winner of one of the most thrilling Cheltenham Festival Races EDREDON BLEU

Cheltenham Festival Races – 5 Great Races

The Cheltenham Festival Races are synonymous with excitement and unforgettable moments. From big gambles, ante-post bets succeeding, and just the sheer excitement of the race. There have been loads of magic moments at Prestbury Park during the Cheltenham Festival over the years, including some races that have literally been decided on the line.

Ed Quigley flags up a selection of 5 of the best races he has witnessed and found to be particularly thrilling at the home of Jumps Racing…

5 Great Cheltenham Festival Races

Each of these Cheltenham Festival races brings its own unique story, excitement and drama.

The Legendary Race of Edredon Bleu – 2000 Champion Chase

One of the most stirring finishes to any race witnessed in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, as the Henrietta Knight-trained EDREDON BLEU, jumped from pillar to post in the hands of A.P McCoy to land the honours. That doesn’t tell the full story though – as turning into the home straight, the 8-year-old had to fend off the challenge of the favourite, Flagship Uberalles, and the strong travelling Direct Route, in the hands of Norman Williamson. The final stages of the contest developed in pulsating fashion, as wonderfully captured by the dynamic tones of Simon Holt’s commentary and the memorable quote; “Final fence, three in a line!”

Edredon Bleu’s Epic Finish Against All Odds

Flagship Uberalles’ challenge wilted up the Cheltenham Hill to allow the other two to tussle it out over the final 100 yards or so. McCoy was at his vintage best with a ‘never will surrender’ attitude, and of course a very willing partner. Edredon Bleu and Direct Route passed the winning line almost in unison, to the sound of gasps from the packed enclosures. No one in the immediate aftermath was sure who had got the result and the photo finish was called. As the horses made their way back in front of the stands, the result was called, resulting in a fantastic cheer from the crowd, in one of the most epic battles.

The 2000 Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival was a race for the ages, with Edredon Bleu showcasing remarkable stamina and skill.

Hardy Eustace’s Unforgettable Victory in the 2005 Champion Hurdle

One the great Champion Hurdles, and naturally, it has gone down in racing circles more for what didn’t happen, than what necessarily did. HARDY EUSTACE, upset the apple cart the previous year to land the spoils at 33/1, but came into the 2005 renewal in red-hot form and was sent off the 7/2 joint-favourite. Attempting to put in a polar-to-post performance, Hardy Eustace was leading them a merry dance for the most part, and jumping the second last hurdle seemed to have most of his rivals in trouble. Two horses moved out of the trailing pack to go after him – one of them being the persistent battler Brave Inca, the other being the rapidly improving Grade 1 scorer Harchibald, who arrived at Prestbury Park after seeing off Rooster Booster in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

Hardy Eustace: In a Heated Battle

What unfolded in up the home straight at on that hazy day in March will forever be etched in the chapters of racing folklore; Hardy Eustace tried to fend off a battling Brave Inca, whilst sitting motionless was the stealth bomber-like Paul Carberry, stalking the pair and waiting to pounce. He jumped the last and loomed up in between the two aforementioned scrappers with it looking like a question of how far he would win by rather than whether he would actually cross the line in front. Carberry waited and waited, not wanting to push the button too soon. The waiting tactics were exaggerated to maximum as Carberry wanted to deliver his mount to a nicety; however, when he asked his mount to go and win the race in the closing stages, the response was not immediate and he flattened out to finish second. To this day, Carberry maintains he gave the horse “the best chance he could of winning” in a ride which still divides opinion to this day. Hardy Eustace got the job done, in one of the all-time great Champion Hurdles.

The 2005 Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival was a testament to Hardy Eustace’s unwavering determination and skill.

Kauto Star’s Remarkable Comeback: 2009 Gold Cup Triumph

Twelve months on, the tables were turned. Not all had been plain sailing with Denman after his 2008 heroics, as a heart issue resulted in him being off the track for 11 months. He came back at Kempton in February and was thumped 23 lengths by Madison Du Berlais. Kauto Star on the other hand, arrived on the back of just mopping up his third King George. The result this time around was much more to the apparent script; on a hazy spring day, Kauto Star jumped and travelled with aplomb in the hands of Ruby Walsh – he had all his usual zest with him and he swaggered his way throughout the contest.

Brilliance of Kauto Star’s Victory

One of the great racing photos is from the third last fence; Denman, Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges all jumping the obstacle in unison. ‘King Kauto’ was on song and at his imperious best on this occasion, and when Walsh let out an inch of rein, the turbo was there. He majestically went through the gears to become the first horse to regain the Gold Cup, and did so by 13 lengths. Commentator, Simon Holt’s closing line of “Kauto Star canters home!” captured the ease and grace in which the talismanic star had made a big effort, seem totally effortless.

Wichita Lineman’s Thrilling Win in the 2009 Handicap Chase

Often referred to as one of A.P McCoy’s greatest ever moments, in which he was sat on the extremely brave, but to be polite, clumsy novice chaser WICHITA LINEMAN. The horse had only had three starts over fences coming into this race and was making his handicap debut off a mark of 142. The figures made him look well-treated on his hurdling exploits, but would the relative lack of experience over the bigger obstacles ultimately find him out?  Well, for 95% of the race, the duo looked all at sea, as Wichita Lineman fluffed and fiddled his way over many of the fences – albeit, and most importantly staying in the contest.

A Testimony to McCoy’s Riding Genius

Halfway through the race, the heavens opened; the rain lashed down, and punters were feeling disillusioned as the favourite seemed to be going up and down on the spot. Not for Wichita and AP though! McCoy seemed to galvanise the eight-year-old who started to respond to the Champion Jockey’s urgings. The feeling of hope was sensed in the 60-thousand-strong crowd, as under immense pressure, the pair started to pick off rivals one by one approaching the home straight. Jumping the last, they were still a good few lengths down on Maljimar, but Wichita Lineman stuck his big white face down and got up to win on the line to a deafening cacophony of euphoria.

Sprinter Sacre’s Emotional Champion Chase Win in 2016

At his peak, SPRINTER SACRE was an unstoppable machine and would feature very close to the top in most racing fans’ favourite moments from not just the Champion Chase, but the Cheltenham Festival as a whole. A facile winner of the Arkle in 2012, and then a mind-blowingly good winner of Champion Chase in 2013, it was all stop-start after that as he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, which at one point looked like bringing down the curtain to an illustrious career – but somewhat prematurely.

Sprinter Sacre: A Comeback Story for the Ages

As magically referred to by the commentator Simon Holt; the ‘impossible dream came true’ in 2016, as the comebacks of all comebacks was complete as the 10-year-old rolled back the years in a performance which left no dry eyes in the house as he stormed up the Cheltenham Hill. A horse who exhausted the catalogue of superlatives, and produced many moments in his career which were special. One of those, was at Prestbury Park in 2016, and it very much was one of the ‘I was there’ moments, and will never be forgotten.

 

These five races are just a glimpse into the thrilling world of the Cheltenham Festival Races, a pinnacle event in the horse racing calendar.