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2019 Cheltenham Festival recap - A look back at four fantastic days' at the Greatest Show On Turf

Brian Healy takes a look back at the Cheltenham Festival and picks out his best performances over another fantastic four days' top class horse racing action.

The dust is beginning to settle on another memorable Cheltenham Festival showpiece, and over the course of the four days at Prestbury Park there were plenty of thrills to be had, exhilarating performances to witness, heartbreak to endure and tears to fall.

But almost as the runners crossed the line in the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, many jumps racing fans’ thoughts would surely turn to the 2020 renewal of the ‘greatest show on turf’.

However, lets cast our mind back just a couple of days and relive some of the greatest performances over the four days’ top-class action at Cheltenham as Brian Healy picks out his best winning performances from the week as he recaps on a fantastic Festival.

Day one of the Festival might have belonged to the bookies, but there were several taking performances on the first day, starting with Klassical Dream’s ready victory in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

However, perhaps more impressive was Willie Mullins’ second winner on the day as DUC DES GENIEVRES pulverised opponents with a display of slick jumping to score a superb Arkle win.

Things might have been different in the race had Glen Forsa not unseated his rider at the fourth fence, and two more rivals crashed out at the sixth fence when the fall of Henry De Bromhead’s Ornua saw Kalashnikov unseat rider Jack Quinlan with the pair unable to get out of the way of the Irish raider falling in front of them.

Kayley Wollacott’s Lalor, who had been strongly fancied before hand but drifted markedly on the day, hated the rain-softened ground and put in a poor performance; he was pulled up after jumping the ninth fence, but the writing had been on the wall much earlier.

With race-favourite Hardline also running below his best, the Willie Mullins-trained Buck’s Boum gelding jumped and travelled well throughout, and taking up the running jumping the third last fence he readily extended his advantage to register a 13-lengths’ win over his rivals who simply had no answer.

Did the race rather fall into Espoir D’Allen’s lap? With Buveur D’air falling early and taking out Willie Mullins’ Sharjah, and poor performances from both Apple’s Jade - who later scoped dirty - and Laurina, it could be argued that the Champion Hurdle fell apart and allowed Gavin Cromwell’s charge to pick up the pieces.

It can’t be argued that the Voix Du Nord gelding did post a hugely impressive run in the circumstances, coasting home some 15 lengths clear of Melon who was finishing runner-up for the second time in the race. But would he have won so decisively, or indeed won at all if the principals had run up to their best?

Punters' fingers were burnt again when in shades of Annie Power in 2015, Benie Des Dieux tipped up at the last hurdle when looking set to win the Mares' Hurdle, allowing Dan Skelton's Roksana to come through for the win; while it was difficult not to be impressed by the way Henry De Bromhead’s A PLUS TARD routed rivals to win the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, and the Kapgarde gelding dominated the race almost from start to finish.

An early leader, he was reined back but stayed handy throughout under Rachael Blackmore before being sent back to the front on the run to the second last. From there the duo readily scampered clear of the field and keeping on strongly to the line posted a 16 lengths’ victory over runner-up Tower Bridge.

It was the first winner of a memorable week for the top Irish female jockey, and one richly deserved.

The punters won the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, clawing back losses sustained on the opening day.

City Island turned in a quality performance to win the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, overcoming some crowding on the run to the second last hurdle and staying on stoutly to repel the challenge of Champ; while Topofthegame come out on top in a RSA Chase thriller, holding off both Santini and Delta Work with a narrow success.

William Henry, Wicklow Brave and Ballyandy then rolled back the years to serve up another thriller in the Coral Cup prior to Altior pulling out another Champion Chase win despite jumping the last behind Sceaux Royal and under pressure to get back at Alan King’s charge who had travelled well into the race.

The defending champion just had too much firepower though, digging in to overturn the deficit and in the end scoring a shade readily despite his earlier scares. But it was another defending champion in TIGER ROLL who turned in the performance of the day to saunter to a second victory in the Cross-Country Chase.

He had already beaten most of these rivals twelve months previously, so there were few hidden dangers; and supporters of the Aintree Grand National hero never had a minute’s worry as Keith Donoghue steered the defending champion around the course and register a facile 22 lengths’ victory over Josies Orders.

French raider Urgent De Gregaine briefly threatened to get involved, travelling well into the race; but he could find no answer to the defending champion once he went to the front; and leading from five out it was all over as a contest as he steadily drew clear for a facile success.

If Tiger Roll was impressive, then BAND OF OUTLAWS was equally so as Joseph O’Brien’s charge saw the trainer get off the mark for the week with a top-drawer success despite meeting with trouble in running.

Always travelling strongly under JJ Slevin, he was still on the bridle when getting involved in some rough scrimmaging as the field turned into the straight and faced up to the last hurdle and climb to the line.

Not panicked however, the Fast Company gelding quickly recovered his position and were soon back upsides as the leaders jumped the last; from there he asserted still going well and readily quickened up with a good turn of foot to deny Coko Beach by two lengths.

It was a performance that probably saw him go into plenty of notebooks for next season, and he looked a top-class prospect in that win. 

Day two ended with another pulsating finish to the Champion Bumper with Gordon Elliott’s Envoi Allen getting the better of a strong duel to the line with Blue Sari.

Defi Du Seuil turned in an excellent performance to deny old foe Lostintranslation in the JLT Novices’ Chase prior to Sire Du Berlais making it 2-2 on day three for the favourites, getting up late to deny Tobefair.

However, FRODON and regular pilot Bryony Frost produced another classy performance together to grind out a gutsy win from the front in the Ryanair Chase, with jockey Frost becoming the first female rider in history to bag a Grade One success at the Cheltenham Festival.

Paul Nicholls’ charge was sent to the front as the tapes went up, and jumping boldly under his rider he responded well once headed by Aso to regain the lead jumping the last before digging deep to repel the challenge of Venetia Williams’ outsider as well as former Gold Cup hope Road To Respect to register a historic moment.

It might not have been the most visually impressive win, but it was nonetheless one of the performances of the Festival.

From one emotional success to another, and PAISLEY PARK’S win in the Stayers’ Hurdle was as impressive as it was emotional for trainer Emma Lavelle and the horse’s owner, Andrew Gemmell who has been blind since birth.

In what looked a carbon copy of the Cleeve Hurdle, where Paisley Park looked cooked turning in, he produced another typically strong finish once the field straightened up and sprinting up the stands’ rail he made up plenty of ground on the leaders to jump the last in front.

However, he bungled the last and allowed a glimmer of hope to the chasing Sam Spinner; but quickly gathered up again by jockey Aidan Coleman, he reasserted to run out a ready winner. Had he not clouted the last he would have won by several lengths, but he still managed to put almost three lengths between him and the runner-up with the veteran Faugheen back in third.

As Frodon did little over one hour previously, Lizzie Kelly became the third female rider to get on the Festival scoresheet when steering Siruh Du Lac to victory in the Brown Advisory Plate with the pair making almost all the running before keeping on strongly for pressure and a narrow success.

The retiring Noel Fehily then caused a 50/1 shock when steering Eglantine Du Seuil into the winners’ enclosure prior to revealing to TV cameras during an interview that this would be his last Festival as he announced plans to retire from the saddle.

Any Second Now rounded off day three of the Festival with a success in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup, keeping on well to deny Kilfilum Cross.

Day four got off to the worst possible start when hot-favourite Sir Erec broke down mid-race in the opening Triumph Hurdle and had to be put down post-race; the horse had spread a plate on the way to the start, and critics debate whether he should have run following that incident.

Despite the tragic loss of Joseph O’Brien’s charge, it was an impressive win by the once-raced PENTLAND HILLS who survived an early mistake and then almost got taken out of the race by Sir Erec as that one’s rider tried desperately to pull him up.

Making rapid headway towards the inside on the run to the second-last, he emerged over the last hurdle to throw down the challenge to Coeur Sublime who had struck the front on the run to the last, and quickening up smartly he put daylight between him and the runner-up to post an impressive win that was sadly overshadowed by events during the race.

Ch’tibello had been given a chance by the handicapper, and the smart hurdler took advantage of the return to handicapping from his mark to score impressively in the County Hurdle prior to Rachael Blackmore getting on the scoreboard for a second time when steering 50/1 chance Minella Indo to success in the Albert Bartlett, following the achievements of Bryony Frost to also register a Grade One win at the Festival.

Performance of the day though belonged to AL BOUM PHOTO who ended Willie Mullins’ long wait for a Gold Cup success as he impressively scored a decisive win in the Blue Riband over Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly.

The well-fancied Kemboy departed at the first fence, and with Might Bite setting a decent pace up front with defending champion Native River always seeming to just being niggled at by Richard Johnson, the pace gradually began to have an effect on those behind and race-favourite Presenting Percy never quite seemed to be travelling or jumping in the race and he eventually finished lame.

Bellshill never jumped well and was pulled up relatively early, while Thistlecrack was another who failed to deliver on the big stage and his jumping let him down.

A fatal fall by Invitation Only also took out Definitely Red, and only nine of the 16 runners completed the course. 

Bristol De Mai travelled well into the contest but couldn’t quite see the race out and he weakened into third, while Native River rallied gamely having looked to check out of contention on the run to the last to get back up for fourth.

The day though belonged to Paul Townend and Al Boum Photo with the pair jumping soundly and leading the field on the run to the last. Having then winged the last they stormed up the hill in isolation to win comfortably from the fast-finishing Anibale Fly who came with a wet-sail to grab the runner-up spot.

Hazel Hill then produced a taking performance to win the Foxhunter Challenge Cup from the staying-on Shantou Flyer before Croco Bay rolled back the years to defy all-comers in the Grand Annual Chase.

Completing the Festival fare, Early Doors got up late to deny Dallas Des Pictons who had travelled supremely well into the race and jumped the last in front; but galvanised by Jonjo O’Neill Junior the Soldier Of Fortune got up late to snatch the spoils and cap a bitter-sweet day for Joseph O’Brien as the curtain fell on another fantastic four days’ horse racing action.

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2019 Cheltenham Festival recap - A look back at four fantastic days' at the Greatest Show On Turf

Brian Healy takes a look back at the Cheltenham Festival and picks out his best performances over another fantastic four days' top class horse racing action.

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