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.

2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured the defending champion, Bobs Worth, who was sent off 6/4 favourite, ahead of Silviniaco Conti, a seemingly unlucky loser in the 2015 renewal, at 11/4, and the remainder of the 13-strong field available at 15/2 or longer. The start of the race was dramatic enough, with the runners only sent on their way at the third time of asking, but the finish – and the subsequent, televised stewards’ enquiry – was even more so, not to mention deeply controversial in the eyes of some observers.

The market leaders filled the first two places jumping the final fence, but it was all change on the run-in as first Silviniaco Conti and then Bobs Worth – who was, apparently, distracted by a security guard in a yellow, high visibility jacket, causing him to become unbalanced – wandered on the flat. Having been completely outpaced in the early stages, Lord Windermere appeared to be in a hopeless position between the second-last and third-last fences, but made up ground hand over first thereafter and was on the heels of the leaders jumping the final fence. The eight-year-old continued his progress but, while he took the lead inside the final half-a-furlong or so he, too, hung left, carrying the placed horses, On His Own and The Giant Bolster, across the course towards the stands rail.

Lord Windermere, only seventh choice in the betting market at 20/1, passed the post with just a short head and three-quarters of a length in hand of On His Own and The Giant Bolster. A stewards’ enquiry ensued and, after 15 minutes’ deliberation, the result was allowed to stand, despite stewards’ secretary Paul Barton stating afterwards that, ‘There was interference, without a doubt…’ Consequently, winning trainer Jim Culloty – probably still best known as the jockey of Best Mate – became the latest of just five men to ride and saddle a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.

2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured eight runners but was, nevertheless, a ‘tight’ betting heat. Despite the prevailing soft going, about which trainer Nicky Henderson had previously expressed his concern, Bobs Worth was sent off 11/4 favourite, but was closely in the betting by stable companion Long Run, at 7/2, and Silviniaco Conti and Sir Des Champs, both at 4/1. Bobs Worth had readily beaten Tidal Bay and First Lieutenant by 3¼ lengths and 5 lengths in the Hennessy Gold Cup on his seasonal reappearance at Newbury the previous December and looked a worthy favourite.

Indeed, the betting market proved to an accurate guide, because the market leaders – with the exception of Betfair Chase winner Silviniaco Conti, who fell at the third-last fence when still travelling well within himself – dominated the finish. King George VI Chase winner Long Run and Irish Hennessy Gold Cup winner Sir Des Champs led the field turning for home and, hampered by the departure of Silviniaco Conti, Bobs Worth was driven along and 8 lengths down on the run to the second-last fence.

However, galvanised by jockey Barry Geraghty, the favourite produced a strong run to lead between the final two fences and gamely forged clear in the final half-a-furlong or so to win by 7 lengths. Sir Des Champs rallied on the run-in, but could make no real impression on the winner in the closing stages, although he did enough to finish second, 2¾ lengths ahead of Long Run, who could also find no extra.

Of course, Bobs Worth was winning at the Cheltenham Festival for the third year running, having collected the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2011 and the RSA Chase in 2012. Winning jockey Barry Geraghty praised Bobs Worth for his ‘great attitude’ and, on his retirement from racing three years later, winning trainer Nicky Henderson called him ‘an absolute legend’.

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