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Michael Verney's Cheltenham awards following some reflection on a hectic four days

Michael Verney



Standout: Barry Geraghty’s ride on Champ in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase on day two of the Festival was something to behold. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

Standout: Barry Geraghty’s ride on Champ in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase on day two of the Festival was something to behold. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire.


Standout: Barry Geraghty’s ride on Champ in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase on day two of the Festival was something to behold. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

Another remarkable Cheltenham Festival is in the books with a host of extraordinary stories lighting up the Cotswolds over four unforgettable days.

The usual suspects were out in force with Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott mopping up the winners, as has become the Cheltenham norm, but there were so many other moments that will live long in the memory.

Race of the week

There were plenty of candidates but the finale of the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle won't be forgotten any time soon with Monkfish, Latest Exhibition, Fury Road and Thyme Hill jumping the last almost in a line.

An epic final 100 yards saw the lead change several times before Paul Townend eventually got up on Monkfish to score by a neck from Latest Exhibition with Fury Road a further nose back in third after a barn-stormer.

Ride of the week

It was a special week for Barry Geraghty as the Meath ace rolled back the years with five winners, and none was more satisfactory than Champ in the RSA Chase as he displayed all his craft in the saddle.

Nicky Henderson was braced for "an honourable third" when they jumped the last but the eight-year-old - named after legendary jockey AP McCoy - sensationally made up eight lengths to pass the tiring pair of Minella Indo and Allaho having traded at 400 in-running on the exchanges.

Quote of the week

It was tongue in cheek but little did anyone know what would follow after Mullins told well-known racing photographer and Listowel native Pat Healy that he was "just like Kerry, getting a score before half-time" having finally broken his duck at the end of day two.

The Champion Bumper success of Ferny Hollow ended a losing sequence of 13 races for the Closutton maestro, who incredibly went on to land the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award after bagging a further six winners over the final two days.

Shock of the week

Many people's banker of the Festival was Paisley Park with several predicting that the 4/6 shot merely had to show up to complete his back-to-back bid in the Stayers' Hurdle but racing rarely goes to script and Lisnagar Oscar wrote his own place in the history books.

Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis had 14-week-old baby daughter Reeva in attendance and she proved a good luck charm as the seven-year-old ran the race of his career under Adam Wedge to cause a massive upset.

Story of the week

The longer things went on at Prestbury Park, the greater the disbelief was that racing seemed to have turned a blind eye to the coronavirus pandemic and carried on with business as usual.

Over 250,000 made their way through the turnstiles and whether it should have went ahead or not isn't debatable at this stage. The effects of it going ahead as planned despite the warning signs may only be felt in the coming weeks and months.

Comebacks of the week

Paul Townend was in Mullins' bad books after the defeat of Benie Des Dieux in the Mares' Hurdle last Tuesday but he fairly made amends over the rest of the week, firing five Grade One victories including back-to-back Gold Cup wins on Al Boum Photo as he was crowned leading jockey at the Festival.

Samcro's epitaph has been written regularly having flattered to deceive since landing the Ballymore at the 2018 Festival but he delivered for Elliott and Davy Russell on the biggest stage in the Marsh Chase when just holding off the perennial bridesmaid Melon.

Heartbreak of the week

There were memories of the brilliance of Our Conor in the 2013 renewal when Gary Moore's Goshen strode clear in the Triumph Hurdle to hold a 10-length lead at the last as the performance of the Festival unfolded before our eyes.

Suddenly, there was a collective groan as a mistake at the last unshipped the trainer's son Jamie, who couldn't hide his frustration at what had unfolded.

Hopefully both will be back for redemption in the near future.

Performance of the week

All eyes were on Tiger Roll as the people's horse chased Cheltenham history and a third Cross Country Chase and a fifth Festival success but it wasn't to be as the heavy going saw Keith Donoghue's underperform, although the Aintree hat-trick dream is still alive.

His French conqueror Easysland was simply outstanding, though, with David Cottin's six-year-old laying down a marker of his potential dominance in that field with Jonathan Plouganou's mount scoring by an astonishing 17 lengths from the 'Tiger'.

Number of the week

Seven was the number of winners which Mullins and Elliott each had throughout the week. It was also the amount of runner-up placings which they each had as the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award went to Mullins on count-back as a result of his six third-place finishes, two more than Elliott's four.

JP McManus was also on the scoreboard seven times as the Limerick owner's green and gold silks dominated the winner's enclosure over the four days.

Superstar of the week

The hype train was in full flow for Envoi Allen and Elliott's six-year-old delivered on all of his potential when taking the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle in devastating fashion.

Russell had six lengths to make up on the leaders coming off the home bend but he quickened in breath-taking fashion to amazingly lead at the last before lengthening clear to score by just over four lengths.

With nine wins from nine starts, the world is his oyster.

Personality of the week

Jumps racing is made up of all kinds of colourful characters and the participation of The Jam Man in last week's Stayers' Hurdle thankfully brought nine-year-old Kian 'Tubbs' McNally into the public consciousness.

For a horse bought for just €500, and which won a handicap hurdle off a lowly mark of 80 two years ago, to ascend those heights and make the Festival for little-known Armagh trainer Ronan McNally, who also runs a kitchen-fitting business, is an extraordinary achievement.

And the glowing personality of the colourful Kian, who regularly rides him at home, couldn't help but bring a smile to your face.

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