Well the Festival finally rolled around last week and although horseracing fans couldn't wait for the action to begin, but in the wider media, the fact that last year's festival was mired in controversy and seen in plenty of quarters as a 'super-spreader' event that exacerbated the impact of the virus. Also, the furore regarding Gordon Elliott, the moving of Chevely Park's horses, the taking over of Elliott's string by Diana Foster was still headline news, so the actual racing itself almost took second fiddle as Tuesday approached.
Saying that this is the bookmakers most lucrative week of the year... or can be, and turnover was expected to exceed £300 million so they did their best to carpet bomb both the press and online to try and ratchet up the levels of excitement and acted as a counter-balance of sorts to the naysayers. This strategy was further built upon by both the racing industry and racing press who focused on the positives rather than the negatives while acknowledging they had happened.
This year's festival was not only different because of the empty stands it was also significant that we saw much smaller fields than we normally do, maybe because there were less 'social runners' as owners were not allowed to attend either... only 8 runners went to post for the Supreme the smallest field I can ever remember and I've been watching for almost 50 years!
But there were plenty of great narratives and the action lacked nothing from the dearth of runners and the empty stands, stars were borne and reputations were sealed and come 5 pm on Friday very few could decry the quality of what we had seen over the last 4 days... unless they were talking from their pockets or were English trainers/owners!
We had 4 selections including a reverse forecast which is very unusual for us, we also had the first runner in our ante-post Yankee... Abracadabras in the Champion Hurdle.
We started off with Ballyadam ew in the Supreme. He was going just as well as the winner (watch it back... he was!) when he made a complete horlicks of the 2nd last and Jack Kennedy did well to stay in the plate. He inherited second with Blue Lord's fall at the last and it would be very difficult to think he could have given the winner any kind of race but at the very least it cost Ballyadam 10+ lengths and momentum.
Milan Native never really showed finishing 9th in the Ultima a race which Vintage Clouds prevailed at on his 5th festival attempt.... they do say God loves a trier! Busselton was very disappointing and ran as if something was amiss the stewards called connectio0ns in who reported he had lost a hind shoe. He was very well supported before the race and raced prominently but lost his place quickly at the top of the hill and finished tailed off in a race that was won by an 80/1 surprise package in Jeff Kidder.
In the National Hunt Chase we could not split our two top-rated so decided to perm them in a reverse forecast and they duly finished first and second with Galvin the outsider of the two winning by a length and a half under a great ride from Jack Kennedy. The dividend paid £14.11 which meant we showed just over an 8 point profit on the day and the ratings had 4 winners as well.
Unfortunately, Abracadabras fell at the 3rd and it was too far out to tell what would have happened... the story of day one had to be Rachel Blackmore winning the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle who was recording her 11th win in a row. It was a commanding performance and never looked in any doubt which no doubt pleased her supporters who backed her down to 11/10 as if defeat was out of the question.
We'll be back tomorrow with a look at day two.
the team at Cleeve