The Cheltenham Festival drew to a close for another year on Friday 18th March, but what a thrilling year it turned out to be.
The pinnacle of the National Hunt season had its punters celebrating with a number of favourites including Annie Power, Vaurtour, Thistlecrack, Douvan and not to be left our Gold Cup hero Don Cossack, streaming up the Cheltenham hill to the famous Cheltenham roar.
National Hunt has always been popular among Britain’s showjumping fraternity and London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Nick Skelton must have been a very proud father as his two son’s Dan and Harry finally brought home their first ever Cheltenham Festival winner. In what indeed was a Superb Story the horse of the same name landed the County Hurdle on Friday afternoon.
‘It means everything,’ said trainer Dan Skelton. ‘I know I haven’t been doing it very long but doing it by yourself is just amazing. We’ve got a great team and I knew it was going to come and I’m delighted it has, and I’m delighted Harry was riding.’
Younger brother Harry added, ‘Amazing. This is for the staff. They graft and graft and they deserve this. We’ve hit every bit of the woodwork. Thank God we’ve finally hit the goal.’
One of the most anticipated stories came at the very end of this famous race meeting. It would be totally unfair to take the shine off the rest of Cheltenham and indeed Nina Carberry the popular winner of the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, but hats off to Betfair this was some pretty clever marketing! Introducing double Olympic cycling champions Victoria Pendleton into the racing equation was a master class in PR. Image copyright free racing post.com
I think St James’s Place – sponsors of the final race – must have been pretty pleased with the coverage their sponsorship achieved too!
I certainly can appreciate and relate to many of the cynics within national hunt who felt that Pendleton did not deserve to be so rapidly elevated to this position. However, this example of clever PR opened up racing and particularly the Cheltenham Festival to a much wider audience of people who would otherwise not have paid the meeting any heed.
The Superb Story continued as the media went into overdrive with an extra 19 camera crews attending the final day of the race meeting.
Pacha Du Poler gave Pendleton a careful ride jumping all the fences cleanly and they finished in 5th place.
Pendleton said, ‘It’s probably the greatest achievement of my life. I’m overwhelmed – thank you to everyone who has made this possible. I feel honoured.’
Trainer Paul Nicholls summed it up as he told BBC Radio 5 live, ‘She’s had a thrill and I think it’s good for racing all around the world. She’s ridden a winner in everyone’s eyes.’
Could Pendleton go to Aintree?
Owner of Pacha Du Poler Andy Stewart seemed to think so, ‘All the dissenters said she would fall off at the first, but I’ve had plenty of jockeys fall off at the first. She got round nicely and the horse looked after her.’
‘I just hope the rules will be changed between Category A and B licences so she can ride him at Aintree.’
Or is Aintree just too big an ask?