Matt Chapman reflects on the Cheltenham Festival and has some chat on the weekend racing at Kempton and Uttoxeter

ONE day I think we will all look back at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival and wonder how it happened at all. But happen it did, despite Coronavirus spreading across the globe like wildfire.

In typical Cheltenham style there was drama from start to finish, with a well-punted Champion Hurdle heroine, a Champion Chase ripped to pieces as if the virus had taken a personal disliking to the two-mile dash, a shock in the Paddy Power Stayers’ and a Gold Cup with a sizzling bunch finish.

So in the words of the fabulous Johnny Hates Jazz, let’s ‘Turn back the Clock’ to Tuesday afternoon and that Champion Hurdle.

Epatante was a decisive winner for Nicky Henderson and JP McManus, and it was a huge change in form from the mare who looked desperate just a year earlier at this fixturte. Quite simply Epatante has come of age, and at a time when the speedier hurdlers are a moderate bunch she is clearly best of the best.

Should she have got a 7lb mares’ allowance? Well that is probably a debate for another time. But I am in favour of all championship races being run off levels. After all, we are trying to find the best of the best, not the best of their sex with a bit of help from those in charge of dishing out weights and measures.

It’s hard to know what to say about the Champion Chase, which of course went to the admirable Politologue after first Altior and then Chacun Pour Soi were pulled out of the event. With Defi Du Seuil running an absolute shocker, it was as poor a Champion as anyone can ever remember.

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That said, Harry Skelton gave the Paul Nicholls-trained winner a cracker, and it would be quite wrong to suggest Politologue is useless. It’s just we all know he’s not a champion chaser. Except, of course, that he is now!

Paisley Park was all the rage in the Stayers’, and the defending champion looked outstanding on paper. But it wasn’t his day and there were no excuses from admirable connections, even though the hot favourite pulled off two shoes.

As for the winner, Lisnagar Oscar, it’s hard to know what to make of his success, for all that it was fabulous for trainer Rebecca Curtis and jockey Adam Wedge. After all, the seven-year-old’s last success was in February 2019!

Yesterday, of course, was Gold Cup day, and last year’s heroes were at it again with Al Boum Photo retaining his crown for the champions of Ireland in trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend. The latter is a butter would not melt in his mouth type of guy. But Townend is mad behind the scenes and a real talent. Well done to all in a cracking renewal.

Away from the main events, there were three races that really grabbed me by my short and curlies.

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday was an absolute gem, with Shishkin putting up the performance of the week for me under Nico de Boinville.

A massive drifter in the betting, everything went wrong in the race for Shishkin, who made a mistake at the third and was squeezed up over and over before only just avoiding a faller two out. To get up and pip the heavily gambled Abacadabras was incredible. And what a battle to start the meeting with the winning distance a head.

Very few horses charged up the Cheltenham run-in, but Sire Du Berlais quickened when most were slowing down to take the Pertemps for the second year in a row.

From the betting ring I could see his acceleration. It was awesome. He must be a Stayers’ contender in 2021, providing we are all alive.

And finally Samcro v Melon v Faugheen the machine in the Marsh was torture and joy all in one.

Samcro, better known as Jesus, showed that walking on water and feeding the five thousand was a piece of cake compared to getting the better of Melon. And the latter was denied at Cheltenham yet again, having run his heart out here and in former Champion hurdles.

And as for Faugheen, well I am biased but I think he should have won. That said he was still magnificent at the age of twelve and is a credit to the sport. The fact that getting on for 50,000 people have watched a feature I did on him online says it all. Everyone loves Faugheen.

And everyone loves racing. In troubled times who knows what the weeks ahead hold for the sport. But this week racing was the winner.


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