Overall the 2019 novice hurdle winners weren’t a vintage bunch, with the best of a substandard set of divisional timefigures coming courtesy of Klassical Dream – the 152 he recording in winning an open-looking renewal of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle leaves him with plenty to find to trouble the best of his elders if he stays over the smaller obstacles next season, however.
There was a representative field (good-looking bunch) for the following day's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle and the form looks well up to scratch, with grounds for viewing all of the four who pulled clear positively. City Island’s winning 151 timefigure was 8lb below what Samcro had achieved the year before, but, together with the runner-up Champ and third Bright Forecast, he looks to have a bright future. Bright Forecast, in particular, warrants a further mention, having come a long way since a remote third of three finishers in an Irish point last March; the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree looks the obvious next objective for him, given that he looks likely to improve further when stepping up to three miles.
The Triumph Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle were won by Pentland Hills and Minella Indo, respectively, with that pair posting identical timefigures of 145. Several disappointments in both races suggest that the form may not be the most robust, but the Triumph winner at least has a decent turn of foot and ought to do better down the line. None of the first seven home in a bunched finish for the Dawn Run won by Eglantine du Seuil started shorter than 25-1, and a 129 timefigure suggests the form for this race is even weaker than usual.
Pentland Hills is a record seventh Triumph Hurdle winner for Nicky Henderson. Sadly the race was tainted with what looked a serious injury for Sir Erec and our thoughts are with all his connections #TheFestival #CheltenhamFestival pic.twitter.com/XNxxPhdIwa— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 15, 2019
Pride of place amongst the novice chasers must go to Duc des Genievres, who came into the Arkle with a race-leading timefigure of 155 and duly demolished his rivals in an even better 168. That is 3 lb higher than he is currently rated on form and looks a minimum figure. Glen Forsa is probably the only horse amongst the non-finishers (Lalor’s position in the market looked unjustified) who would have got close to him had he got round, while last year’s Supreme runner-up Kalashnikov (timefigure 155 that day) was another who failed to complete, unseating his rider after being hampered by the fall of the pace-setting Ornua. He has long looked to need further than two miles and will be of interest if stepping up in trip at Aintree.
The RSA was a top-notch novice chase with Topofthegame edging out Santini and Delta Work in a well-run contest that tested stamina and jumping ability to the full. Timefigures of 164, 163 and 162, respectively, were all career bests, and both Topofthegame and Santini look set to develop into leading Gold Cup contenders next year, not least the former, who has an engine to go with his size. Delta Work, on the other hand, looks a more natural Ryanair contender.
The JLT featured the latest battle between Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation, but it was neither well contested nor strongly run, which allowed the former to show the better turn of foot to win in a timefigure of 127. For all that both have dominated the division, they look a couple of notches below the leading novices in the two- and three-mile divisions and they will likely have their work cut out when taking on the better intermediate distance chasers next season. Even closer to hand, either would look opposable in the two-and-a-half miler at Aintree, especially if Kalashnikov or Glen Forsa turn up.
Le Breuil was a gallant winner of a stamina-sapping National Hunt Chase, but with only four getting round and a winning timefigure of 122, this isn’t leading novice chase form by a long chalk.
None of the winners of the three championship races over hurdles recorded a timefigure comparable to their form rating, let alone above. With Apple’s Jade and Melon competing for the lead, the first half of the Champion Hurdle was run well over three seconds faster than the Supreme and it turned into something of a savage affair as the field dwindled away. Espoir d’Allen took the honours in a timefigure of 156 from a very tired and below-form Melon, but he looks to have something to do yet to justify his 170 form rating.
In contrast, the Stayers' Hurdle was run at a rather steady gallop, around two seconds slower to the final hurdle first time round than the Pertemps. It was still a much stronger gallop than 12 months ago, which allowed that year's beaten favourite Sam Spinner to show more like his true form, but he would probably have been suited by going faster still, a comment that also applies to the winner Paisley Park, who stayed on strongly after hitting a flat spot and was a deserving winner. A timefigure of 152 is some way below the 168 Thistlecrack recorded in 2016, and a bit below his own best timefigure of 161 recorded in the Cleeve Hurdle, but, with several of those behind him having seen better days and still only seven himself, he promises to dominate this division for the next few years.
Paisley Park stormed home to record a fairytale success in the Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham. Read our report on https://t.co/A8az1MHRCF which includes a full replay plus interviews with winning connections. ⬇️https://t.co/AeulhhWv3J pic.twitter.com/ehJRIhIHtw— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 14, 2019
Benie des Dieux would have won the Mares’ Hurdle for the second year running without needing to be at her best had she not fallen at the last, but a race-winning timefigure of 109 says a lot about the quality of the field up against her.
All three Championship chases more than lived up to their billing. Altior was made to work harder than he often is in the Champion Chase, even briefly looked like losing his unbeaten record over fences, before rallying to beat Politilogue in a timefigure of 162. He’s a very strong stayer at two miles and hopefully will be given the chance to run over further next season.
The Ryanair Chase will be remembered first and foremost for providing his regular and much-underused rider Bryony Frost with a first win for a female rider in a Grade 1 race over jumps at the Festival, but it was also a career-best effort on the clock (163) for the admirable front-runner, whose bold jumping and hard-running catch-me-if-you-can tactics haven’t always returned the top timefigures his forward endeavours have deserved.
Fittingly, the race that defines the Festival, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, returned the best timefigure of the week and a winner, Al Boum Photo, who, to our eyes, seems set for higher heights still. In a week where the younger generation largely ousted the existing order, Al Boum Photo was the most dominant winner of all in a Gold Cup that was well run and clocked a final time around 11 seconds faster than the Foxhunters. Admittedly, there wasn’t much to separate half-a-dozen runners rounding the final turn, but none could hold a candle to Al Boum Photo from the second last as he pulled clear. Reigning Grand National winner Tiger Roll apart, no horse ran a better trial for Aintree than Gold Cup runner-up Anibale Fly.
Credit for playing their parts in an enthralling contest must also go to fellow Grand National entrant Bristol de Mai and Native River, who wasn’t quite up to repeating his 2018 heroics in a week in which many of his stable-companions were off their game.
And, last but certainly not least, Presenting Percy, whose unusual preparation ultimately failed to pay off. There were other reasons for that on the day (reportedly finished lame), however, and he might yet have something more tangible to contribute to the 2020 version if making a full recovery. Indeed, it's worth remembering that he already had Al Boum Photo beaten in the 2018 RSA Chase, when that rival came down two out.
The best winning timefigure achieved in any of the handicaps (156) came from A Plus Tard in the Close Brothers on the opening day. That will come as no surprise to anyone that watched the Arkle a couple of hours earlier and remembered A Plus Tard beating Duc des Genievres on the latter’s chasing debut at Naas before Christmas; on that form A Plus Tard was thrown in and he duly made a mockery of his opening handicap mark. Other winning timefigures of note in handicaps were recorded by Sire du Berlais in the Pertemps (149, the same as his form rating) and Ch’tibello in the County (145).