Richard Johnson: Cheltenham deserves a big pat on the back *H&H VIP*

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  • Sprinter Sacre had to be the standout moment at the Cheltenham Festival. I was gobsmacked — horses aged 10 don’t tend to win Champion Chases. For him to come back, three years after winning the race, is some training performance from Nicky Henderson.

    And to win so decisively over what I thought was an unbeatable prospect, Un De Sceaux, was remarkable. A Champion Chase winner needs speed, jumping and accuracy and Nico de Boinville gave Sprinter Sacre a fantastic ride and the crowd loved it.

    Another star was Annie Power. It was very special for a mare to win the Champion Hurdle for the first time in 22 years.

    It was also an exciting Gold Cup — you felt the heartache for Cue Card’s team after he fell three from home, and jubilation for Gigginstown House Stud who had the first and third in Don Cossack and Don Poli.

    Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins dominated the week — it’s amazing to have such quantity and quality. It meant it was a good week for punters, too. It was unusual for so many favourites to come in, and bookies reported around a collective £60m loss. I don’t think many people will feel too sorry for them though.

    Balthazar King ‘absolutely fine’

    It was a bit of a disappointing Festival for me — I’m a bit stiff after too many falls and had to give up my rides on Saturday, but it could have been a lot worse. My main aim for the season is the jockeys’ championship, and that dream is still very much alive.

    If In Doubt had a good chance in the Pertemps, but we managed to find every bit of trouble, which was disappointing, and finished third. It shows at Cheltenham that not only do you need to be on the best horse, you also need a bit of luck. Garde La Victoire was also unlucky falling four out in the JLT Novices’ Chase when going nicely.

    Balthazar King is absolutely fine after his fall in the cross-country race. He took a silly chance at the cheese wedge, but had been jumping well. He just took off too soon. It shows what a tough horse he is; most horses who’d fallen like him in the Grand National would never take on a move like that. He has a few options now, probably the cross-country at Punchestown or in France.

    All our horses have come home safely, which is the main thing, and they’re ready for their next outings.

    Young blood

    There is a lot of new blood coming through the training ranks. Dan Skelton had a winner, Superb Story, ridden by his brother Harry. Their dad Nick, whose main game is obviously showjumping, is also very involved and it was a great team effort.

    Another family result was Ivanovich Gorbatov for the O’Briens. Joseph, who has recently quit riding on the Flat to concentrate on training, looks to have a promising career ahead of him.

    Harry Fry had his first success with Unowhatimeanharry in the Albert Bartlett, and Martin Keighley with Any Currency in the cross-country race. The horse is 13, so that was also a great training performance.

    Pendleton ‘great for racing’

    Victoria Pendleton’s ride in the Foxhunter was fantastic for racing. She showed huge courage and Pacha Du Polder ran better than 99% of people expected.

    She gave him a great ride and looked to get the best out of him. All his good form has been over shorter trips, but she rode him to get home. I hope she’ll carry on riding now.

    Cheltenham deserves a big pat on the back too. It’s a first-class venue and that was reflected in the crowd numbers. The attendance on Gold Cup day was 70,242 — up from 68,957 last year. More people are coming to watch our sport, and the atmosphere was brilliant.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 24 March 2016