Following on from a fantastic first two days, the action got even more compelling in the final two days at Cheltenham where the well supported horses came to the fore and put in some devastating performances.
John Doyle on the lessons learned this year.
First amongst these performances was Thistlecrack, (right) who was truly dominant in the World Hurdle. All season, the Colin Tizzard trained horse has shown increasingly good form. Here he settled well in midfield before moving stylishly through the field to look the winner a long way from home.
Tom Scudamore described his as the best horse he has ever ridden and the race ratings back that up on what was the performance of the Festival.
Close behind was the dominant display by Don Cossack (below) in the Gold Cup, although it would have been an interesting tussle with Cue Card, if that one could have stayed on his feet. Bryan Cooper had Don Cossack nicely place throughout and he jumped with real purpose and was by far the best horse at the finish.
The visible relief from Cooper after the race looks like it could be the making of the Jockey and he will now surely go on to have a very long and successful association with the Gigginstown team. Djakadam was gallant in defeat was his second successive runners up spot and it is hard to see him winner of this event in the future.
It was muted after Cheltenham that Thistlecrack might go Chasing next season with the Gold Cup as his target.
With Coneygree also due to return, next year’s race will be another super event to anticipate. Despite the furore surrounding the decision to switch Vautour from the Gold Cup to the Ryanair Chase, he put in an exhibition of jumping to run right away from his rivals. Ruby Walsh quickly got him into rhythm and you felt it was only ever going to be a win for Vautour.
To win at a third successive Festival marks Vautour down as one of the all-time greats and if kept to this event, he will win at the Festival again. In all the build up to the 2016 Festival, Limini became the biggest hyped up banker for the Mullins team. Ruby Walsh rode the Mare confidently, delaying his move into the race until close to the last hurdle before storming up the hill for an emphatic win. This is a good Mare who will go to the Flat now before returning as a strong contender over Hurdles next season.
Another Mullins horse who switched late was Black Hercules, who ground out a good win in the JLT Novice chase. Having spent all winter as favourite for the 4 mile NH Chase, this sound jumper was rerouted and produced a sound round of jumping to prevail. Once this horse learns to settle, he is likely to be a big danger to the Gold Cup field next season.
In the Triumph Hurdle, Ivanovich Gorbatov travelled like the horse the persistent support over the winter months suggested he was. He could be easily spotted going well in midfield before stalking through to chase the leader and going on to power up the hill.
Joseph O’Brien is about to start out on a career as a Trainer and with support from JP McManus and the pick of the select individuals at Ballydoyle, he should be set for a good career. Last but not least, the Victoria Pendleton story was one of the great Festival triumphs for daring. Here was a great Olympic athlete taking on the challenge to switch to a new sport and look to master it in a short period of time.
Victoria’s dedication to the training cause became evident early on and despite some setbacks on the way, she approached the Foxhunter in a confident manner.
For the race, she started out the back, got Pacha Du Polder into a jumping rhythm and then on the second circuit, started to pick her rivals off. She stayed on strongly up the hill to finish an incredible 5th but was quick to point out that a better jockey would probably have given Pacha Du Polder a better chance of winning.
The decision to bring her into the Winners enclosure was inspired as the applause and goodwill towards her efforts was a super win for racing. Victoria says she will continue to be involved in racing and there is rumour that she may now look to qualify to ride in the Aintree Foxhunter in 2017, where she would have a great chance on Pacha Du Polder.
The 2017 Cheltenham Festival has plenty to live up to but the dreams have already started.