Cheltenham festival

The magic of Aintree

However hard some people try to make it a business, jump racing remains a sport and the Grand National its greatest race. Two fences out this year 20 horses were still in contention, ten still seemingly in with a serious chance of winning. As Ruby Walsh noted: ‘If that doesn’t convince people it’s a wonderful sport I’m not sure what will.’ Of the 32 starters 21 finished. Four horses unseated their riders and seven were pulled up but not one fell. The Grand Nationalwill remain a great race. But it is changing Still in the battle two out were the three ‘story horses’. Latenightpass was point to point trainer Tom

The battle of the racehorse trainers

A famous American horse-handler – after seeing an English trainer who had been his assistant starting to win races back in the UK – declared: ‘I taught him everything he knows.’ He then added: ‘But not everything I know.’ With a friendly but intense end-of-season battle this year for the Jump Trainers’ Championship between Paul Nicholls and his former assistant Dan Skelton, I suspect that Paul is secretly hoping that he too has retained an edge despite their successful years together. Paul has been telling us that it would mean more to him this year for his stable jockey Harry Cobden to win his first Jump Jockeys’ Championship than for

A 14-1 tip for a handicap on day two of the Cheltenham Festival

The big race on day two of the Cheltenham Festival tomorrow is the Grade 1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30pm). This will decide which horse in Britain and Ireland is the best chaser over a distance of two miles.  The first three home in the Albert Bartlett Clarence House Chase, run at Cheltenham in January,reoppose each other tomorrow. Editeur du Gite caused something of an upset that day, winning from Edwardstone and Energumene. Yet, I can’t believe the Willie Mullins horse, Energumene, was at his best on that occasion and I’d fancy him to win tomorrow if he shows his best form. However, especially as there are four other runners with chances, odds of around 7/4 are easy to resist. Instead, I am happy just to watch an enjoy

A 22-1 tip for day one of the Cheltenham Festival

Few people enjoy the thrill of a winning punt more than me but there are times when betting becomes (almost) irrelevant. Tomorrow at 3.30 p.m. will be one of them. That’s when seven runners will line up for the Unibet Champion Hurdle, the first championship race of this week’s four-day Cheltenham Festival. I will be at the course to see what I expect to be a hurdling masterclass from Constitution Hill, Nicky Henderson’s vastly-talented six-year-old gelding and the odds-on favourite for the Grade 1 showpiece. To date his racecourse record is flawless: five wins from five races including victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting a

In defence of having a flutter

It was the end of May 1983, half term week. I was meant to be revising for my O-levels, which were to begin the following Monday, but instead was mooching around town, a teenager ready to be led astray. And when I bumped into a couple of similarly unfocused classmates, that’s exactly what happened.  Instead of studying, they’d been seduced by gambling – specifically, betting on the horses. And now they were trying to seduce me. ‘You’ll love it,’ I was promised as they led me into a Ladbrokes, where the air was thick with fag smoke and booming with racetrack commentary.  They explained the procedure to me – the

One more to back at Cheltenham – and three other big-priced tips after a 16-1 winner

With the start of the Cheltenham Festival just four days away, I am pleased to say that this column’s antepost book for the meeting is looking decidedly healthy. It can all go badly wrong, of course, over the space of four days but, for now at least, let’s live in hope. Over the past couple of months, I have put up 12 Festival bets and, particularly for the first two days, most of those horses are now being offered at significantly shorter odds by all bookmakers. With more rain falling than was expected this week – and with more to come – this will inevitably suit some horses that I

The British shone at Cheltenham

For Barbara and Alick Richmond, Living Legend’s game 12-1 victory in Kempton’s 1m 2f Magnolia Stakes last Saturday was their first in a Listed race and it showed. Living Legend had been driven to the front two furlongs out and held on bravely to prevail by a nose. ‘Come here you,’ said Barbara to the treasured Joe Fanning, the veteran jockey who had judged his finish perfectly, and enveloped him in a huge affectionate hug. You felt that if she could she would have picked him up, tucked him under an arm and carted him home to sit on the mantelpiece as a trophy. Of Living Legend, a lightly raced

The call of a blackbird’s full-throated song

Speaking pretty good English, Dr Tayeb came straight to the point. Was I eligible for the ground breaking new cancer treatment? He was afraid not. The radioactive test scan had illuminated the bone tumours very nicely, but the more dangerous one in the liver had remained occluded. So in my case the new treatment – a series of targeted infusions – could have only a ‘suboptimal outcome’. He was therefore not recommending that we go ahead. This was at 8.30 in the morning. I’d been in a taxi since 6.30. I’d hardly slept the night before, due partly to anxiety about what Dr Tayeb might or might not say, and

He knew a swan from a duck: remembering Andy Turnell

You don’t always have to win to enjoy it. At the end of the £100,000 Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday the exhilarated 7lb claimer Archie Bellamy jumped off Lively Citizen with a grin on his face you could have driven a car through. ‘I got some spin off that,’ he declared. ‘You’re turning in and he just takes off. I had such a lot of fun out there.’ So he had, riding a well-judged race on the 28-1 shot to take the lead two out and keeping on well. Lively Citizen’s handler David Jeffreys, who trains at Hinton on the Green, Worcestershire, proved almost equally chuffed: ‘He’s

My top tips for Cheltenham Festival

Even when the authorities were refusing Milton Harris the right to renew his training licence after he got his finances in a tangle and went bankrupt in 2011, they acknowledged that nobody questioned his ability to train racehorses. Nor can they. On Saturday, in Kempton’s Adonis Hurdle, Milton’s Knight Salute, purchased for just £14,000, took his unbeaten record over hurdles to five. His trainer has had 42 winners this season at a strike rate of 21 per cent and is one of the few British handlers ready to take on the Irish at Cheltenham this month. Knight Salute is a 10-1 shot for the Triumph Hurdle and no British victory

My tips for this season and a look back at our Flat Twelve

There are Flat people and there are jumping people. People like the late Captain Tim Forster, trainer of three Grand National winners, Ben Nevis, Well to Do and Last Suspect, who once declared: ‘One day I’m going to stand for Parliament. If I get in my first Bill will be about abolishing Flat racing and the second about doing away with hurdlers.’ People like Trevor Hemmings, the billionaire with the flat cap whose later life became a quest for Grand National winners in his green and yellow quartered colours, a quest in which he succeeded with Hedgehunter, Ballabriggs and Many Clouds. Sadly the kindest of owners died last month and

The secret of Ireland’s racing success

How Father Sean Breen would have loved this year’s Cheltenham Festival. The late parish priest at Ballymore Eustace, who owned a horse or two and had a pundit’s tipping spot on Kildare FM, used to complain that it was most inconsiderate of people to die in the Cheltenham run-up: over 40 years, it was only ever funerals that stopped him attending to conduct his usual service for his fellow Irish attendees, bless a few Irish horses and pray that the Almighty would leave enough in the bookmakers’ satchels for Irish punters to be paid out their winnings. There was nothing in the Bible, he used to argue, that said we

The true cost of Gordon Elliott’s crass stupidity

Thanks to Covid, there could be no spine-tingling roar at the Cheltenham Festival this year as the first race runners set off, no exultant crowds lining the rails from the finish to the winners’ enclosure to cheer their sweaty heroes. Twitchy racing officials will have watched with their gaze half averted for fear that equine fatalities or excessive whip use by jockeys desperate to extract the last ounce of effort from their mounts will have swelled the chorus of the sport’s opponents and would-be eradicators. Publishing schedules mean that I must write before a Festival race is run, but I have no doubt that the week will have been dominated

Ireland’s love affair with horse racing

With the Cheltenham Festival close, the quest for serious punting money intensifies. I had one potential contributor identified at Kempton on Saturday. With trainer Dan Skelton on red-hot form, and his jockey brother Harry currently winning on 22 per cent of his rides, I reckoned that their candidate for the Sky Bet Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle, the clearly useful Calico, a decent horse on the Flat in Germany, was the business at a tasty 10-3. Three hurdles out, Harry had Calico travelling strongly behind the two leaders and I was not only counting my money but also starting to frame a few ante-post doubles for the Festival. When he eased into

My tips for Cheltenham

Dry January it wasn’t and I am not referring to the trainers who normally undergo an annual abstinence but who abandoned the effort this year in sheer frustration at racing’s woes. The unrelenting downpours that have seen a whole string of race meetings called off through waterlogging struck again last weekend. Cheltenham, which had already lost its New Year’s Day fixture to the weather, had to call off its Trials day too, the last scheduled fixture before the Festival in March. With so many opportunities lost for testing individuals’ mettle round the Gloucestershire Valhalla’s undulations and gradients, there will be an extra question mark dangling above many Festival entries this

Racing books to get you through lockdown

Who owns Altior? I ask because of the brouhaha over Nicky Henderson’s late withdrawal of his stable star, winner of a record-breaking 19 consecutive races over jumps, from last Saturday’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase. Official description of the chase course going was ‘soft, good to soft in places’. Nicky’s description was ‘a bottomless glue pit’ and he withdrew Altior despite the gelding’s proven ability to cope with normally soft ground. The racing public, trade press and bookmakers had all been keenly anticipating Altior’s renewed clash with Politologue, the Paul Nicholls-trained grey who won the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March following Altior’s late withdrawal from that race with

Cheltenham Festival was a triumph

The socialite MP Chips Channon once noted in his diaries his feelings about an after-lunch snooze in parliament’s Library: ‘It was,’ he said, ‘a true House of Commons sleep. There is no sleep to compare with it — rich, deep and guilty.’ With racing by then almost the only spectator sport available, the 60,000 a day who turned up for this year’s Cheltenham Festival had similar instincts. Thanks to coronavirus, millions were facing ill health, bankruptcy or worse while we gloried in the comparatively trivial distractions of who arrived first past the post in 28 races. Yet the vividness of the spectacle and the intensity of emotion were as gripping

The magic of Cheltenham Festival

Every time the Cheltenham Festival looms, I recall a remarkable experience. It was already 25 years since Dawn Run’s recovery from a seemingly impossible position to win the Gold Cup of 1986, becoming the only horse ever to add victory in our greatest steeplechase to a triumph in the Champion Hurdle, when, for my Festival history, I interviewed her jockey. Jonjo O’Neill took me through every stride of the race as if it had been the day before: ‘We were flying down the hill and I could hear them coming behind us. I thought we’d gone a right gallop and couldn’t believe they were so close to us. We jumped