Cheltenham Festival: Winners on this day at Cheltenham
With the Cheltenham Festival as close as its ever been, here are five notable races in the history of the first day of the meeting for various reasons.
Champagne Fever – 2013 Supreme Novices Hurdle
On the morning to the start of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, there were anxious moments with freezing temperatures dropping as low as -12c but thankfully, it warmed up sufficientally and the frost covers deployed did their trick with racing only delayed by 35 minutes. With that extra time to tick over, it was worth the wait for punters.
The horse that had garnered the most attention in the build up was My Tent Or Yours, fresh for a highly impressive win in the Betfair Hurdle a month earlier at Newbury. He was heavily backed and sent off the 15/8 favourite. Beforehand, talk was about whether he would handle the undulating track of Cheltenham. His main dangers looked to be the same owner’s Jezki and the previous year’s bumper winner Champagne Fever for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
In the end, it was Champagne Fever who obliged under one of the finest front running rides in the history of Cheltenham with Ruby Walsh dictating a pace that suited his mount and he gamely outbattled My Tent Or Yours up the hill to start the week with an Irish winner.
Istabraq – 2000 Champion Hurdle
One of the greatest two mile hurdlers ever to grace Cheltenham makes the list in Istabraq. Any of his three victories could make the list but his final success where he broke the track record was possibly his most breathtaking. Sent off a shade of odds on at 8/15f and on the fastest ground he encountered at the Festival, he went round like the proverbial good thing under Charlie Swan and when he pushed the button, the response was immediate, thrashing the previous year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle and future Champion Hurdle winner Hors La Loi III by four lengths.
Sadly he never had the chance to go for a fourth Champion Hurdle success due to the foot and mouth crisis. When he returned the following year, he never showed an interest and was pulled up after the second flight to an ovation similar to what Kauto Star achieved when he was pulled up in the 2012 Gold Cup.
Unsinkable Boxer 1998 Unicorn Homes Gold Card Handicap Hurdle Final
Handicaps are a huge part of the Festival and the next two entries are two that are still spoken about to this very day from the last twenty years.
Unsinkable Boxer came into the Unicorn Homes Gold Card Handicap Hurdle (now known as the Pertemps Final) after going up thirty five pounds in three months having gone to Martin Pipe in December 1997. He won a novice handicap hurdle at Plumpton by eight lengths before winning another two novice hurdles at Fontwell and Doncaster pulling carts.
As Tony McCoy got the leg up on the horse, he turned to Martin Pipe and asked him how he should ride the horse. The answer?
“Anyway you want. This is the biggest certainty ever to go out on a racecourse!”
A bold statement for a 24 runner handicap!
To cut to the chase, the horse won by four lengths when it could easily have been a lot further. The horse went on to win the Sefton Novice Hurdle at Aintree but sadly his career didn’t go much further as he was plagued with injuries.
Frenchmans Creek – 2002 William Hill National Hunt Handicap Chase
Having mentioned one of the best front running rides above with Champagne Fever, the ride given by Paul Carberry on Frenchman’s Creek was nothing short of superb.
Trained by Hughie Morrison, he was prepared for the National Hunt Handicap Chase with a long term aim having ran well throughout the winter including a win at Cheltenham at the November meeting. He turned up on the day and was sent off an 8/1 shot where he was dropped out at the back of the field. Slowly but surely, he picked off his rivals one by one and Carberry still sat patiently, even when Carbury Cross and Liam Cooper kicked clear in first time headgear. What also makes the ride better is the fact he didn’t jump particularly well so he was making ground between fences but he couldn’t have won any easier.
Rooster Booster – 2003 Champion Hurdle
The final entry on the list is possibly one of the easiest Champion Hurdle winners you will ever see. Throughout the 2002-2003 season, Rooster Booster improved leaps and bounds after his first Festival win the 2002 County Hurdle which included an easy win in the Greatwood Hurdle carrying top weight and the Bula Hurdle en route to the 2003 Champion Hurdle where he faced a potential superstar in the Jonjo O’Neill trained Rhinestone Cowboy.
Ridden by Richard Johnson, he travelled surpremely well throughout the contest with Johnson having to take a pull after the second last which is extemely rare in a Champion Hurdle. Once in the clear, his turn of foot was instant and breathtaking awesome as he scooted up the hill to win by eleven lengths from Westender with Rhinestone Cowboy a distant third having got severely outpaced at a crucial point.
Rooster Booster returned to two more Champion Hurdles where he was second and eighth to Hardy Eustace. During that time, he also bravely attempted to carry top weight in a Betfair Hurdle and very nearly won but for former winner Geos to nab him on the line in cruel fashion. Sadly the horse died on the gallops in November 2005.