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 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.

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