CHELTENHAM certainly ended better than it started as Angels Breath, one of my best hopes of the week and one that I was particularly looking forward to riding, failed to fire in the Supreme.
He hated every minute of what turned out to be pretty horrible ground on the opening day – our horses just didn’t handle it, as Mister Fisher underlined in the same race, and it suited the Irish horses far more – and he actually did remarkably well to stay on into seventh.
There will be better days ahead for him, of that I am sure. For both of the horses in fact.
Tuesday was largely one disappointment after another with Brain Power and Lough Derg Spirit just not running their races, but I actually thought O O Seven ran a pretty huge race in the Ultima, where he travelled well for a very long way in first-time blinkers.
It augured well for the future, especially when he encounters better ground again.
Wednesday was, thankfully, a different matter altogether.
It kicked off with a hugely promising run from Bright Forecast in the Ballymore – I imagine chasing will be his game next season and what a prospect he is in that sphere – and then I thought Santini ran a huge race in what I suspect will turn out to be one of the better of RSA’s in recent years, with the first three all top-class prospects and finishing miles clear of the others.
In fact, it is one of the races of the Festival to follow closely in the future.
Everyone knows his lead-up to the race was far from ideal, and he strikes me as a huge talent going forward.
William Henry didn’t go in the Coral Cup with obvious credentials after just one pulled-up effort this season, and I think it is fair to say that we were all pretty lukewarm about his chances, and his price reflected that.
But he had a wind op since Wincanton and he hammered home once again how horses who have proven Festival form – he was fourth in the race last season – come back and deliver in the unique tempo of these races time and time again.
It was great for Dai Walters to get a winner on the board after the runs of Al Dancer and Angels Breath in the Supreme, and it was our second winner in the race as I rode his Whisper to victory in 2014. That was also by a short-head, too!
I suppose it is a measure of the expectation that surrounds him that Altior was deemed to have run well below his best and still managed to win the Champion Chase more than a touch snugly at the line.
Certainly, you can’t go overboard about the merit of this win – he has recorded more obviously better performances – but there is something about this horse by which you can set your watch by. And that is he always delivers when the chips are down.
Undoubtedly, the ground wasn’t ideal for him, but to win his 18th race in a row is some phenomenal achievement.
It may well be that the guv’nor and the owners want to test him over further now, and he could well be a sight to behold in something like the 32Red King George.
But that’s a fair way off and we can worry about that next season.
18 wins on the bounce for Altior
— Unibet Racing (@UnibetRacing) March 13, 2019
More rain before Thursday’s racing meant that the ground wasn’t ideal for our two horses on the day, River Wylde and Lust For Glory – it rode pretty tacky – and they will be seen to much better effect on a better surface.
On to Friday.
I know the Triumph Hurdle was marred by what happened to Sir Erec, and celebrations were a bit muted as a result, but Pentland Hills blew us away.
I said in this space before the race what a great feel he gave me when winning at Plumpton, but to deliver like he did on only his second start, in this level of company, was something else.
The idea was to ride him cold out the back, but it was close to being game over at the first when he over-jumped and I nearly came off.
Thankfully, I held on and the rest is history, as he cruised through the race and put it to bed in emphatic style after the last. I think it was a decent renewal.
Further exciting times hopefully lie ahead for his band of owners, but this is one victory they will never forget, whatever happens down the line.
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) March 15, 2019
The rest of Friday didn’t yield any more celebrations but Might Bite ran much more like his old self for a long way in the Gold Cup, on ground slower than ideal, and I came out of the race pretty positive for him, for all that I looked after him and pulled him up late on.
I suspect we won’t see him in the race next year, and maybe the Ryanair could be a more sensible target, but that run told me that the fires are still smouldering, and could re-ignite on a quicker surface and over a shorter trip.
Of course there were lows, but when you come out of Cheltenham as top jockey you can never complain.
Plenty of the beaten horses showed a great deal for the future, the most obvious being Santini, and you immediately start dreaming of next March when horses like Shishkin come out and bolt up in the bumper at Kempton on Saturday – for the owners of the Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo, no less – where it was a honour to ride another winner for the Queen on Forth Bridge.
All things considered, it wasn’t a bad week, no.