The Cheltenham Roundup – Festival Talking Points & Eyecatchers Ahead of Aintree
With the Cheltenham Festival over for another 12 months, our racing editor has highlighted those who were unfortunate to miss out on Festival success and identified those who will be looking to rise to the occasion at next month’s Grand National meeting at Aintree.
British Trainers – Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson
Torrential rain saw a dramatic alteration to Cheltenham’s official going on day 2 of the Festival and whilst some runners thrived in the testing underfoot conditions, others severely faltered.
Paul Nicholls had seemingly assembled a strong team for the second day of the Festival but after Stage Star flopped in the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on heavy going, the champion trainer decided to pull out Bravemansgame, McFabulous and Thyme White from their intended engagements.
The yard failed to record a win at the Festival for a second successive season after entering just nine runners across the four days, however, those recent misfortunes should ensure that Paul Nicholls has plenty of ammunition to fire ahead of the Grand National Meeting and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the trainer rack up a decent tally at the Merseyside venue next month.
The Festival curtain-raiser provided one of the most impressive performances of the entire week as Constitution Hill romped to a commanding 22l victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, a victory that was equally staggering on the eye as well as the clock.
Nicky Henderson had an opening day to remember with Jonbon providing a 1-2 for the stable in the Supreme, Epatante going close in the Champion Hurdle, and Marie’s Rock defeating the Irish contingent in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.
The major talking point amongst Henderson’s Festival string was on Day 2 as Shishkin was forced to pull up in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Seen by many as the ‘British Banker’ of the week, the eight-year-old failed to jump and travel with his usual conviction and ultimately struggled to cope with the testing surface underfoot.
However, something that may have gone unnoticed by some at the Festival was how well Nicky Henderson’s runners performed in the handicaps, with the likes of Mill Green, Mister Coffey and First Street all finding the frame across the week for the master of Seven Barrows.
With that being said, it may pay to keep a close eye on I AM MAXIMUS who could be heading down the handicapping route after finishing fourth behind Sir Gerhard in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Outclassed behind Willie Mullins’ impressive winner, Nicky Henderson’s charge may struggle to win a Grade 1 after that recent performance and perhaps a switch to handicaps can see the lightly raced six-year-old return to winning ways at Aintree next month.
Other Eyecatchers To Note – Tea Clipper & Party Business
Having his first start since wind surgery, Tom Lacey’s TEA CLIPPER deserves plenty of credit for finishing fourth in the ultra-competitive Ultima Handicap Chase on day 1. Turning for home with a share of the lead, the seven-year-old was unable to sustain his challenge on the climb to the line but only weakened out of contention in the closing stages.
Tea Clipper remains very lightly raced over fences this campaign and after previously lining up at last season’s Aintree Festival over hurdles, there is every reason to believe that the unexposed seven-year-old will be targeted at Aintree once more by connections and is one to keep on the right side.
Arguably one of the biggest eyecatchers of the entire week came in the concluding race on day 4 as Ian Williams’ PARTY BUSINESS endured plenty of trouble throughout the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
Almost brought down in the early stages of that contest, jockey Charlie Todd did remarkably well to keep the partnership intact before making smooth headway behind the pack as they turned for home. Short of room on the rail, the six-year-old was forced to switch two from home and was certainly staying on best of all as they climbed towards the finish.
Connections may decide to step Party Business up in trip after that fast-finishing effort over 2m4f, and he is another who could be primed to go well if lining up at Aintree next month.