race itself may not have been a vintage renewal yet it was hardly dull, with at least five horses in with a chance jumping the final fence. The drive for the line saw Lord Windermere impede runner-up On His Own, ridden by David Casey, and connections of the former had to endure an anxious wait as the stewards reviewed the messiest finish to a Gold Cup in recent memory.
Whether or not Lord Windermere should have kept the race – Channel 4 Racing missed the live announcement of the result by showing a delayed broadcast of the enquiry – is a moot point. Nobody can say for sure if the second would have prevailed with a clear run but had the same finish occurred in a lesser race, I feel certain the placings would have been reversed. The outcome left a feeling that the best horse on the day may not have won the best race, which is a shame and does the Festival, and the sport as a whole, no favours.
Regardless of your view, it seems the only certainty with the current interference rules is that they breed uncertainty. A comprehensive review is long overdue and the BHA would do well to kick on and address the issue sooner rather than later.
Another matter to arise from the Gold Cup result surrounds the lack of top-class staying chasers in Britain and Ireland. This year’s winner was awarded the lowest Timeform rating since 1980 and the fact that so many runners finished in a heap suggests the division is weak, albeit the likes of Sir Des Champs and Cue Card are currently out injured.
The need for outstanding performers that engage the public is discussed in the first of a two-part series on racing in the media. Richard Griffiths looks at the coverage our sport receives in mainstream newspapers and hears why including racecards is such a divisive issue.
Perhaps one of the youngsters featured in our Flat season preview can become the next superstar on which racing can conquer more column inches. The Guineas meeting in May is fast approaching and we talk to the connections of five promising three-year-olds set to line up at Newmarket.
George Margarson is also targeting Classic glory with his exciting filly Lucky Kristale. The Newmarket handler is yet to win a Group 1 race but is hopeful of putting that right this season.
“I remember sitting on [2,000 Guineas third] Barathea Guest and it was like being on a Rolls-Royce,” Margarson tells Tim Richards.
“Lucky Kristale is similar and I just wish I was younger so I could ride her. Her style of racing is so effortless. Quite simply, she’s got the gears.”