2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup had the distinction of being won by Sizing John, a seven-year-old trained by Jessica Harrington who, at the age of 70, was saddling his first runner in the ‘Blue Riband’ event after 38 years in the training ranks. Remarkably, the winner was having just his fourth start for the yard, having previously been trained by Henry De Bromhead, and was attempting a distance beyond two-and-a-half miles for just the second time in his career. However, Sizing John had won the Grade One Irish Gold Cup, over an extended three miles, at Leopardstown – in which he narrowly accounted for Empire Of Dirt and 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup third Don Poli – the previous month so, while slight stamina doubts lingered, he looked far from a forlorn hope. Indeed, he was sent off fourth favourite at 7/1.

Favourite, though, was Willie Mullins’ Djakadam, who was attempting to make it ‘third time lucky’ after finishing second in the previous two renewals. Djakadam, once again, made a bold bid, travelling well until making a mistake at the second-last fence, after which he was always fighting a losing battle against Sizing John. To his credit, he kept trying and eventually finished a creditable fourth, 3¼ lengths behind the winner, but only half a length out of third place.

Sizing John travelled similarly well throughout under jockey Robbie Power – who was having his first ride in the race – and took a decisive, 3-length lead at the final fence, which he never relinquished. The largely unconsidered Minella Rocco, in the familiar green and gold hoops of J.P. McManus, finished strongly to deny Welsh National winner Native River of third place, by a short head, in the dying stride, but never really looked like getting on terms with Sizing John. The other fancied horse, Cue Card, who was sent off third favourite at 9/2, bit the dust at the third-last fence for the second year running, but had yet to make any real impression on the leaders.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2016

The 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured nine runners, but looked competitive enough, with the bookmakers betting 9/4 Don Cossack, 5/2 Cue Card, 9/2 Djakadam and Don Poli and 10/1 bar that quartet. Cue Card, trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Paddy Brennan, was travelling well in a share of the lead when falling at the third-last fence but, thereafter, the finish was dominated by the other three market leaders.

Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Bryan Cooper, had won his last six completed starts and had only been 2 lengths down, and staying on, when falling at the second-last when favourite for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, won by Cue Card, the previous Boxing Day. The nine-year-old appeared, on paper, to fully deserve his position at the head of the market and so it proved in the race.

Bearing the familiar maroon and white colours of Gigginstown House Stud, Don Cossack raced prominently throughout and, after taking the lead at the third-last fence, took command on the run-in and only had to be pushed out to win by 4½ lengths. The luckless Djakadam, who might have finished a little closer but for ‘fiddling’ the penultimate obstacle, finished runner-up for the second year running and Don Poli – wearing the second colours of Gigginstown House Stud, but trained, like Djakadam, by Willie Mullins – completed an Irish-trained 1-2-3.

Don Cossack was a first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner for Co. Meath trainer Gordon Elliot, who later admitted that he had ‘never been so nervous’ in his life, but a second for Gigginstown House Stud, following the victory of War Of Attrition, trained by Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris, a decade earlier. On his retirement, due to injury, the following January, Elliot called Don Cossack ‘a horse of a lifetime’.

Cheltenham Festival vs The Grand National

The week before last my sleeping hours were just about night owl-like enough that I managed to stay up to watch the Tyson Fury vs Wilder fight, beamed live from Vegas. Predictions beforehand were very much up in the air, would Fury’s rope a dope style see him through, would Wilder land one of his ‘lights out’ punches that he’s notorious for? As it turned out Fury continued confounding critics by being the one with the dominant display and power. But I got to thinking, why should it always be people squaring up to each each. Who would win a fight and what would the tale of the tape be between the Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival. Well what we we waiting for.. Let’s get ready to rumble!

The Cheltenham Festival certainly has a lot going for it. Four days of quality racing action, with 28 races in total, are nothing short of a gift to those who like a bet or two (or three!). The on-course atmosphere is second to none, with the trademark Cheltenham Roar being let out by the crowd at the start of the first race. With such prestigious races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Arkle Challenge Trophy and Champion Hurdle the action is relentless. Many horses have made their name at the Festival, such as Golden Miller (who won the Gold Cup three times in the 30s) as well as Arkle and Best Mate who matched it decades later. Prize money is substantial; a £625,000 purse for the Gold Cup in 2019 for instance, and TV viewing figures are impressive considering the spread of races over days. In 2018 11 races drew in more than a million viewers.

The Grand National speaks for itself. Held in Aintree, Liverpool each year bar one since 1839, it’s a legend maker of a race. It’s one race that creates ‘water cooler’ moments by getting everyone talking and involved, whether via placing a bet online, following tips for the Grand National or having a friendly wager with mates. The most successful horse ever in the Grand National is likely also the exact same answer you’d most frequently get if you randomly asked strangers to name a horse. It’s none other than three time Grand National winner Red Rum. While Tiger Roll may do his best to steal his crowd this year, Red Rum has certainly done more than enough to secure his place in the racing history books.

Domestic viewing figures for the Grande National have been known to touch an impressive ten million, and a worldwide audience of between 500 and 600 million. Even outside of racing not many sporting audiences can rival that, which must tell you something.

So who has wins this tussle between these two highlights of the racing year? Well Cheltenham was on the ropes there for a minute due to the astounding Grand National viewing figures, but this has to be weighed up against the four day feast of racing that the festival offers. I hate to be a bore but it’s a close run thing, and as such much like the first Fury vs Wilder fight, I’m going to have to declare this one a DRAW! Depending on how each pan out in 2020, we may be due a rematch in the near future!

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015

The 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup had the distinction of being the last to feature A.P. McCoy, who retired after the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown the following month. Sadly, there was to be no ‘last hurrah’ for the perennial champion jockey, who never threatened aboard 12/1 chance Carlingford Lough and trailed in ninth of the eleven finishers, beaten 28 lengths.

Coincidentally, 10/1 fifth choice in the betting market, Djakadam, was trained by another perennial champion, Willie Mullins, who also saddled On His Own and Boston Bob in an attempt to win the ‘Blue Riband’ event for the first time. However, like McCoy, the Co. Carlow handler – who was, and still is, the dominant force in Irish National Hunt force – was out of luck and, not for the first time in his career, had to settle for second place. Silviniaco Conti, trained by Paul Nicholls, officially had 7lb and upwards in hand of his rivals and looked a worthy favourite, at 3/1, after taking an unlucky fall in the 2013 renewal and finishing a close fourth in 2014.

Nevertheless, the ‘big guns’ were upstaged by the eight year-old, Coneygree, trained in the smaller, more traditional yard of Mark Bradstock, near Wantage, Oxfordshire and having his first season over fences. Despite his inexperience, Coneygree was soon at the head of affairs, jumping well under his regular partner Nico De Boinville, and made all the running to win by 1½ lengths. Djakadam stayed on to go second on the run-in and Road To Riches, trained by Noel Meade, finished third, a further 2 lengths away.

Winning trainer Mark Bradstock, who is the son-in-law of the late John Lawrence, a.k.a. Lord Oaksey, who bred Coneygree, described the victory as ‘wonderful’. In fact, Coneygree became the first novice to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup since the seven-year-old Captain Christy, trained by Pat Taaffe, in 1974.

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