The 2021 Cheltenham Festival started under somewhat of a cloud with the week before dominated in the press by Gordon Elliott’s catastrophic error of judgement, but thankfully racing was able to put that aside and celebrate an outstanding four days of racing at Cheltenham.
Here are our pick of the highlights exclusively for Beth.bet subscribers:
- The Irish trained horses & jockeys – Ireland absolutely dominated the English in almost every single race, with the final score a remarkable 23 winners out of the 28 races going to Irish trained runners. This poses many questions for UK racing, both in terms of the horrendously low prize money and the competitiveness of the racing itself, with the level of form clearly stones ahead on the other side of the Irish Sea.
- Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore – Henry de Bromhead enjoyed a stellar week, winning six races including three of the most valuable Grade 1’s, and his association with the powerhouse that is Rachael Blackmore was the highlight of the entire week. Blackmore became the first female Champion Jockey at the festival and her poise, strength, judgement and expertise over the fences was something to behold from start to finish. She was denied a real history making moment when ‘A Plus Tard’ finished second behind ‘Minella Indo’ in the Gold Cup on Friday, (after giving the horse another incredible ride) but chalked up a formidable six winners: Honeysuckle, Bob Olinger, Sir Gerhard, Allaho & Telmesomethinggirl. Henry de Bromhead said of the worthy winner that denied him Gold Cup glory “It was incredible, Jack was brilliant on Minella Indo, who is just such a tough horse”.
- Shishkin – Key winning moments such as Shishkin provided a rare highlight for Nicky Henderson, winning the Arkle on Tuesday in a race that rather fell apart. He remains a fantastic prospect for next season, unbeaten over fences and sure to be one to follow as his stamina is drawn-out over longer trips. Henderson’s only other winner of the week was Chantry House, who took advantage of the 4/9f Envoi Allen taking an early fall, and both his Gold Cup runners bombed out disappointingly.
- Monkfish – This was one of the most heavily supported favourites of the entire week before winning The Brown Advisory Novice Chase, backed down to a prohibitively short 4/1 on. He did not impress everyone in a messy race (with loose horses rather hampering his jumping), but he remains a stand-out young improver and is very much on target for the 2022 Gold Cup.
- Bob Olinger – The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner landed a wholesale gamble on Wednesday, backed down to 6/4 favouritism and sprinting clear under a typically measured ride from Rachael Blackmore. He is a really exciting novice who could develop into a live Champion Hurdle contender next season, with a smart turn of foot always to stand him in good stead on decent ground.
- Appreciate it – The week got off to a good start for most punters in the Supreme Novice on Tuesday with a very well backed 8/11 favourite winning for Willie Mullins in grand style, never in any doubt and drawing miles clear up the hill. He is another smashing prospect for this top yard next season and seems an extremely straightforward ride given his relative inexperience at the top level.
- Honeysuckle – This incredible mare is now twelve from twelve in her career over hurdles, winning the Champion Hurdle with ease under the assured Rachael Blackmore and one of the great highlights of the week (particularly for those punters who hammered her down to 11/10f on the day from 2/1 early in the week). She is going to be back to defend her crown next year and is sure to be extremely hard to beat, although connections also mentioned afterwards that she has already schooled over fences at home.
- Minella Indo – The Gold Cup winner capped an amazing week for Henry de Bromhead in one of the best quality renewals for many years. The front three all Irish trained pulled miles clear of the rest with ‘A Plus Tard’ just failing to collar the leader after the last. Back in third ‘Al Boum Photo’ who ran an absolute screamer as he tried to win the race for the third year running. The race was run at a true pace with Frodon setting a strong gallop, and that was enough to see all bar the front three off a long way from home.
- Allaho – This was one of the most impressive and devastating performances of the whole week in winning a wide-open Ryanair Chase on Thursday. While the race might not have been the most valuable, the manner of his victory is something to behold, making all of the running at a rapid pace under Rachael Blackmore and destroying a high-quality field. It is certainly the performance of the week, and it will be fascinating to see which route Willie Mullins takes next season (talk of dropping back in trip for the Champion Chase or perhaps another try at 3m in the King George at Kempton).
- Paul Nicholls Under Par – The former champion trainer endured a miserable four days at the Festival, with his main hope Politologue withdrawn from the Champion Chase on the day with a bloody nose (found to just be a knock afterwards and he now heads straight to Aintree). He failed to have a winner over the four days, something that had not happened for 19 years previously, and there really is a vast class gulf between the best horses in Britain and Ireland that shows only signs of widening rather than closing.
The final statistics for the festival week were IRELAND 23, UK 5. Champion trainer: Willie Mullins (6w, 7s, 5t) and the Champion Jockey was Rachael Blackmore (6w, 1s)
As always, the Cheltenham Festival was a scintillating competition and a thrilling four days which, despite the lack of the roar from the grandstand, this year provided some top-class performances that will live on in the memory for a long time to come. One thing for Beth.bet punters to factor in is that when the ground changes, the form can change too. Rather than a slug fest on soft ground (as had been the case all winter in Britain and Ireland) this was much more about speed with conditions pretty much perfect over the four days. This is something to keep in mind going forward for all your betting in the Spring, with the ground now much faster and the speed horses coming to the fore.