Surprising to note the Mares’ Novice Hurdle of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival was the biggest pointer to winners at the 2020 Festival, but it provided three winners at this year’s meeting, as well as many more placed efforts.
Epatante, who was disappointing favourite in that race last year, won this year’s Champion Hurdle in great style; Concertista, who was runner-up in 2019, went one place better in the same race; and Indefatigable, who was fifth in the mares’ novice in 2019, won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
And the strength of the form didn’t stop there: Fourth-placed Black Tears finished runner-up in the Coral Cup; sixth-placed Elfile finished third in the Mares’ Hurdle, Buildmeupbuttercup, who was 11th last year finished fourth in the County Hurdle, and 14th-placed Elusive Belle was just one place behind her in the County.
Such was the authority of Concertista’s win in this year’s renewal of the mares’ novice hurdle, with the exception of the winner, it seems unlikely the 2020 running will prove as effective but, with 10 of this year’s winners having run at last year’s Festival, three having won in 2019, it’s a great place to start in finding next year’s winners.
(Brought down Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
Henry De Bromhead’s horse was sent off 20-1 when making a winning track debut in a maiden hurdle at Navan and most of us deduced he was a lucky winner as clear leader Blackbow fell at the last. However, subsequent efforts of the latter suggest the winner, who had loads of momentum going to the last, would have got there — and with a little to spare, too.
He was very free that day and again at Punchestown, where Rachael Blackmore conceded defeat in the unequal struggle to hold him up. As a result, he made most of the running, only to be caught by favourite Andy Dufresne.
He still showed a tendency to race keenly at Cheltenham but was right there in contention and still going well when brought down at the second-last hurdle in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
It’s impossible to tell where he might have finished, but his progress, in just three runs, was tremendous.
His dam line goes back to Duckdown, dam of 1988 Champion Hurdle winner Celtic Shot, but what’s most exciting about Captain Guinness is that he has the scope to really make it at as an even better chaser.
Given his style of racing, which should help him excel over fences, I can’t imagine he’ll be asked to go much further than two miles, so next year’s Arkle looks the obvious target and odds of 25-1 make appeal, even at this stage.
(Won the County Hurdle)
Willie Mullins’ horse lived up to market expectation in the County Hurdle despite seeming to lack the experience or form to be 11-2 favourite for a race of its nature.
It was difficult to be really confident about his chance, but market expectation was exceptionally high, and he won in the style of a horse with a great future.
Officially, he has gone up from a mark of 137 to 149, a figure which leaves him 10lbs behind that given to Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Shishkin but puts him a couple of pounds ahead of third-placed Chantry House.
That suggests he wouldn’t have been out of place in Grade One company, and with plenty more improvement to come, that’s where he should be headed.
He could develop into a Champion Hurdle contender for 2021.
(Runner-up in RSA Chase)
Henry De Bromhead’s horse traded long odds-on in the RSA Chase but got very tired in the final 100 yards and was reeled in by Champ.
For a horse having just his third outing over fences, it was a fair effort, and more so for the fact he and third-placed Allaho went toe to toe from a long way out.
What is most impressive about this horse is his exceptional jumping.
He is simply brilliant over an obstacle and it is easy to see him developing into a top performer in open company next season.
I’d love to see him taking his chance in the King George, where his positive style of racing and slick jumping would be a huge asset.
That may not be for this year, but it’s something he should really be suited to.
He has to improve another stone to be right at the top end of the scale but, with just eight runs under rules, he can improve to become one of the leading staying chasers in Ireland.
(Seventh in the Coral Cup)
Gavin Cromwell’s horse had a nicely progressive profile going to Cheltenham and wasn’t without his supporters in the Coral Cup. To the fore from the outset, he was still in contention turning for home and stuck to his task well to be beaten less than eight lengths into seventh place behind Dame De Compagnie. It was a decent end to a season for the five-year-old and he has all the right attributes to be much better over fences. He doesn’t have to improve too much to earn a crack at the top level and it will be no surprise if he scales those heights next season.
(Won Cross Country Chase)
This fellow is very difficult to assess as his two runs in Britain have been in cross-country chases, but it’s impossible to deny that he was in a different league to his rivals at the Festival.
As a six-year-old trained in France, it might be the case that connections choose to dominate this discipline for the coming seasons, but he is considerably better than your average Cross Country Chase winner and hopefully will be given his chance to prove so.
It may be outlandish to suggest he could be a Gold Cup horse, given we haven’t seen him over regulation fences in these islands, but he, along with Concertista and Goshen, looked a rising star to take from the Festival