Thursday 22 February 2018

Thrills, spills and redemption

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

If Cheltenham depended on the business of punters backing winners, the 2011 Supreme Novices' Hurdle would set off to little more than the whistle of tumbleweed wafting through deserted grandstands. What a week it has been.

An unmitigated massacre in the ring, at an unpredictable meeting like this the lifeblood of the National Hunt game is inexorably confirmed as nothing more or less than the drama it serves up. And how the past four days were filled with drama.

Thrills, spills, blood and tears, dashed expectations and scenes of unbridled jubilation all abounded from the moment Dunguib first began to look mortal on Tuesday.

When the runners filed out for yesterday's Gold Cup, after Thousand Stars and Berties Dream had brought the Irish tally to seven at combined odds of 713/1, even the most ardent of Kauto Star and Denman supporters will have begun to realise that there wasn't much chance of the showpiece going to plan.

Once again, and to his eternal credit, Paul Nicholls got his two bruisers into the ring in prime condition.

No one, however, expected that first haymaker to land on Kauto Star's chin the way it did, though Ruby Walsh might have the way he stuck on.

There would be no comeback from there, and it was left to the rejuvenated Denman to serve it up to Imperial Commander. However, Paddy Brennan's mount was a game winner.

Ultimately, the Gold Cup was a fantastic spectacle that didn't throw up the kind of prodigious winner we like to associate with the race, but that was the story of the week. And it was a shot in the arm for the Irish horse industry, as both the first two home are point-to-point-winning Irish-bred heavyweights.

What's more, Big Zeb landed our first championship trophy since 2007, while Sizing Europe finally fulfilled his abundant promise. Dare I say it, and notwithstanding Weapon's Amnesty's resounding triumph, Henry de Bromhead's chaser might yet lead a Gold Cup challenge next year.

As ever, the beauty will be in the finding out, not in the accuracy of the prediction. Thank God for that.

Star of the week

Katie Walsh stole the show. Her forceful display on Poker De Sivola was right out of the Ted Walsh book of leave nothing on 'em, her measured performance on Thousand Stars all Ruby in its stylish conviction. Two rides, two winners. Happy days.

Quote of the week

"Having decided that we weren't going to run, Weatherbys or the BHA rang me to ask me to scratch the horse. I mentioned it to JP and agreed with him that while he is still in we have the option to change our minds. That was probably quite a good decision." -- Nicky Henderson on a piece of inaction that allowed Binocular take his chance in the Champion Hurdle.

Iron man of the week

Tony McCoy, the perennial holder of this one. Go back and watch the fall he got on Thursday, then watch the rides he gave Albertas Run and Denman afterwards. Iron. Pure iron.

Training performance of the week

Willie Mullins' masterclass to produce Quevega in barnstorming shape to win after 296 days off on Tuesday.

Slow motion moment of

the week

We had a couple of car-crash finishes, Barizan's painfully slow capitulation in yesterday's Triumph Hurdle the hardest watch.

Theme of the week

Redeemed reputations. Sizing Europe, Michael Hourigan, Big Zeb, Tony McCoy and Imperial Commander all silenced the doubters.

Ride of the week

Barry Geraghty's big-race nerve prevailed once more on Big Zeb.

Collective groan of the week

The one that told you Dunguib wasn't going to get there. Brian O'Connell probably dropped him out too far, but both horse and rider will be better for the education. A mere blip.

Cheapest piece of advertising

Paddy Power paid a few bob for that sign in the Cotswolds, but their Dunguib concession generated a fortune.

Daftest production policy of the week

Channel 4's eager reporting of equine deaths. It happens, we know, but all the relevant parties that need to know the news already do, and certainly don't need to be told by a television presenter. On Tuesday, Knowhere was even announced dead after the William Hill Chase, when he was fine.

Observation of the week

Richard 'Dickie' Johnson suggested at a preview night in Cork that Tony McCoy must have a good ride in the Ryanair to be advising Tom Cooper to take on Master Minded with Forpadydeplasterer in the Champion. He was right. McCoy won the Ryanair on Albertas Run, but he also beat Master Minded on Forpady. He just couldn't get past Big Zeb.

Irish Independent

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