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’.

Tiger Roll

Of course, Tiger Roll became a household name when, in April, 2019, he became the first horse since the legendary Red Rum, in 1974, to record back-to-back victories in the Grand National. However, even before his first attempt in the Aintree marathon in 2018, Tiger Roll had made a name for himself at the Cheltenham Festival. In 2014, he won the Grade One Triumph Hurdle over 2 miles and 79 yards on the New Course at Prestbury Park, in 2016, after being switched to steeplechasing, he won the National Hunt Challenge Cup over 3 miles 7 furlongs and 147 yards on the Old Course and, in 2018, he won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase over 3 miles 6 furlongs on the Cross Country Course. In 2019, Tiger Roll confirmed himself as a true Cheltenham Festival ‘legend’ when making light of a 9lb rise in the weights to win the same race again, by 22 lengths from the 2016 winner, Josies Orders.

Interestingly, Tiger Roll was originally owned by Sheikh Mohammed, but has only ever contested one Flat race – a 2-mile maiden race at Dundalk, in which he finished second – and, even then, only as a six-year-old, in 2016, by which time he had long been in the care of his current trainer, Gordon Elliot. He was bought by Michael O’Leary, the owner of Gigginstown House Stud, after making a winning debut for his previous trainer, Nigel Hawke, and was sent to Elliott as a likely contender for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Tiger Roll exceeded expectations by not only contesting, but winning, the Triumph Hurdle on just his second start for his new connections.

The rest, as they say, is history. Despite being ‘a little rat of a thing’, according to his owner – Tiger Roll is diminutive, especially for a steeplechaser, at fewer than 16 hands – after a spell in the doldrums, the Authorized gelding found fame over the larger obstacles and, at least so far, has never fallen. Admirable though Tiger Roll is, O’Leary is on the record as saying that he is very unlikely to attempt to emulate Red Rum by running in the Grand National again in 2020. His ‘swansong’ may well be the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, once again, in which victory would be his fifth at the Cheltenham Festival.

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