The major reason my heart belongs to National Hunt racing is its narratives. Much as I adore rowing, flat racing, and cricket, too many of those who go to Henley, Ascot and Lord’s seem, at least in part, to see them as glorified garden parties with sport as a side. The stars of jump race meetings, even at its greatest event Cheltenham, are always the horses and the amazing people.
And if ever there was a day when national hunt racing lived up to these values, it was Thursday’s racing at Cheltenham.
The sport that lends itself so easily to emotion sung from the rafters when AP McCoy won the Ryanair Chase; In what is the great man’s final festival, it was uplifting to see him smash up a grade 1 race with such authority. Despite a winless first two days, we knew the champ would come good in the end.
A legend at the end of his career winning a grade 1 race was followed by a grade 1 victory for a trainer at the start of his. Cole Harden won The World Hurdle for Warren Greatrex, sparking scenes of unbridled joy and shock from his connections. It was one in the cap for the smaller stables and, though we are suckers for sentimental memories, the world moves on and the new replace the heroes of yesteryear.
With that point firmly in mind, I think we have seen next year’s Gold Cup winner – Vautour. There is nothing more dramatic in the racing world than a horse running from pillar to post and winning. I had the pleasure of being present when the big horse won The Supreme Novices last year and couldn’t see anything taking him on this year over the fences. The power, speed, agility, and jumping is awesome.
Vautour is popped into a file marked next year…but picking the winner of today’s Gold Cup, steeple-chasing’s blue riband, is rather trickier.
There is no outstanding horse, so your guess is as good as mine. I don’t like the favourite, Silviniaco Conti, because he has faltered up the fabled hill in the last two Gold Cups, but one can’t argue with his other form. Support for AP’s mount, Carlingford Lough, is based on pure sentiment as is a bet on Bobs Worth – but both remain decent each way shouts.
I am confident the winner in what is frankly a race of slightly diluted quality will come from Coneygree, Many Clouds, or Djakadam. With Captain Christy in 1974 being the only novice to win The Gold Cup, history goes against Coneygree and the softer ground could lead to a war of attrition, which is mark against the six year old Djakadam.
So for me all roads lead to Many Clouds because he will love the softening ground. It will be a real slog today and the race is wide open.
But, even though there is no exceptional horse, it promises to be a fantastic race and deliver the perfect climax to an exceptional festival, which has this week epitomised everything that is great about this sport
1.30 Peace and Co (NAP)
2.05 Princely Conn
2.40 Thomas Brown
3.20 Many Clouds
4.00 Paint The Clouds
5.15 Ned Buntline