A season which offered much, delivered in spades and finished early, albeit packed with stories and emerging stars.
Long before the nights began to draw in and the flat turf petered out, reigning Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls had set out his stall as his grand chaser Black Corton, had put up a magnanimous effort off a huge weight, in finishing second to Borice, in the Galway Plate.
October saw the retirement of Wayne Hutchinson, who had forged such a strong relationship with Alan King, perhaps most notably on the grey Hennessy Gold Cup winner Smad Place.
The month also received the dreadful news that Towcester Racecourse was to permanently close.
At Chepstow, Thyme Hill, a smart bumper horse, put down a marker as a leading novice hurdler, with victory in the Persian War Novices’ Hurdle.
Champion Hurdle third Silverstreak, made a winning return at Kempton Park, while the Welsh Champion Hurdle went to Monsieur Lecoq at Ffos Las.
At Aintree, there was a classy look to the Old Roan Chase, but frustration as the low-lying sun saw many of the fences omitted. That seemed to suit Forest Bihan best as he out-sprinted the returning Kalashnikov.
Former Grade One-winning hurdler Sam Spinner, got off the mark over fences at Wetherby.
Cheltenham’s October Showcase Meeting, brought clues for the season ahead. Harry Whittington’s name would be up in lights come March-time, but here he took the wraps off that fine chaser Saint Calvados, who was as good as ever. Nicholls was among the winners, as Quel Destin built on the promise of his juvenile campaign the season before.
But there were other less obvious clues for the coming months. Ramses De Teillee, best known as a staying chaser, showed he had plenty of aptitude as a staying novice hurdler.
And who really took note of the David Bridgwater-trainer The Conditional, winning his first chase, at eighth attempt?
Meanwhile in Ireland, as the Supreme Horse Racing Club syndicate came under scrutiny from Horse Racing Ireland, leading Gold Cup hope Kemboy, was temporarily banned from racing. In other news from Closutton, there was a suggestion that 2015 Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen, could go novice chasing, at the age of eleven.
November began with a plethora of top class action, as the jumps season’s major shakers began to reappear.
The one-time superstar Samcro, made a winning debut over fences at Down Royal, while stable mate Couer Sublime was another to impress, over hurdles. Sam Spinner made it two from two over fences, with another Wetherby win.
The Worlds End laid down a marker that he was a contender for Paisley Park’s Stayers’ Hurdle crown, with an authoritative win at Wetherby. There was a sixth win in the Charlie Hall Chase for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, as Ballyoptic was successful.
Meanwhile, over at Down Royal, Road To Respect was winning his second Champion Chase, with an impressive defeat of Clan Des Obeaux, who had travelled well and looked in need of the run. On the same card, Real Steel looked an improved performer in the Daily Mirror Chase.
At Ascot, Vinndication put up a gutsy display to beat course specialist Regal Encore, while Paul Nicholls looked set for a one-two before eventual winner Diego Du Charmil, put his stable mate Capeland through the wings of the final fence.
At Carlisle, Lostintranslation won the Colin Parker Memorial Chase with a touch of real class.
God’s Own’s bid for a third victory in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, came up short. Tom George’s popular veteran was retired soon after finishing fifth to Janika.
At Newbury, there was a winning chase debut for the highly-regarded Champ, while Dan Skelton’s mare Maire Banright beat another of last season’s leading novice hurdlers Thomas Darby, over Warwick’s fences.
In Ireland, Cilaos Emery put up an impressive display in the Poplar Square Chase, while Reserve Tank looked a useful novice chaser with victory in the Grade Two Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton. On that same card, Fusil Raffles made a winning return in the Elite Hurdle, while the Paul Nicholls-trained Present Man was denied a third victory in the Badger Beers Silver Trophy, at the hands of stable mate Give Me A Copper.
Gordon Elliott’s strong hand among the novice hurdlers was emphasised by the victory of Abacadabras in the For Auction Novice Hurdle at Navan, but stable mate Apple’s Jade, looked a shadow of her former self, as Bacardys came back to form in the Lismullen Hurdle.
Ballyoisin landed his second success in the Fortria Chase and on the same day, a fascinating novice chase saw Joseph O’Brien’s four year-old Fakir D’oudairies defeat dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon, with a round of spectacular jumping.
At Sandown Park, the highly-regarded Santini, scraped home with a lacklustre display which left trainer Nicky Henderson scratching his head.
By now, the action was coming thick and fast – but sadly not at Cheltenham’s November Meeting, where the first day was abandoned, due to waterlogging.
At Clonmel, Douvan and Shattered Love both made winning comebacks, while at Taunton, Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm made it two from two over fences.
Then came the seismic news that Tiger Roll, the dual winner, faced a race against time to bid for a third successive Grand National, following a setback.
Cheltenham’s main day got the go-ahead and beforehand, Faugheen made a winning novice chase debut at Punchestown, his class getting him through despite some mistakes. Henry de Bromhead’s Notebook also looked a smart recruit to the chasing ranks with victory in the Craddockstown Novice Chase.
The Morgiana Hurdle was expected to be the first step to the Champion Hurdle, for leading former novice Klassical Dream. However, he failed to sparkle as his Willie Mullins stable mate Saldier – back from a horror injury and long break, galloped to an impressive victory and a shock result.
At Cheltenham, Thyme Hill continued his ascendency and Allmakind, a useful flat recruit, looked a smart juvenile hurdler.
The Paddy Power Gold Cup went to Kerry Lee’s magnificent mare Happy Diva, with former winner, Splash Of Ginge, retired after the race.
The following day, Stormy Ireland and Battleoverdoyen served notice of their credentials at Punchestown.
At Cheltenham, the Henry de Bromhead-trained mare Put The Kettle On, burst a few British Arkle Trophy pretensions – and by many people was then forgotten.
Philip Hobbs’ progressive young chaser Defi Du Seuil, continued his love affair with Cheltenham, with victory over Champion Chase runner-up Politologue, whilst in receipt of three pounds.
Harambe gave Alan King a lucrative victory in the Greatwood Hurdle.
Former Arkle winner Footpad, looked destined for a good season, as he returned to something lije his best with a faultless win in a Listed Thurles contest.
At Ascot, Nicky Henderson’s Angels Breath looked an exciting recruit to the novice chasing ranks.
The week was building up to a tumultuous weekend, with the Betfair Chase and a sensational Ascot clash in the wings.
At Ascot, the two highest-rated chasers in the UK went head to head. It was Altior, unbeaten in his last 19 races, who took on Cyrname, the higher-rated of the two.
Nicky Henderson was stepping Altior up to two miles and five furlongs – the furthest he had ever raced – and on desperate ground.
Cyrname soon took control and a series of flamboyant leaps put his older rival under pressure. Altior could never quite get in a blow, as the Paul Nicholls runner ran out a meritorious winner. It was a race that would perhaps take its toll on both horses.
If The Cap Fits won his second Ascot Hurdle on the same card.
At Haydock Park, Bristol De Mai was defending an unbeaten course record, but could not match the finishing pace of the patiently-ridden Lostintranslation, in the Betfair Chase.
In Ireland, that weekend saw a rejuvenated Laurina, make a sparkling chase debut, while Fury Road looked a smart novice hurdler and Chris’s Dream won the Troytown Chase.
As the month drew to a close, Nicky Henderson was far from happy with Altior, while Horse Racing Ireland finally gave Willie Mullins clearance to enter Kemboy in races.
Newbury’s Ladbrokes Winter Festival got underway with Champ winning his second novice chase, while Paisley Park made a winning return in a weekend to remember for trainer Emma Lavelle. His defeat of a rejuvenated Thistlecrack, suggested he was as good as ever.
In a thrilling handicap chase, Kalashnikov looked booked for victory off a big weight, but was agonisingly caught in the shadow of the post by the lightly-weighted Old Grangewood.
The following day brought mixed fortunes for Nicky Henderson – and although we didn’t know it at the time, a symbolic handing of the torch.
Dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air, appeared to be out-battled by the tenacious Cornerstone Lad, in a shock outcome to Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
But there was a bigger shock to follow, as it emerged that Buveur D’Air had a huge chunk of wood wedged in his hoof, probably collected at the final flight.
It overshadowed a much-deserved Grade One success for Micky Hammond’s improving Cornerstone Lad, but the post-race story was all about Buveur D’Air, who had to undergone a major surgery to remove a large part of his hoof, to remove the wood. That was season over.
However, Henderson’s improving mare Epatante, then put up a terrific performance in a Listed intermediate hurdle at Newbury.
Lavelle’s big weekend continued with De Rasher Counter and Ben Jones repelling The Conditional, to win a 24-runner Ladbrokes Trophy.
December started with a bang at the Fairyhouse Winter Festival.
Envoi Allen further enhanced his ever-growing reputation, with a brilliant defeat of Abacadabras and Darver Star.
That was followed by an intriguing clash between Fakir D’oudairies and Samcro, in the Drinmore. The former jumped for fun and had Samcro under pressure when that horse blundered and fell at the second last, leaving Fakir D’oudairies clear of Ronald Pump.
In the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Bacardys and Apple’s Jade renewed rivalry, but had no answer to an outstanding performance from the still unbeaten Honeysuckle, who was emerging as a Champion Hurdle contender.
However, Willie Mullins announced that he had not been happy with Saldier after his Morgiana Hurdle victory and that his charge would not race at Christmas.
Similarly, Nicky Henderson ruled Altior out of a defence of his Tingle Creek Chase crown, but had not discounted a crack at the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, insisting fitness rather than trip had found his champion out at Ascot.
Sandown’s big two-day meeting got underway on the Friday, with the Paul Nicholls-trained Enrilo landing the Grade Two Ballymore Winter Novices’ Hurdle.
The following day proved a memorable one for trainer Evan Williams, as Esprit Du Large landed him a first Grade One victory, in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase. Mack The Man then added a Listed handicap hurdle on the same card.
The highlight was the Tingle Creek Chase – and Defi Du Seuil confirmed his arrival as the new star of the two-mile division, with a classy defeat of Un De Sceaux.
An emotional and controversial London National saw the sad loss of Houblon Des Obeaux and a void race, as riders ignored the flag warning them to race around a dolled-off fence.
On the same day, Aintree hosted Becher Chase Day, with former Gold Cup winner Native River, looking back to his best, as his old rival Might Bite, was an early casualty.
In the big race, Walk In The Mill won the Becher Chase for the second year running, while Hogan’s Heights landed the Grand Sefton.
Huntingdon staged the Peterborough Chase and Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch was in imperious form.
Min was all-out to land back-to-back victories in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
It was a good day for his trainer Willie Mullins, as Cilaos Emery continued his improvement with victory in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork. However, Mullins announced that Douvan had another niggle and would not be seen out at Christmas.
Cheltenham’s December Meeting got underway with controversy, as an administrative error meant that the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Riders Onthe Storm could not run in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
On the racetrack, Chantry House and Pym furthered their Cheltenham Festival claims and there was victory for the popular Cogry.
In the cross-country race, a new star emerged from France, with Easysland romping to victory.
Nicky Henderson all but ruled Altior out of the King George, while Grade One winner Tea For Two was retired.
Up at Doncaster, Sam Spinner overcame an extraordinary error to win the Grade Two December Novices’ Chase. On the same card, Donald McCain looked to have an exciting recruit as Navajo Pass won the Grade Two Summit Juvenile Hurdle.
Navajo Pass was ridden by Brian Hughes, who was emerging as a serious threat to Richard Johnson’s bid to win a fifth consecutive jockey’s title.
At Cheltenham, Gary Moore’s Botox Has and Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher, took the opening races on a big Saturday card.
The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup was won by David Pipe’s striking grey Warthog, who showed tremendous heart to get back up and defeat Spiritofthegames in a thrilling race.
Nicky Henderson won the Bula Hurdle for a sixth time, as Call Me Lord held off Ballyandy.
In Ireland, Paul Nolan’s latest stable star Latest Exhibition, burst the bubble of the highly-rated Andy Dufresne, in the Grade Two Navan Hurdle.
Ascot’s pre-Christmas meeting got underway on the Friday, with Angels Breath again impressing and Master Debonair landing the Grade Two Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle. Sadly Angels Breath sustained a bad cut in winning, which ruled him out of action for at least a year.
Harry Cobden, faced with the tantalising choice of riding last year’s winner Clan Des Obeaux, or Cyrname in the King George, opted for the latter, who was stepping up in distance.
Ascot’s Grade One Long Walk Hurdle (now known as the Marsh Hurdle) was depleted on account of false ground, with Paisley Park ruled out of the race. That left The Worlds End clear to defeat L’Ami Serge, who tired late on.
Regal Encore added to his Ascot resume with a second victory in the competitive Silver Cup, while the smart flat recruit Not So Sleepy, made all to win the Grade Three Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle.
Christmas brought its usual glut of racing, but in the run-up, Altior, who had been set to run in the Desert Orchid Chase, picked up an abscess, while Thistlecrack would miss the rest of the season with a leg injury.
At Kempton Park, Slate House won the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase and Epatante staked her claim as a bona fide Champion Hurdle contender, with an impressive win in the Christmas Hurdle.
In the King George, just four horses took on reigning champion Clan Des Obeaux.
Footpad and Cyrname appeared not to stay and Lostintranslation failed to fire, as Sam Twiston-Davies sauntered to a wide-margin victory, an extraordinary eleventh win in the race for Paul Nicholls.
Up at Wetherby, the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase was won by the improving Top Ville Ben.
At Leopardstown, Aspire Tower staked his claim as a leading juvenile hurdler, while the big clash between Fakir D’oudairies and Laurina failed to materialise, as Notebook emerged as a leading Arkle contender, with victory in the Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase.
Limerick’s Grade One Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase saw a mouth-watering clash between Faugheen and Samcro. It was the veteran Faugheen, who left his younger rival in his wake, with a heart-warming performance.
On December 27th, Kempton’s second day saw former smart hurdler Global Citizen land the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase to give Ben Pauling’s yard a boost, after a challenging few weeks.
With stable star God’s Own retired, Tom George enjoyed victory in the Desert Orchid Chase with Bun Doran.
It was a big day at Chepstow, with Allmankind cementing his position as one of the UK’s leading Triumph Hurdle hopes, with victory in the Grade One Finale Juvenile Hurdle.
Then came a momentous occasion, as the Christian Williams – Welsh-trained Potters Corner, won the Coral Welsh Grand National.
In Ireland, the much-awaited seasonal return of Chacun Pour Soi, was a little underwhelming, as he appeared to need the race in finishing second to A Plus Tard at Leopardstown. Melon provided Willie Mullins with some compensation, as he got off the mark over fences.
Abacadabras gave a form boost to Envoi Allen, with victory in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle. At Limerick, Fury Road was further strengthening Gordon Elliott’s novice hurdle hand.
Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival continued with Roaring Bull winning an amazing race for the Paddy Power Handicap Chase. He had appeared to have little chance at the last fence, lying sixth, before Jack Kennedy galvanised an incredible late rally.
After some disappointing displays, Apple’s Jade was back to her best with a dominant performance in the Grade One Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle.
An open looking Grade One Savills Chase proved just that, as Delta Work narrowly defeated Monalee, Road To Respect, Kemboy and Presenting Percy, with four lengths covering the quintet.
At Newbury, Thyme Hill continued his winning run, but was workmanlike in defeating The Cashel Man in the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
The final day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival saw victories for Stormy Ireland and Battleoverdoyen, while Sharjah landed the Grade One Matheson Hurdle from Petit Mouchoir, as Klassical Dream again failed to fire, trailing in fifth.
At Punchestown, former Gold Cup winner Sizing John, not seen for two years, fell over hurdles.
In other news, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls were to receive OBE’s in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.
A very wet January started to affect the racing programme.
On New Year’s Day, Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo made an impressive winning reappearance. Trainer Willie Mullins announced that he would follow the same path as the previous season and head straight to Cheltenham in March.
Meanwhile, the Gloucestershire track was staging its traditional New Year pipe-opener at the start of a new decade.
The action got underway with a controversial finish to the opening race, with Protektorat controversially disqualified in favour of Imperial Alcazar.
The Dipper Novices’ Chase saw Champ taking a nasty fall, while Midnight Shadow galloped on to victory for Sue Smith and the north.
The most valuable contest of the day, the Paddy Power Handicap Chase, saw a thrilling three-way photo finish, with Old Grangewood getting the verdict from Saint Calvados and Lalor.
The Relkeel Hurdle saw three Cheltenham Festival winners clash, with Summerville Boy beating Roksana and William Henry.
The first Grade One contest of the year saw Colin Tizzard’s Fiddlerontheroof storm to an impressive victory in the Tolworth Hurdle.
The Sussex National went the way of Christmas In April.
Ruth Jefferson announced that stable star Waiting Patiently, had suffered a chip in a joint and would not race for the remainder of the season.
At Warwick, Kim Bailey’s Two For Gold made it three out of three for the season, with a Grade Two novice chase success.
Mossy Fen had stamina aplenty to land the Grade Two Leamington Novices’ Hurdle on the same card, while the feature race, the Classic Chase, went to Richie McLernon and Kimberlite Candy.
On the same day, Frodon came back to form at Kempton Park, before Burrows Edge was the chief beneficiary of a dramatic finish to the Lanzarote Hurdle, with Debestyman leading and unshipping his rider at the last, as Notre Pari fell independently.
Ascot staged its Clarence House Chase Day, with the big race attracting a re-match between Tingle Creek principals Defi Du Seuil and Un De Sceaux. The younger Defi Du Seuil ran out a convincing winner this time and with uncertainty surrounding Altior, the Philip Hobbs horse became all the rage for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, although he still held a Ryanair Chase entry.
Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light impressed in a mares’ hurdle contest on the same card and Thomas Darby revelled on his return to hurdles. Goshen had continued his impressive run of juvenile hurdle victories with an 11-length success earlier on the card.
Up at Haydock Park, it was Peter Marsh Chase day, with Vintage Clouds proving a popular winner under Danny Cook, in beating Definitly Red.
Sam Brown won the Grade Two novice chase on the card and Stolen Silver got up late on to deny Edwardstone in the Grade Two Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle.
A similar outcome ensued in the Champion Hurdle Trial, as Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills, led everywhere except on the line, with Ballyandy the winner.
On January 21st, Richard Johnson suffered a broken arm when Westend Story fell at Exeter. This handed the title initiative to Brian Hughes, who had continued to ride regular winners primarily in the north.
Doncaster staged a big afternoon of racing which saw victories for Mister Fisher and Ramses De Teillee, before Lady Buttons won a cracking renewal of the Grade Two mares’ hurdle.
The big race, the Sky Bet Chase, went to OK Corral. A disappointment in the Ladbrokes Trophy, the Nicky Henderson horse looked a different proposition here and a potential Grand National contender.
At Cheltenham, it was Trials Day and Simply The Betts beat Imperial Aura in a race that would prove highly significant, for the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Cepage made short work of his top weight in the handicap chase, but tragically, it was a race in which Warthog suffered a fatal injury.
In the Grade Two Cotswold Chase Santini, off the track since November, got the better of Bristol De Mai, to further his Gold Cup claims.
Harry Senior won the Grade Two novice hurdle on the card, before Paisley Park made it business as usual, with victory over Summerville Boy in the Cleeve Hurdle.
It was an important weekend in Ireland too, with the Dublin Racing Festival taking centre stage.
Latest Exhibition confirmed himself a smart staying novice hurdler, before Chacun Pour Soi underlined his improvement with a decisive defeat of Min, in the Dublin Steeplechase.
Notebook landed the Irish Arkle, but had to work hard to defeat Cash Back.
The Irish Champion Hurdle saw Honeysuckle continue her winnings way with a narrow defeat of Darver Star and Petit Mouchoir. The Henry de Bromhead-trained mare was now unbeaten in all eight racecourse starts.
Appreciate It served notice of his talent in the concluding bumper.
The second day of the Dublin Festival saw a dramatic race for the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle, as Aspire Tower took a crashing fall, leaving A Wave Of The Sea to win.
Asterion Forlonge remained unbeaten after an emphatic Grade One novice hurdle success and then the roof nearly came off, as twelve year-old Faugheen, just held off stable mate Easy Game, to win the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase.
In the Irish Gold Cup, Delta Work got the better of Kemboy and Presenting Percy and all three were on course for a Cheltenham Gold Cup rematch.
One horse who would not be lining up in the Gold Cup was 2017 winner, Sizing John, sadly ruled out for the remainder of the campaign with a setback.
With Richard Johnson side-lined through injury, Brian Hughes had an opportunity to build-up a substantial lead in the jockeys’ championship, however, the weather thwarted his attempts, with many meetings lost to waterlogging. Johnson meanwhile, was in a race against time to befit for the ever-nearer Cheltenham Festival.
Tragically, the racing community was left reeling from the news that popular former jockey James Banks, had lost his life at the age of just 36.
In other world news, the word Coronavirus was becoming more familiar in daily news bulletins, albeit in faraway China at this stage.
Quel Destin was back to winning ways in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown Park, while Itchy Feet provided Olly Murphy with a first career Grade One success in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase.
The final fence fall of Boldmere, saw Newtide land the Grade Two Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby.
Very sadly racing learned news of the passing of former Gold Cup winning trainer Robert Alner in February. Alner had excelled with a plethora of chasing stars, with Cool Dawn winning the blue riband in 2998 and horses like The Listener, Miko De Beauchene, Sir Rembrandt and Kingscliff all top notch.
A day later came the heart-warming news that the Jockey Club had announced racing would continue at Kempton Park after a three-year threat of its closure. Most concern had been for the King George VI Chase, a race which at Kempton, has always attracted an eclectic mix of three-milers, staying chasers and those looking to step up from shorter trips, given the dynamics of the course.
Nicky Henderson’s exciting novice hurdler Shishkin, built on the promise of a Newbury success, with victory at Huntingdon, booking his place in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle line-up.
Rouge Vif ran out an impressive winner of the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.
Meanwhile, at Newbury, it was Super Saturday and finally, we got to see Altior.
Five took on the reigning champion as he returned to his tried and tested distance of two miles.
Five soon became four, as Bun Doran fell at the water, hampering Kalashnikov in the process. The latter sadly bled and did not race again this season.
Altior meanwhile, had to be vigorously ridden by Nico De Boinville, before finding top gear on the flat, to convincingly beat Sceau Royal and Dynamite Dollars.
Native River sauntered to another victory in the Denman Chase – his fifth success at Newbury, as Might Bite proved no challenge. It appeared to be all system go for a crack at regaining his Gold Cup crown.
The Betfair Hurdle served up plenty of drama, with a plethora of horses in contention at the last.
However, Lightly Squeezed took a heavy fall, bringing down Mack The Man and Harambe and thinning out the contenders.
Pic D’Orhy got up from Ciel De Neige and Remiluc to give Paul Nicholls another big victory in the valuable hurdle contest.
Racing then mourned the loss of Paddy Broderick, forever associated with all-time great Night Nurse.
In Ireland, Willie Mullins suffered a pre-Cheltenham blow, having to announce that Douvan, Klassical Dream and Saldier would all miss the Festival through injury.
As the Grand National weights were announced, dual winner Tiger Roll and stable mate Delta Work were allocated joint top weight.
Tiger Roll was recovering well from his setback and set to return to action in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan. It was a race in which he ran an encouraging fifth.
Meanwhile, Footpad, who had promised the world at one point, was sold to continue his career in North America.
At Ascot, Copperhead emerged as a leading RSA Novice’s Chase contender, as he won a gruelling Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase in desperate ground.
But the main race of the day, the Ascot Chase, proved a roller-coaster of emotions.
Riders Onthe Storm ran out the winner, but all eyes were on the final fence, where Cyrname, returning to the scene of his greatest triumphs – and back down in trip after his King George run, had taken an horrific last fence fall.
He had leapt with his usual exuberance, but became desperately tired in the ground, taking a heavy last fence fall when beaten.
So too had Traffic Fluide, off the track for a long-time, but seeming to have the race at his mercy, when coming down. It was cruel luck for trainer Gary Moore, who would suffer more last flight heartache later in the season, as we shall see.
Thankfully Traffic Fluide was up quickly, but not so Cyrname. This immense talent lay prone on the Berkshire turf for what seemed an eternity, with the screens erected around him and grim faces on all those connected to this magnificent horse.
Then came arguably the best moment of the entire season, as the screens came down and Cyrname got up, having regained his energy and breath.
At Haydock Park, Emitom won the Rendlesham Hurdle and Ramses De Teillee won yet again over hurdles, with a trip to the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle next up for David Pipe’s grey.
A gruelling race for the Grand National Trial saw Smooth Stepper end Lord Du Mesnil’s run of victories. Former Grand National winner One For Arthur had failed to fire and had been pulled-up. It was later discovered he had suffered a filbrillating heart condition.
A waterlogged Wincanton was unable to stage the Kingwell Hurdle, which moved to Kempton Park.
We then learned that Native River would miss the Cheltenham Gold Cup after suffering a leg injury.
All thoughts were starting to turn to the Cheltenham Festival now.
The last real chance to get a proper preparatory run into a horse came at Kempton Park, on February 22nd.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Solo, grasped that opportunity with enthusiasm, storming home in the Adonis Hurdle and into the Triumph Hurdle reckoning.
Who Dares Wins, a versatile performer on the flat and over hurdles, acquitted himself well over fences, to win the Pendil Novices’ Chase.
Song For Someone landed the re-arranged Kingwell Hurdle and Highway One O Two looked useful in winning the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle. The Grade Three Betway Handicap Chase went to Mister Malarky, as Colin Tizzard’s stable continued to perform well.
A day later, racing paid tribute to Leighton Aspell, who had decided to retire. Aspell had long been a stalwart of the weighing room, riding for Oliver Sherwood in recent years. He had retired once before – but came back to the sport to lift the Grand National in consecutive years with Pineau De Re and Many Clouds.
An enthralling National Spirit Hurdle saw William Henry stage an incredible rally when out of contention at the last flight.
The Cheltenham Festival winner got up for an unlikely victory from Quel Destin and Thomas Darby in a memorable renewal of the Fontwell race.
All attention was now turning to Cheltenham, with Coronavirus at the back of everyone’s minds. Cheltenham and the BHA announced they were monitoring the situation and taking Government advice.
Nicky Henderson announced that one of his five Champion Hurdle hopes, Epatante, had been coughing in the build-up to the race.
One star who would be missing from the meeting was former Arkle and Ryanair Chase winner Un De Sceaux, who had suffered a leg injury and was retired.
Another Closutton star of former years, Yorkhill, had changed owners and moved to Sandy Thomson.
Richard Johnson made a triumphant return to action on February 26th, rising a double at Musselburgh, to cut his deficit to 18 winners behind Brian Hughes.
Newbury’s Greatwood Charity Raceday was lost to the weather, while Definitly Red underlined his Grand National credentials with a grinding performance in Kelso’s Premier Chase. In the Grimthorpe Chase, it was Captain Chaos who took command.
Concern continued over whether the Cheltenham Festival would go ahead, in the wake of an escalating problem with coronavirus.
With days to the Festival, Willie Mullins supplemented Cilaos Emery for the Champion Hurdle, but not the mare Benie Des Dieux. The former had impressed as a chaser earlier in the campaign, but had been an early faller at the Dublin Festival, before winning the Red Mills Trial Hurdle.
Sandown’s Imperial Cup meeting was lost to waterlogging and news came through that Government advice permitted the Cheltenham Festival to take placed – with sanitisers and other measures on-course to protect the vast crowds.
In the final run-up to the Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson revealed that Altior was lame and it was touch and go if he would make the Queen Mother Champion Chase and a clash with Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi.
Indeed, as the meeting got underway, on Tuesday, March 10th, Henderson had to concede defeat – Altior was out of the Champion Chase.
Cheltenham Festival 2020
The opening race was greeted with the traditional roar and enthusiasm, by a crowd only marginally down on previous years.
Asterion Forlonge took the field along but a series of erratic jumps to his right, did not help his cause and he caused mayhem racing downhill.
Shishkin and Nico De Boinville did well to avoid being brought down and then had to challenge wide, as Abacadabras went on in the home straight.
In a thrilling climax, Shishkin’s class got him home by a desperately tight margin, with stable mate Chantry House third.
The mare Put The Kettle On had not been seen since winning at Cheltenham in November. She put that experience to good use to beat Fakir D’oudairies and become the first of her sex to land the Arkle Trophy since Anaglogs Daughter in 1980.
The Conditional continued his progression and was another to make use of prior course experience, landing a first Cheltenham Festival triumph as a trainer for David Bridgwater, in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
In the Champion Hurdle, Epatante proved a class above her rivals, powering away from Sharjah and Cilaos Emery to give Nicky Henderson an eighth success in the race.
Mares had been the headline act on Day One and two of Ireland’s best, served up a real treat in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle. Stormy Ireland cut out the running, but she allowed Honeysuckle to creep up the inside on the final turn, as Benie Des Dieux had to deliver her challenge wide.
The big two locked horns approaching the final flight, with Honeysuckle having to dig deep into her reserves to win a memorable race under Rachael Blackmore.
Imperial Aura and Ravenhill completed the winners of a fabulous opening day.
Day Two opened with the disappointing news that Chacun Pour Soi had an abscess and would not be able to run in the afternoon’s main race, the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The opening contest of the afternoon, saw Envoi Allen at his magnificent best, striding to victory in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle to extend his unbeaten run.
Throughout the season, there had been a number of unlikely winners, perhaps on account of the ground. The Grade One RSA Novices’ Chase delivered another.
From the last fence, the race appeared a straight shoot out between Irish raiders Allaho and Minella Indo, with Champ a well-held third.
However, Barry Geraghty, already riding the crest of a wave after Epatante’s success, conjured a remarkable turn of foot from Champ, just as his rivals weakened on the final hill.
A six-length deficit turned into a staggering, almost impossible victory for the Nicky Henderson-trained runner.
Henderson and Geraghty landed the next race too, as Dame De Compagnie landed the Coral Cup.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase had gone from arguably the race of the week to an anti-climax, with the late defections of Altior and Chacun Pour Soi. For most people, that left the way clear for Defi Du Seuil, progressive in Grade One races all season, so lift the abdicated crown.
However, they hadn’t factored in a well-rested Politologue, who had run second to Altior the previous year.
Paul Nicholls had not even had a runner on the Tuesday of the Festival, but Politologue took the Champion Chase by the horns, making all the running – and a long way from home, it was clear that Defi Du Seuil was not firing.
From the back of the last, stable mate Dynamite Dollars gave chase but Politologue was not for catching, leading home a Ditcheat one-two.
The popular winning grey evoked memories of another Champion Chase winner of years gone by – One Man, who along with Azertyioup, had carried John Hales’s colours to victory in this race.
Tiger Roll gave his all in the Glenfarclas Cross Country, bidding for a fifth Cheltenham Festival victory.
He ran an immense race, showing his well-being, but just unable to peg back the younger legs of the emerging French star Easysland. For Tiger Roll however, the dream was very much alive for a tilt at a third consecutive Grand National.
Aramax claimed the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and the Wednesday finished with a first Willie Mullins win for the week, thanks to Ferny Hollow, in the Weatherby’s Champion Bumper.
The Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival commenced with a race for the ages.
The Marsh Novices’ Chase brought together some exceptional hurdling talent from Ireland, with Faugheen, Samcro and Melon all in the line-up.
Turning for home, the trio had the race between them. Faugheen made an error which cost him vital ground at a key moment.
He battled back, as Melon and Samcro fought out an astonishing finish.
Up the hill they raced, neck and neck, with first Samcro and then Melon seeming to hold the advantage, while Faugheen closed on the pair.
In a desperate lunging finish, Samcro and Melon appeared almost inseparable, with Faugheen on their withers, an heroic, but definite third.
It was Samcro who was called the winner, as Melon finished second for the fourth time at the Cheltenham Festival, beaten a hair breadth.
Sire Du Berlais won the Pertemps Final for the second time and then another Cheltenham bridesmaid, Min, finally had his day in the sun.
Having seen off last year’s winner Frodon, Min’s reserves began to run-out on the Cheltenham climb to the line.
Saint Calvados was gaining ground on Min with every stride, but the Willie Mullins runner just held on for a heart-warming victory.
If Harry Whittington had been heart-broken by how close Saint Calvados had gone, he had little time to wait for glorious compensation, as Simply The Betts confirmed his lining for Cheltenham, with victory in the Plate.
The Stayers’ Hurdle saw a competitive field, but most people had expected defending champion Paisley Park, to keep his crown.
However, he failed to fire and as front-running Apple’s Jade, on her final racecourse appearance, began to back-pedal, Bacardys made his move with a gathering of outsiders.
It was Lisnagar Oscar who got the better of Ronald Pump, to propel Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis back into the big time.
There were two more Irish winners to come on the card, as Concertista continued the Mullins’ domination of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and Milan Native landed the Kim Muir.
But even as the Emerald Isle celebrated those winners, Horse Racing Ireland was announcing racing there would take place behind closed doors.
As the rest of the sporting world started to close down, there was one last glorious hurrah for horse racing and the jumps season. Cheltenham Gold Cup day went ahead.
The opening contest for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, underlined the highs and lows of the sport and dealt a hammer blow to father and son Gary and Jamie Moore.
Their Goshen, still unbeaten over hurdles, took the race apart from the home turn. He was in the process of pulverising his rivals when fate robbed him of glory at the final flight.
Incredibly, Goshen’s front and back hooves caught up in mid air, causing him to stumble on landing and decanter Jamie Moore.
That left Burning Victory to maintain her unbeaten record with a hollow win.
Saint Roi took the County Hurdle and then Monkfish narrowly got the better of Latest Exhibition in the Albert Bartlett, having left the runner-up short of room on the run-in.
Next up came the Cheltenham Gold Cup and a remarkably uneventful race in which Al Boum Photo held off the late rally of Santini to claim his second Gold Cup. The first to do so, since Best Mate. Lostintranslation ran a big race in third, given the Tizzard stable had endured a fruitless week. Clan Des Obeaux once again failed to fire around Cheltenham.
The Foxhunters proved a family affair as Eugene O’Sullivan and daughter Maxine enjoyed victory with It Came To Pass.
One more Irish winner followed with Chosen Mate in the Grand Annual Chase, while Indefatigable underlined a big week for mares, with victory in the concluding Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
Cheltenham had survived the coronavirus but by the skin of its teeth.
McFabulous won a Grade Three contest at Kempton Park and Truckers Lodge took the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter, the Saturday after Cheltenham.
But by the Monday, UK racing was taking place behind closed doors. A day later, it ground to a halt until May at the earliest, bringing a premature end to the season. There would be no Grand National. No Scottish Grand National meeting. No Sandown finale.
Racing continued for a while in Ireland, with Bachasson a notable winner before Horse Racing Ireland announced on March 24th, that all racing had been cancelled until at least April 19th.
So with the proviso that the Irish Grand National could be rescheduled and Punchestown’s Festival could still take place, should racing resume, that was it for the campaign.
I hope this review has been enjoyable and brought back some happy memories. Racing takes less significance in troubled times, but has always offered that glimmer of light. It has been a shorter than usual campaign but one packed with drama.