Cheltenham Festival Review by Nigel Keeling

When Jessie J sang, “It’s not about the money, money, money,” she must have had my Festival experience in mind. The Cheltenham Festival is such a wonderful occasion, that backing a few winners is simply a bonus. And, like several high-profile bankers in recent times, I refused to accept the bonus this time round. Maybe next year?
The opening day was in doubt until mid-morning, adding to the tension and anticipation. The ‘Cheltenham roar’ seemed as loud as ever from the rail in front of the Guinness stand. The Irish opened their account immediately when Ruby Walsh forced Champagne Fever home ahead of My Tent Or Yours in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He really is an incredible jockey. His front-running ride was immaculate. The first three home all look special. I include Jezki, as he arrived without a ‘prep’ run and could reverse the form next time. Champagne Fever could well be sent over fences next season and would take some catching in the Arkle. The Champion Hurdle was a cracker. The ‘softish’ ground coupled with the lack of a front-runner played against Rock On Ruby. Take nothing away from the wonderful Hurricane Fly, but on quicker ground with help up front I wonder if ‘The Fly’ would have got to ROR. Race fans didn’t care, as another Festival star was cheered home. Countrywide Flame ran a stormer and cannot be discounted from next years renewal, though that is shaping as one of the hottest for some time. Simonsig ran out a comfortable winner in the Arkle Chase. It became a slightly disappointing race with several opponents under-performing. Baily Green chased home the winner. He could be the sort to run well in next season’s Ryanair. As for Simonsig, it is hard to see where his future lies. Though twice a winner at the Festival, he lacks the jumping ability to trouble Sprinter Sacre. He runs so keen that the Gold Cup is surely out of the question. There is every chance that he will revert back to hurdles, with a crack at the Champion Hurdle a possibility. The New One proved himself a top-class hurdler when winning the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle on day two. The Twiston-Davies camp fancy him as yet another Champion Hurdle contender. That route looks incredibly competitive, and if he were mine I would target the Arkle. Kings Theatre has sired many Arkle contenders over the last few seasons, and The New One looks the type who could follow that trend. Rule The World was second in the Neptune, and looks another Gigginstown RSA Chase type for next season. Ponte Alexandre was a little disappointing and may have been overrated by his stable. Time will tell. Briar Hill and Regal Encore have to be the two to take from The Bumper. Regal Encore lacks size and scope but has plenty of speed, and could become a Supreme Novices’ type. Briar Hill was very impressive. He looks more of a staying type with The Neptune or Albert Bartlett the more likely targets. He is related to Boston Bob, who nearly won the RSA Chase. Cue Card won the Ryanair Chase on day three. It was a wonderful result for horse and stable. Yet another by Kings Theatre, he stormed up the hill and a similar campaign is likely next season. It would be no surprise to see him sent out in front in the 2013 King George. Solwhit had the class to win The World Hurdle, Reve De Sivola didn’t. It was sad to see both Peddlers Cross and Oscar Whisky struggling so badly. We possibly saw three of the most impressive performances on the final day of The Festival. Our Connor was sensational in the Triumph Hurdle. It’s impossible to know how good a field he beat, but he could not have been more impressive. He is rightly well fancied for next season’s Champion Hurdle. He travels so well, skips over his hurdles with ease, and has speed to burn. At Fishers Cross was just as impressive. He won the Albert Bartlett with plenty in hand. He has plenty of size and scope to cope comfortably with fences. The RSA should be the target. He has a great future. Finally The Gold Cup lived up to all expectations. Bobs Worth charged up the hill to win in style. Gold Cup winners storm up the Cheltenham hill. Denman did it, as did Kauto. Imperial Commander did it and recently Synchronised did it. Bobs Worth has that touch of class, combined with the guts and determination to finish off his race strongly. On better ground Sir Des Champs may have got closer, but undoubtedly the best horse won. It was a fitting finish to a wonderful Cheltenham Festival. The wallet may have looked pathetically light by the end of the week, but weighty performances from so many sensational horses made it all worthwhile. As another famous singer once sang, probably with The Festival in mind, “Nothing compares, nothing compares to you.”