After a winter of seemingly incessant wind and rain, a mixture of fog and blue skies greeted horse racing fans as the four day Cheltenham festival of 2014 produced the usual excitement accompanied by a few shock results. Several days of drier weather produced a quicker surface than which had prevailed over the previous three months with quite a few horses improving upon their previous form figures as they tackled the more benign conditions.
Lord Windermere was one such horse who revelled on the livelier ground and he produced a stirring finish in winning the feature race of the meeting, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. After two previous races in which he had rarely trouble the leaders in races on a softer surface, the gelding reproduced his finishing pace from last season when he won the RSA Chase at the 2013 festival.
Maybe it was more than just the ground in his favour, as he appears to produce some of his better performances for the undulations of Cheltenham racecourse in much the same way as Gold Cup third placed horse The Giant Bolster, who rarely displays comparable good form on any other course.
Bobs Worth is another horse with an impressive record at Cheltenham but he lost his unbeaten record on the course when the quicker ground was blamed for his fifth place in the Gold Cup as he attempted to retain his title from the previous campaign.
Hurricane Fly was also hoping to retain his crown in the Champion Hurdle but he was unable to cope with the younger horses in a race won by the Jessica Harrington trained Jezki who had been beaten by Hurricane Fly in Irish races staged on soft ground this season.
Big Bucks was another horse whose age counted against him as he attempted to reclaim the World Hurdle title, an event which he dominated with distinction for several seasons. More Of That retained his unbeaten record of over hurdles to win the 2014 contest when outsmarting the Irish mare Annie Power who suffered her first loss on a racecourse.
In the other main feature race of the meeting, Gary Moore trained Sire De Grugy to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase with his son Jamie riding the horse to a comfortable victory. The horse has replaced Sprinter Sacre as the star performer over two miles but his victory, as with the other victors of the feature races, proves that the less powerful racing stables can still have their big day at Cheltenham.
Horses from the Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson yards were not as dominant as in previous seasons while Lord Windermere’s success allowed Jim Culloty to join the select few people to have both trained and ridden a Gold Cup winner.
The Cheltenham festival may be over for another season but the bookmakers are already offering prices for next March and as for the majority of punters, the dates for the 2015 meeting will have been swiftly noted in the diary.