More than 250,000 racegoers defied coronavirus fears to pack into Cheltenham Racecourse and watch four days of thrilling action last week. Millions more tuned in to watch the drama unfold in the Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and other prestigious races. These are the glorious moments that defined the meeting:
Al Boum photo holds off Santini
Willie Mullins is now a dual Gold Cup winner after Al Boum Photo delivered a heroic performance to hold off the rampaging Santini on Friday. The defending champion went off as the 10/3 favourite, but Cotswold Chase winner Santini was always going to provide fierce competition. Al Boum Photo managed to overhaul Lostintranslation as they cleared the final fence, and he then pulled away up the hill, only for Santini to kick into gear. Anyone that backed Al Boum Photo was in for an agonising finish, but he managed to cross the line just in front of his rival. Mullins said he will now bid to join Best Mate, Arkle, Cottage Rake and Golden Miller by winning the Gold Cup three times in a row when Cheltenham returns in 2021.
Epatante seizes the Champion Hurdle
Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante gave owner JP McManus a birthday to remember when he cruised to victory in Tuesday’s showpiece race. She timed her final jump to perfection and then powered up the hill to overwhelm a spirited Sharjah. Veteran jockey Barry Geraghty was delighted with the win, and he saluted the contribution of McManus to the National Hunt scene. “JP is sourcing this talent and he supports the game at every level,” said Geraghty, who rode five winners at the festival. “The birthday cheer he got today reflects what people think of him because he is a top-class man.” It was a terrific improvement from Epatante, who finished well down the field in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle last year. She gave trainer Nicky Henderson a great start to the meeting, as Shishkin also won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday.
Politologue powers home
Politologue came into the Cheltenham Festival on a six-race winless streak and he was not given much chance of toppling heavy favourite Defi Du Seuil in the Champion Chase. However, last year’s runner-up went one better this time around. He came flying out of the stalls and led the race from start to finish. It was a tactical masterclass from rider Harry Skelton, and Politologue was a deserving winner after jumping beautifully and dictating the pace of the race throughout. It was a shame that Altior missed the race through injury, but Politologue may well have vanquished him anyway. He made short work of Defi Du Seuil, who was fourth, while runner-up Dynamite Dollars never looked like challenging Politologue.
Long shot Lisnagar Oscar causes an upset
All the focus was on Paisley Park in the build-up to the Stayers’ Hurdle on St Patrick’s Thursday. Emma Lavelle’s star stayer won the race in fairytale fashion last year, and he was widely expected to double up in 2020. Very little attention was paid to 50/1 outsider Lisnagar Oscar, who was winless in seven races. He had never secured a Grade 1 victory, and many punters thought he was simply there to make up the numbers. Apple’s Jade set the pace in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and she still held an eight-length lead as they went over the third from last. Lisnagar Oscar was in fourth on the outside by that point. Yet he continued to make up ground on the outside and he was in contention as they rounded the final turn. Apple’s Jade held the lead, but Lisnagar Oscar charged up the outside and surged past his rivals as they. Ronald Pump emerged as his greatest threat as they crossed the final hurdle, but Lisnagar Oscar pulled away and won the race. “My horse tried its heart out,” said winning jockey Adam Wedge. “It fought like a lion out there.”
Viewers were treated to a number of epic duels over the course of the four-day meeting. Min held off a marauding Saint Calvados to snatch victory in an exhilarating Ryanair Chase. The battle between Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle was one for the ages, with Honeysuckle clinching a narrow triumph. Perhaps the finest finish came in the RSA Chase, in which Champ came from well back in the field to storm past Minella Indo as they crossed the line. There were many more thrilling finishes and the Cheltenham roar was deafening at times. Irish maestros Mullins and Gordon Elliott also engaged in a fascinating race to be named leading trainer. They both ended up with seven victories and seven seconds, but Mullins was ultimately handed the honour after six of his runners finishes third, compared to four third-placed runners for Elliott. Paul Townend and Geraghty both earned five wins, but Townend was named top jockey after securing more places. However, there was nothing close about the Prestbury Cup battle, as Ireland absolutely trounced Great Britain.