So that’s it then. The season is over and Jump Racing fans are left with this terrible empty feeling. Sure it’s nice to see the sun and feel a little warmer, and there’s always the Flat season to look forward to, but for many the stand out date on the calendar is now Cheltenham in October.
It’s awful to wish the summer away, but the thought of six months or more without Sprinter Sacre is hard to bear.
It really was a fabulous winter full of dramatic racing. So many stars came out to shine, none brighter than Nicky Henderson’s equine superstar. Sprinter Sacre opened his campaign in the Tingle Creek at Sandown; an emphatic win over his main rival Sanctuaire, was delivered with such style.
His win in the Victor Chandler ensured that he would be a short-priced favourite for the Champion Chase in March. Sizing Europe would prove to be his main rival, but in truth the Seven Barrows sensation performs on a different level to other horses. Sprinter Sacre cruised to a 19 length victory.
To Nicky Henderson’s credit he then sent his star to Aintree and finally to Punchestown. It was a brave move to expose the horse to three Grade One races in such a short period, but Sprinter Sacre is exceptional.
The Melling Chase at Aintree proved to be one of the races of the season. His demolition of Cue Card and Flemenstar was breathtaking. Irish racing fans at Punchestown were thrilled to see him in the flesh. Another victory over the wonderful Sizing Europe, brought his season to a close.
The Festivals in March and April were terrific, but great races occured throughout the winter. Bobs Worth was brilliant in the Hennessy at Newbury. Silviniaco Conti maintained Paul Nicholls dominance of the Betfair Chase at Haydock when beating Long Run. And who could forget the King George at Kempton when Long Run got up on the line to beat Captain Chris?
Yet for many, the race of the winter had to be the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. An incredible finish saw four horses hit the line together. Flemenstar had looked a certain winner, yet the ‘old monkey’ Tidal Bay burst through between horses to sneak his head in front where it mattered. First Lieutenant and Sir Des Champs could easily have won in a blanket finish. A length separated all four warriors.
Sir Des Champs went on to chase home Bobs Worth in a wonderful Gold Cup at Cheltenham before getting a much deserved win in the Punchestown Gold Cup in April. He is a top-class staying chaser and looks set to be the main challenger to Bobs Worth next season.
Away from fences, the resurgence of Hurricane Fly was truly thrilling. His win in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January was stunning, and made him the horse to beat at Cheltenham in March. Many, including me, doubted that he could regain his crown, yet he did so in stunning fashion. He followed up with a devastating display at Punchestown.
It may be hard to see new chasers coming through to challenge for top honours, but the opposite is true of the hurdlers. My Tent Or Yours won the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury with ease, before being narrowly beaten at Cheltenham. He is highly thought of by his stable and by the Champion jockey AP McCoy.
Our Conor had impressed in Ireland before arriving at Cheltenham and destroying the opposition in the Triumph Hurdle. His trainer Dessie Hughes believes he’s the real deal. The New One won with a devastating turn of foot in the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham. He seems to have that crucial mix of speed and stamina that is needed to be a Champion Hurdle winner. Add to the list Jezki, another for the JP McManus team, who looked so impressive at Punchestown.
Sadness at a season over, quickly turns to this anticipation of a thrilling season to come. These emerging stars will attempt to topple the established heroes. The likes of Hurricane Fly, Bobs Worth and Sprinter Sacre will look to continue their dominance. Let’s hope Big Buck’s can return to take up the challenge laid-down by Solwhit and the hugely talented At Fishers Cross.
It all sounds rather exciting. Away you go Tweed Jacket and Mustard Cords. I’ll see you soon.