The new year always brings fresh promise of better things to come, and the belief of a better year than the one that came before it. Here in the UK, you need ask only a handful of racing fans their favourite racecourse and without hesitation “Cheltenham” would be the answer. So what better way to start off the year than at the place in question?
With a charm that is second to none, Cheltenham rounds up those that are lifelong racing fans to those just looking for an atmospheric day out. As the flag drops to signal the start of the first race of not only the day, but the year here, the cheer from the crowd–; famously thought of as the ‘Cheltenham Roar’- sends goose bumps to even the most seasoned of racing fans.
National Hunt, or more simply known as ‘Jumps racing’ in the UK, takes place over the winter months, with horses revelling in muddy ground as they fly over hurdles and fences to beat their competitors to the finishing post. Many would go as far to say National Hunt racing is the main staple of the sporting year, throwing many thrills and spills into the racing calendar.
Racegoers young and old alike begin to take their positions along the rails, eagerly awaiting the start of the first race. As the flag drops, they are off and racing for the first time in 2019! Jarveys Plate, after flying over 10 hurdles, is the eventual winner of The Ballymore Novices Hurdle for local trainer Fergal O’Brien. “We’ve always loved this horse,” he tells us passionately. With a disappointing ride at Hereford previously, jockey Paddy Brennan called it “All part of his education”; and he was correct as Jarveys Plate beat clear favourite I Can’t Explain, trained by Nicky Henderson.
Nicky Henderson, however, battled back in the second race on the card with Beware The Bear, ridden by Jeremiah McGrath. Nicky chuckled as he told us ‘We weren’t exactly sprinting up the hill!’. Despite this, he still managed to get a winner on the card.
The Betbright Dipper Novices Steeple Chase saw Colin Tizzard trained LostInTranslation beat the odds to jump out in front of favourite On The Blind Side and Defi Du Seuil who won at big odds just under a month previously at Exeter. He was slow at the second last after a mistake he had made at Newbury, which he has clearly learnt from. LostInTranslation was described as a ‘Beautiful chap’ and that he finished like a stayer. He is potentially a JLT horse with a run before Cheltenham Festival a possibility, however Tizzard stated he would first “digest this race”.
The feature race of the day, The Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle saw Wholestone go off as favourite at 6/4 and definitely a fancied favourite for form followers, too. However, it was to be the day for 8/1 shot Midnight Shadow under jockey Danny Cook that would prevail victorious. Trainer Sue Smith clearly thinks very highly of him; “He has a touch of class, he jumps great and he quickens up and has a very good engine” she informed us after the race. “We were hopeful but not confident however the World Hurdle could be a possibility.” Sue understandably favoured going up in trip rather than down and thinks he will “be a great chaser”.
As the last race of the day is completed, the course begins to wind down for the evening as racegoers begin to leave. Appetites for the season ahead have most certainly been dampened, and I for one cannot wait until the 26th for Festival Trials day.
See you then!