There were so many good performances at Cheltenham this week it is hard to know where to start.
Although I must confess the horse that blew me away the most, leaving aside the utterly captivating Vautour, was Douvan in the very first race of the meeting, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday.
Ruby Walsh has repeatedly said the best of him will not been seen until next season and the word that seemed to crop up more than once with the paddock experts, prior to the contest, was “unfurnished.’’
The conclusion to be drawn is that Douvan right now is basically a long way short of what he is going to be and that really is a sobering thought.
Having invested some of the hard earned on him, it was less than pleasing to see how keen he was in the first half of the heat.
Experience has taught us that when a horse behaves like that in a race, any race, not to mind a fiercely competitive Grade 1, then the chances of his supporters reaping a dividend usually lie somewhere between slim and none.
I waited fearfully for him to cut out at some stage through the last half-mile, but thankfully Douvan hadn’t read the script and found loads off the bridle to bound clear in the straight.
To my eyes it was an awesome display of sheer power and talent and how far might the five-year-old have won had he relaxed more for Walsh?
The time of the contest is worth noting as well, considering it was 3.4 seconds faster than it took Faugheen when landing the Champion Hurdle.
Speaking of Faugheen, he was hugely impressive and could well be the new Istabraq.
You have to be forgiven for thinking, however, that this is not a vintage period for top class hurdlers.
I felt Faugheen was as close to a certainty as you could get and said so whenever asked for an opinion on the race.
It was obviously based on how good a horse he clearly is, but also on the lack of opposition.
I mean it took a leap of faith to see the veteran Hurricane Fly playing a meaningful part and The New One seemed to have gone completely off the boil, on the evidence of his previous effort at Haydock.
As well as that Jezki’s performances through the campaign were less than encouraging, so the conclusion to be drawn is that this was a modest enough renewal of the Champion Hurdle.
Mind you Faugheen could only dismiss what was put in front of him and I doubt too many of us will be opposing him in the near future.
What Vautour did on Thursday was a thing of beauty and no words are necessary, his performance spoke for itself.
On Tuesday morning an old pal rang to discuss Cheltenham and his comment, regarding Un De Sceaux, made me laugh.
He said the horse, in the Arkle that afternoon, will “come home on his own, but I don’t know whether he’ll have a jockey or not.’’
He was in no way knocking Un De Sceaux, merely pointing out what many of us were thinking that the only way he would get beaten was if he fell.
When he literally hurdled the first fence here’s one who feared the worst. But then Ruby Walsh went to work and very shortly afterwards Un De Sceaux hit the most delightful rhythm.
Walsh is a craftsman and it was almost magical to watch the pair get on the exact same wavelength.
Un De Sceaux’s jumping got better and better as the race progressed and you couldn’t fail to be impressed by how much he found from the back of the final fence.
It is surely all systems go for next year’s two-mile Champion Chase now and I doubt Willie Mullins will fret too much over having to take on Wednesday’s winner of this year’s renewal, Dodging Bullets.
The best moment of the week was surely when Annie Power got up after that horrendous fall at the last in the Mares’ Hurdle.
Annie was flying at the time and it was a miracle, the way she hit the ground, that the best mare seen since Dawn Run didn’t break her neck.
Douvan’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle threw up something that was of interest. There were 12 horses in the race and all, rather amazingly, were ridden by Irish-born jockeys.
And what about this one regarding Davy Russell. He ended last year’s festival on the Friday with just three possibilities.
The trio were Tiger Roll (Triumph Hurdle), Lord Windermere (Gold Cup) and Savello (Grand Annual) and they all won.
Last Tuesday, he was idle at Cheltenham and so his festival began on Wednesday with two rides.
They were Windsor Park and Rivage D’Or and they both won. That meant he had ridden five horses in a row at the Cheltenham festival and, astonishingly, all hit the target.
I wouldn’t be much of a one for statistics, and the memory leaves plenty to be desired as well, but has any pilot ever managed a feat like that before?
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