Four days of racing at Cheltenham
PUBLISHED: 10:20 21 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:12 20 February 2013
Andy Clifton relives the drama of this year's Festival
The cream rises to the top
Andy Clifton relives the drama of this years Festival
Each day of The Festival features one of the big championship races and the four acts of the great play each had their fair share of drama. Tuesday was Champion Day, featuring the Stan James Champion Hurdle, billed as the race in which Hurricane Fly would cement his reputation as the best hurdler of recent years. As it turned out, he laboured into third place behind Rock On Ruby, the first winner of the biggest hurdle race of the season for Champion trainer Paul Nicholls and leading jockey Noel Fehily. The horse was even owned by a small syndicate called The Festival Goers!
Wednesday was Ladies Day, home of the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase. Another short priced favourite was beaten here, with Sizing Europe narrowly failing to hold on to the crown he won in 2011. Victory went to Finians Rainbow, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty, who ended the week as leading trainer and jockey respectively. Following a fall on the first circuit, the final fence had to be bypassed while jockey Richard Johnson received treatment (he was fine), which meant the winner and runner-up were very close to one another as they manoeuvred around the last obstacle, but in the end Finians Rainbow just had too much finishing speed up the famous hill for his rival.
In typically tongue-in-cheek fashion, the Racecourse named the third day of The Festival St Patricks Thursday, even though St Patricks Day itself fell on a Saturday this year. Nonetheless, the eyes of all racing fans were on Big Bucks, bidding to win a record fourth Ladbrokes World Hurdle and equal the 1950s record of Sir Ken with 16 consecutive victories over hurdles. He drifted markedly in the betting, but the horse produced the goods in trademark fashion, looking to be in slight trouble for a few strides before powering to the line for a comfortable victory. A credit to trainer Paul Nicholls, jockey Ruby Walsh and owner Andy Stewart, Big Bucks was clapped into the parade ring before the race and cheered to the echo afterwards, his legion of followers counting their winnings yet again.
And then to Friday, Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup Day and the most important race of the Jumps season, the contest that creates heroes and defines careers. Most of the talk beforehand was about whether 12 year old Kauto Star, twice a previous winner, had one last big day left in him at racings theatre of dreams, or whether defending champion Long Run could become one of only a handful of horses to win the great race more than once. The answer, as we now know, was neither of the above, with the Synchronised, given a typically powerful ride from AP McCoy, surging up the hill to deny outsider The Giant Bolster in second and Long Run in third.