5 Things Learned – Cheltenham 2017.

5 things learnedThe next few weeks before Aintree is like the month of January for many racing fans, the anti climax can be somewhat unbearable for those who’ve been building up to the Cheltenham festival for weeks prior to the event. Left with only replays, a few extra inch’s to the beer belly and in some cases a much lighter wallet.

The post Cheltenham blues have well and truly set in but we’re going to take a look back with a smile and highlight FIVE things to take from The Cheltenham Festival 2017.

Credit the Melon.

Treat the 2017 Supreme Novice Hurdle result with the respect it deserves. Plenty will be quick to disregard Melon having been touched off by a relatively unattractive winner Labaik.

When Labaik decided to jump off in the Supreme he immediately went 13.00 in running, his previous history of blaggarding at the start was certainly factored into his large price of 25/1.

Melon labaik .jpg

Described by Jamie Codd leading up the festival as “One of the best work horses” that he’s ever seen, it was no surprise for many to see Labaik arriving there swinging on the bridle coming down to the last. He’s no mug.

Melon himself ran an absolute belter on only his second start over hurdles and lots can be taken in defeat. Melon and the eventual winner pulled 8L clear of 145 – 150 rated battle hardened animals, which should rate the duo somewhere in the high 150’s.

Buveur D’Air finished 3rd in last year’s supreme novice hurdle and ended up 7/2 favourite for the Champion Hurdle by February and you can back Melon at 20/1 for next year’s Champion Hurdle with Betfair sportsbook.

Given his openness for improvement and more likelihood to jump off he look’s a more solid option than Labaik. Which ever way you look at it the 2017 Champion Hurdle didn’t appear too hot, lets hope either Melon or Labaik can be the star to emerge.

Stayer on the flat equals stayer over hurdles.

With Thistlecrack switching to fences this season the staying hurdle division was once again blown wide open. YouknowhatImeanharry was all the rage heading into the festival having mopped up 3 graded races earlier in the season on softer ground.


6 time Grade 1 winner Nichols Canyon however was campaigned over 2 mile for the last 3 seasons before finally chancing his arm over 3m for the first time at the festival. Some might say at long last as he’s been crying out for an extra mile.

Once rated 104 on the flat for John Gosden, this little fella is your ultimate professional with undoubted class. In the past three year’s he’s come up just short at the real highest level and probably lacks that final turn of foot for 2m.

Racing on the flat prior to running over hurdles teaches horses a great deal. Canyons attitude in the prelims, tight race experience, and all rounded toughness has potentially something to do with what’s he learned from the flat at a young age.

Another example of a stayer on the flat showing staying qualities over hurdles last week was Albert Bartlett winner Penhill. Trained until he was 5 by Luca Cumani he reached a flat rating of 100 before moving to Willie Mullins last summer.

Switched off a dream under Paul Townend at odds of 16/1, he cruised into the lead approaching the last backing up the same theory a stayer on the flat equals a stayer over hurdles. Good ground of course did play its part.

Take Davy Russell’s word with a pinch of salt.

Thursday saw Presenting Percy land the Pertemps 3m handicap in Jaw dropping fashion. 12 months previous the same owners, shrewd trainer Pat Kelly and jockey Davy Russell teamed up with Mall Dini to win the same race.

Laid out for this since the start of the season, Russell swore to the public in Waterford at a Cheltenham preview night covered by Champ.ie that Presenting Percy was handicapped out of it by Phil Smith.” Whatever wins the Pertemps will be trained in England”, Irish handicapper Noel O’Brien sitting smirking at the other end of the table.

Four days later in the Castle Hotel in Trim he again told the public Presenting Percy has no chance, carries way too much weight and wasn’t willing to discuss it anymore. As if butter wouldn’t melt the funny thing is you’d believe him if you knew no better.

Thursday 10 minutes before the race, sad faced Davy appeared on Racing UK. When asked about Presenting Percy’s chance Davy expressed his disappointment at Phil Smith again, stating the horse was carrying too much weight to win.

Well after going lickity split for nearly 3 miles around Cheltenham if the bould Davy didn’t come there, with his arms nearly ripped from their sockets, desperately attempting to hold onto this thing. Presenting Percy was at the very least a stone well in, rated 146. Too much weight?? Russell must have known Presenting Percy would be winning Grade 1’s in the near future.

Nicholls not nearly the force of old.

It seems an awful long time ago since the days of Kauto Star, Big Bucks, Denman and Master Minded. Paul Nicholls Cheltenham challenge has deteriorated gradually each year since Kauto won his second Gold Cup in 2009. In the year 2017 he’s hit rock bottom.

Kauto nichols.jpg

Paul Nicholls had 25 runners at the Cheltenham festival, only 1 winner and 2 placed isn’t exactly the result you’d associate with your current British champion trainer.

It seems Ruby Walsh knew the stars were drying up when leaving Somerset in May 2013 but I’m not sure he’d have ever anticipated Paul Nicholls celebrating a neck win the Foxhunters like he’s just won the Gold Cup.

One of Nicholls horses that did run a tidy race was Saphir Du Rheu. The Grey son of Al Namix was bang in contention turning in on Fridays Gold Cup massively out running his odds of 66/1. Saphir jumped better than we’ve ever seen him before and it seems he may eventually be getting the hang of fences. Currently 25/1 for the Aintree Grand National, he looks to be on a nice mark.

The Arkle’s a decent trial for the Gold Cup .

Sizing John followed in the footsteps of Best Mate and War Of Attrition in running in the Arkle before going onto win the Gold Cup the following year. The Gold Cup is a race for stayers but all the best Gold Cup winners have a touch of class and the pace for 2m.

Kauto Star himself ran in the Queen Mother before his eventual glory days over 3m, Dawn Run won a Champion Hurdle over 2m, so you should never discount a speedier type even if it is the ultimate test of stamina. You need both for this.


Sizing John had the ideal campaign for a horse stepping up from 2m to 3m. Gradually increasing the distance, the ‘Queen of Moone’ Jessica Harrington started him off over 2m at Leopardstown over Christmas before stepping him up in trip to land the Kinloch Brae chase at Thurles over 2m 4f . Sizing then proved his stamina when he tackling 3m for the 1st time in the Irish Gold Cup.

Known for following Douvan around the place for two whole seasons, this fellow would himself have been a multiple Grade 1 winner including an Arkle Chase if it wasn’t for Rich Riccis star.

Lobbing along on Friday his speed of jumping was different class, Robbie Power rode him like the best horse in the race and that’s what he was, supporting the theory CLASS wins the Gold Cup !

By Barry Doyle 20/03/2017