What we learned from the 2020 Cheltenham Festival
Chad Yeomans discusses the main takeaways from another high-quality meeting at Prestbury Park, including course form, leading trainers and a new top jockey.
As National Hunt fans, we wait all year for the Cheltenham Festival to being and then, in a flash, it races by.
It is, without doubt, the best time of the year and – bar Altior and Chacun Pour Soi both pulling out of the Queen Mother Champion Chase – 2020 treated us to the biggest names doing battle on the grandest stage in jumps racing.
The most obvious learning from last week was that the gulf between the leading trainers and those on the next rung down continues to widen.
In all, the top three in the Leading Trainer market – Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson – finished well clear of the rest, winning 18 of the 28 races.
Mullins and Elliott in particular were far superior, with seven wins and seven second places each – with Mullins only being awarded the prize for top trainer by virtue of six thirds to Elliott’s four.
This goes to prove that, on the biggest days, these two trainers are well worth keeping on side, as they will always deliver.
Paul Townend was crowned Leading Jockey for the very first time thanks to a treble on the final day, including a second consecutive Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo.
Obviously, riding for the man who has now trained 68 Cheltenham Festival winners is going to make your life somewhat easier, but you still need to make the right decisions and have luck on your side.
His win in the Triumph Hurdle on Burning Victory following Goshen’s tumble at the last was clearly very fortunate, while rides on Benie Des Dieux, Aramon and Melon could easily have added to his total.
However, he still deserves huge congratulations for winning a trophy that has been taken home by Ruby Walsh in 11 of the last 16 years in his first year as Mullins’ first-choice jockey, proving that he is a more-than-capable successor.
Course form once again came to the fore last week with 17 of the 28 winners previously having won or been placed at Cheltenham.
No horse proved its importance more than Clan Des Obeaux, who was well-beaten in the Gold Cup to take his Cheltenham winners tally to 0-6.
He started as favourite on three of those six runs and has never been priced higher than 12/1, with his trainer Paul Nicholls stating that he will not run him back at Cheltenham again.
He’s obviously a much better horse on a flat track, and his main focus will now will be on becoming the first horse since Kauto Star to win three successive King George VI Chases at Kempton on Boxing Day.
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