Thursday 23 November 2017

Festival rocks to Irish beat

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IT has been the most remarkable week's racing in the Cotswolds. We should probably preface any comment on the record haul of 13 Irish-trained winners by pointing out that there are now 27 races run at the Cheltenham Festival every year.

That's one more than ever before, and seven more than when it was still a mere three-day dalliance up until 2005.

Needless to say, the more races, the more chances of winners, but the increased opportunities didn't really come into it when the tally read nine from a possible 14 after day two.

What happened on Wednesday was an incredible event to witness.

Right up to the beginning of the new millennium, three or four winners was accepted as a respectable figure for the entire week, so to finish a single day's racing in such an unforgiving environment with six was a tribute to all concerned.

But it was a week that was about far more than mere numbers. On four successive days we were treated to mind-boggling championship contests, with Hurricane Fly's brilliant display in the Champion Hurdle turning out to be a mere taster of what lay in store.

Sizing Europe and Andrew Lynch combined to deny the holder in the Champion Chase on Wednesday, a feat that ultimately proved beyond Grands Crus when Big Buck's kept pulling out more to claim a third World Hurdle in a row on Thursday.

Still, it was the first time Big Buck's had been pushed to the pin of his collar, and it made for a cracking spectacle.

Of course, the best was saved till last. Yesterday's Gold Cup was a race that left seasoned race watchers in awe of the performances of two old bruisers that just wouldn't lie down.

Denman and Kauto Star were beaten, but they were carried out on their shields, and the sight of the two of them serving it up to Long Run all the way into the straight had Prestbury Park rocking like only it can.

In the end, the youth in Long Run's legs won the day.

He has threatened to be as good as he was yesterday, and it is a testament to his freakish ability that he vanquished no less than three former holders of the crown. You suspect he'll know about it today.

Henry de Bromhead's rejuvenation of Sizing Europe. The horse had shown indifferent form over a variety of trips since winning last year's Arkle, and the perceived wisdom might have been that the less glamorous Ryanair Chase would be the most sensible of his three options.

De Bromhead never stopped believing, though, and now he has the champion chaser. Fair play.

The Gold Cup. Not just that, it's a contender for the all-time list. We might never see one like it again.

Ruby Walsh on Final Approach in the County Hurdle. He picked the horse off the floor at the first, and then carried him over the line at AP McCoy's expense. He out-McCoyed McCoy.

That our horses will pay for their exploits next year. When the weights for the handicaps were revealed recently, eyebrows were raised at the English handicapper's leniency. It's a good job they made the most of it.

The whole Irish team. A record 13 for Irish trainers, obviously not including Ferdy Murphy or Jonjo O'Neill, and 21 for the jockeys.

Ruby Walsh's fitness. They said he lacked sharpness, match practice, and looked a pale shadow of the Ruby of old. They were all very, very wrong. The man is a sporting deity.

As the Irish winners rolled in on Wednesday and weary old hacks scrambled in vain to establish the previous best tally in one day at the Festival, the matter was quickly resolved by the following brainwave from one whiz: "Look, if we all say it was four, it was four, and that's it." Now you know how it really is.

A void race at Towcester on Thursday. In a farcical four-runner chase, two fell at the sixth, before one of the remaining duo fell at the last when clear.

Somehow, the last man standing then aimed for the exact same part of the fence and got brought down.

The buried story, of course, was that the jockeys were not allowed remount because of a new BHA ruling. This kind of thing was inevitable; it's just a pity it had to happen when no one was paying attention.

Irish Independent

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