Katie Walsh: My review of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival
The Betway ambassador talks through her highlights from a phenomenal week of racing at Prestbury Park.
What a fantastic week of racing that was. Good things got beat and outsiders with a good story had their moment in the sun. It was National Hunt racing at its best.
There’s been lots of chat about why Ireland won 23 of the 28 races, but I think it’s pretty simple. At the moment, we’ve got the best horses in training, the prize money is better, and our racing programme is better. We’ve got less racing than in the UK so, when we do race, it’s more competitive and you know where you stand. There is no hiding place.
Look at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, for example. The Savills was like a mini Gold Cup.
I also want to give a huge mention to Rachael Blackmore and Jack Kennedy, who both rode with such confidence last week. Rachael was tactically spot-on and deserves all the plaudits she gets. She had plenty of falls, including two on Wednesday, but still bounced back like a rubber ball to win bumper on Sir Gerhard.
How good was Appreciate It in the Supreme? We know he’s a big, raw horse, who will probably want further and fences in time, so I was very taken by his performance.
He races behind the bridle, but as soon as Paul [Townend] pressed the button he picked up, stretched clear and it was game over for the rest. Whatever he does, there are few more exciting horses than him.
He was narrowly beaten in the Bumper last year by Ferny Hollow, who also beat Bob Olinger earlier this season. He must be very smart and is another to look forward to next season for the Willie Mullins team.
Shishkin did what we all thought he was going to in the Arkle. As soon as Nico [de Boinville] said ‘go’, he went. He was in a different league to his rivals and all roads will lead to the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase next season.
The bandwagon of impressive winners continued with Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle. She’s really improved her hurdling and is getting faster over her obstacles which makes her deadly over two miles. If she stays sound, she’s going to be the one to beat in all the top races for a good while yet.
Jack’s ride on Galvin in the National Hunt Chase was outstanding. He could be a future Grand National horse in time.
Bob Olinger’s form was there for all to see but I was still so impressed with the way he did it in the Ballymore. He’s one you’d have to be really excited about when he goes over fences, which I think will be sooner rather than later. He could reach the top.
Monkfish didn’t look the same horse we saw at the Dublin Racing Festival but still managed to win the Brown Advisory. Paul Nolan must be regretting not running Latest Exhibition – it just goes to show that you shouldn’t be scared of one horse. I still think he’s a very, very good horse and all roads lead to Cheltenham and the Gold Cup next season.
One of the best stories of the week was Paul Hennessy winning the Coral Cup with Heaven Help Us. He’s better known for being a greyhound trainer in Ireland, but he has two horses in training and has won at Leopardstown and Cheltenham this season. These are the stories that racing writes and it’s heart-warming to see them.
The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase promised to be a fascinating race and it didn’t disappoint, as Henry’s [de Bromhead] dream week continued with Put The Kettle On becoming the first mare to win the race.
Looking through her form, she’s been around Kilbeggan, Wexford, Tipperary and they’re all sharp, tight, turning tracks. Henry has spotted that and knew she’d love Cheltenham and look how much it’s paid off – she’s four from four there now.
Tiger Roll to the Cross Country in fine form and was given a peach by Keith Donoghue. He was always hacking, and he sluiced up. His next target is the Betway Bowl at Aintree where he could meet A Plus Tard and Clan Des Obeaux, so it’s going to be a right corker.
A theme of the week was how good Rachael was in the saddle and she rode them all to sleep in the Bumper. Sir Gerhard is obviously very talented but Kilcruit was making plenty of headway up the hill and I think he’s a very good horse, too. Both of them will make superb hurdlers next season and you’d be surprised if they didn’t both end up winning Grade 1 races.
The biggest certainty of the week only made it as far as the fourth fence. Envoi Allen was supposedly wound up on his way to post, but I thought he jumped the first few OK. He simply fell. He’ll have other days to prove himself at the top table and his eagerly awaited clash with Monkfish is going to be some race.
Allaho was an absolute rocket in the Ryanair. I couldn’t work out what his ideal conditions were before, but I think we found that out on Thursday. He didn’t miss a beat the whole way around and the absolutely winged the third-last. From then on, he could do what he wanted.
It’s been suggested that he could go down the two-mile route next season and that clash with Shishkin in the Betway Champion Chase would be outstanding.
Flooring Porter was given a corker by Danny Mullins in the Stayers’ Hurdle. He’s such a hard worker and it was good to see him win a Championship race. He had plenty of horse underneath him as he got a breather into him and then went on again.
It was a good training performance from Gavin Cromwell, who has continued to eek improvement out of this horse this season. He’s only six and there’ll be improvement in him yet.
You have to tip your hat to Emmett Mullins who has trained The Shunter to perfection this season and won the Plate at a canter in what I expect was a very expensive result for the bookmakers. He was given a top ride by Jordan Gainford, who is very talented and is a name you’ll hear more.
The Triumph Hurdle didn’t excite me as much as I thought it was going to. Tritonic was disappointing, Zanahiyr was only OK and I thought the winner, Quilixios, was good but not great. They’ll all win more races in the future, but I’m not sure they’ll become championship horses.
Vanillier won the Albert Bartlett in good style to put his previous run at the Dublin Racing Festival behind him. He’s got some smart form and it’s obviously all coming together. He kept going through the line and there would be more to come from him. If he stays over hurdles, Gavin Cromwell could have a very strong hand in the staying hurdle division.
The Gold Cup was an amazing race – my favourite race of the Festival this year. Minella Indo was foot perfect the whole way around and, again, Jack gave him an outstanding ride. I gave him as a horse I thought would win the Gold Cup at the start of the season and, although I didn’t fancy him on the day, I hope some of the readers got on him early.
Bryony Frost set some good fractions and Frodon ran well, but simply didn’t stay the Gold Cup trip. Al Boum Photo lost nothing in defeat, this was simply a better Gold Cup. He ran very well but was the third-best horse on the day and there would be no excuses from his connections, either.
With this crop plus the latest promising novices stepping up next season, the Gold Cup could be another epic race next year. Here’s hoping that they all stay sound and we get to see them all on the biggest stage in 12 months’ time.
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