HARD to believe the Cheltenham Festival is over for another year, but a thrilling finish to the Gold Cup saw Lord Windermere become the new best mate of trainer Jim Culloty after grabbing a heart-stopping win in last Fridays Gold Cup from On His Own.
Culloty and connections had to survive a stewards’ inquiry into interference between the first two and third-placed The Giant Bolster in a grandstand rush to the line.
Davy Russell on Lord Windermere carried the other two across the track towards the stands in holding on by a short head and three quarters of a length.
However, the stewards ruled that the result should stand, sparking pandemonium in the winner’s enclosure centred around the smiling Culloty, whose place in Cheltenham folklore is founded on his three consecutive Gold Cup wins as a jockey on Best Mate.
Victory sealed a rare hattrick for Lord Windermere’s owner Dr Ronan Lambe, whose three festival runners have all won. His dream week began on Wednesday when the Dermot Weld-trained Silver Concorde won the Champion Bumper before Spring Heeled, trained by Culloty, won the Kim Muir last Thursday.
In one of the most dramatic runs from the final fence in Gold Cup memory, Silviniaco Conti jumped the last in front from last year’s winner Bobs Worth but the eye was rapidly drawn to the first three home charging for all they were worth up the near side.
Culloty had to temper his initial joy as the inquiry was announced and instead reflected on Russell’s fearless ride having kept Lord Windermere at the back for much of the contest.
“Halfway around Davy Russell was getting the sack!” Culloty said.
Russell could scarcely believe he had won on a horse who looked to be struggling for so much of the race. “I can’t believe it he was never on the bridle,” he said, “never in the race.”
He added: “The whole field was in front of me. I just sat and suffered the whole way.
He jumped brilliant and I didn’t use any petrol on the inside the whole way.”
Overall Cheltenham was, once again, a great spectacle but there were a few jockeys injured that took a bit of a shine of the meeting. Ruby Walsh, Daryl Jacob and Bryan Cooper also suffered broken bones in falls while Jason Maguire and Richie McGrath are also set for a spell on the sidelines after falls at other meetings.
I’m glad to report they’re all on the mend and we look forward to seeing them back on track at some point in the future.
It was back to reality at Newcastle on Saturday but Middleham trainer Jedd O’Keeffe wasn’t complaining as he saddled Satantic Beat to victory in the handicap hurdle, and afterwards he said: “The better ground definitely helped him, and Brian (Harding) gave him a fine ride as he’s a natural front-runner and he settled him and gave him a breather.
We’ve the option of going into a novice with a penalty now.”
It was Carlisle’s turn to race on Sunday and Alan Swinbank was on the mark with Mitchell’s Way.
Swinbank really is a trainer to follow at present as he’s had three winners from his last seven runners, with the other four placed, now that is in form!
Of Mitchell’s Way, he said: “He had a poisoned foot just before Christmas, but he’s back on track now. He jumps for fun and he’s a decent horse.”
Hard to believe the Crabbie’s Grand National is a fortnight tomorrow and last years winning trainer, Sue Smith, is set to be doubled represented this year with Mr Moonshine and Vintage Star both on track.
Smith sent out Auroras Encore to win at 66-1 last year and she will adopt the same practice this year which served her so well at Aintree.
She took Auroras Encore from her Bingley base to the Malton schooling grounds where there is a specially made replica Grand National fence.
“Both horses are very well,” said Smith.
“Both are in good order and at the moment the intention is to run them both.
“They will both school over the National fences, as we did last year.
“We’ll take them to Malton and that will especially benefit Vintage Star as he’s never been over the fences before.”
Sedgefield are set to race this afternoon, with the first of seven races due under way at 1.50pm.