Next Race Newspaper
Free Bets
My Account

Thursday, 18 October, 2018

Festival flops: five hot fancies who failed to fire in the Cotswolds

Douvan disappoints: the Willie Mullins-trained star was found to have fractured his pelvis after the Champion Chase
1 of 2

The 2017 Cheltenham Festival has been and gone, another unforgettable four days loaded with soaring highs and some crushing lows. Unlike 12 months ago, bookies had the better of the argument this year, in no small part thanks to the big fancies that disappointed. These are our top five flops of the week . . .

1. Douvan
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, Wednesday, 2-9 favourite

Why was he fancied?
Wednesday was billed as D-day and the Champion Chase looked a formality for Douvan. He had been beaten only once in his 15-race career, and never since moving from France. An eight-time Grade 1 winner, he was a dual festival king having won the 2015 Supreme and 2016 Arkle and trainer Willie Mullins described him as a “different species”. Having won his three races this season by a combined distance of more than 36 lengths, many considered him the certainty of the festival and the best horse they had seen for some time.

What happened in the race?
Sent off the 2-9 favourite, Douvan was prominent in the early stages but reached for the third fence and was uncharacteristically erratic at the next, which lead to him drifting back in the field. From then on his jumping lacked its usual fluency, and the writing was on the wall on the run down the hill when exuberant tearaway Special Tiara began to pile on the pressure up front. Ruby Walsh asked Douvan to challenge but the response was poor and the pair were beaten by 11½ lengths in seventh, with only Garde La Victoire and Simply Ned in behind. 

Redemption mission: where next?
Although Douvan was reported to be fine in the immediate aftermath, the reason for his performance soon came to light, as on Friday afternoon Willie Mullins announced his stable star had suffered a stress fracture to his pelvis. Douvan will be on box rest for the next 12 weeks but Mullins is confident Rich and Susannah Ricci’s seven-year-old will be back for an autumn campaign. Douvan is currently best priced 3-1 to make amends in next year’s Champion Chase, with this year’s Arkle hero Altior the 2-1 favourite.

2. Yanworth
Stan James Champion Hurdle, Tuesday, 2-1 favourite

Why was he fancied?
Yanworth polarised opinion all season. Panellists on festival preview nights slated the Alan King-trained chestnut, criticising his jumping and damning his Champion Hurdle credentials, but the punters clearly disagreed and backed the strong stayer accordingly. He had finished second behind Yorkhill in the 2016 Neptune when sent off the 11-10 favourite but arrived at Cheltenham this year a perfect three from three this season. Yanworth’s most recent win in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, which followed victories at Ascot and Kempton earlier in the campaign, was far from impressive. He was made to work hard to beat Ch’Tibello but that still failed to put off his supporters.

What happened in the race?
Yanworth was sent off the 2-1 favourite in the hands of Mark Walsh, who was deputising for JP McManus’s retained rider Barry Geraghty after he was ruled out by injury. Yanworth had been expected to relish the stiffer test of the Champion Hurdle, but was found badly wanting when the pace quickened approaching three out. Many had expected to see him staying on strongly at the finish, but he was never a threat up the home straight and finished a long way behind Buveur D’Air when the McManus second-string flew over the last. Yanworth could finish only seventh, a laboured effort that was simply too bad to be true.

Redemption mission: where next?
We could still see Yanworth again this season, with the Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles looking an option given the longer trip would place greater emphasis on his stamina. And he is likely be fancied again, with punters aiming to recoup those Champion Hurdle losses. Looking ahead to next season, there’s a chance Yanworth could step up in trip for the 2018 Stayers' Hurdle, for which he is quoted at 12-1.

Yanworth: divided opinion as Champion Hurdle favourite

3. Tombstone
Coral Cup, Wednesday, 7-2 favourite

Why was he fancied?
Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was a vintage renewal. The winner Altior took seamlessly to fences by winning the Arkle, Min looked equally as impressive before injury intervened and Buveur D’Air went on to win the Champion Hurdle. The likes of Petit Mouchoir (eighth) and North Hill Harvey (ninth) also advertised the form this season. Unexposed seven-year-old Tombstone was fourth in the race and looked a potential handicap blot off a mark of 149 after beating Jezki in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle last month. He was under serious consideration for the Champion Hurdle, but owners Gigginstown were keen to exploit the mark allotted to Tombstone by the BHA. Trainer Gordon Elliott bagged three festival winners before the Coral Cup on Wednesday courtesy of Labaik, Apple’s Jade and Tiger Roll and Tombstone looked well capable of adding to the tally.

What happened in the race?
Held up in the early stages by Bryan Cooper, Tombstone travelled well but threw in a few sketchy jumps and failed to warm to the task as the race progressed. He was at the tail-end of the field three flights from home and found nothing when asked. The Gigginstown gelding was never a threat to the leaders and clearly didn’t run to form, trailing in with just one behind him. Supasundae came home in front for this year’s Gold Cup-winning connections and was another to run in that Supreme, in which he finished seventh.

Redemption mission: where next?
It is unclear where Tombstone will head next but according to trainer Gordon Elliott chasing was the initial plan this season before time ran out and connections opted for another year over hurdles. It is possible he didn’t stay the Coral Cup distance, but he had won a bumper over two miles three furlongs as a five-year-old. Given his connections, you’d expect it wouldn’t be long before he went over the larger obstacles and he is currently best priced 25-1 for next year’s Arkle.

4. Unowhatimeanharry
Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle, Thursday, 5-6 favourite

Why was he fancied?
Unowhatimeanharry hadn’t looked back since winning a 24-runner handicap hurdle at Cheltenham last November. Harry Fry’s ultra-progressive gelding won three more times before he claimed the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s festival. Leading owner JP McManus purchased him privately before the start of this campaign and he continued to cement his Stayers’ Hurdle credentials with victories at Newbury, Ascot and Cheltenham - the exact path the spectacular Thistlecrack took en route to victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle last year. Unowhatimeanharry was on an eight-race winning streak and looked a bombproof proposition when winning a competitive renewal of the Cleeve Hurdle on trials' day in January, showing all of the requirements needed to win the feature event in March.

What happened in the race?
Cole Harden led the field at a brutal gallop but for much of the journey favourite backers would have been delighted, as Unowhatimeanharry travelled kindly in midfield for the in-form Noel Fehily. He made steady progress into fourth position on the second circuit and was close up jumping the second-last, when many thought he was in the perfect position to power away up the hill. He improved under riding to go half-length second behind Lil Rockerfeller at the final flight, but his challenge flattened out and he could not match Nichols Canyon, who engaged into overdrive on the near-side rail. Unowhatimeanharry was beaten just over four lengths into third. 

Redemption mission: where next?
Following the race Frank Berry, racing manager to JP McManus, said: “Unowhatimeanharry ran well, but he wasn’t good enough. There are no excuses.” Unowhatimeanharry is currently 12-1 for next year’s Stayers’ Hurdle, but before then could turn up at Aintree in the Liverpool Stayers’ Hurdle or in the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown, where Harry Fry often likes to have runners. Who knows, perhaps next season he could emulate last season’s leading staying hurdler Thistlecrack and try his luck over fences?

Unowhatimeanharry: looked difficult to oppose in the Stayers' Hurdle

5. Death Duty
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, Friday, 13-8 favourite

Why was he fancied?
It all made sense. The Irish were having a fabulous festival, as was trainer Gordon Elliott, and it was widely known his best chance of the week was the highly touted Death Duty in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. The six-year-old gelding by Shantou had done nothing wrong. He was already a Grade 1-winning novice, he hurdled fluently, had plenty of pace, stayed on dourly at the end of his races and had a mammoth reputation. The only niggling doubt was if the Willie Mullins-trained mare Augusta Kate would have beaten him had she stood up at the last in the Lawlor’s Hotel Novices’ Hurdle, but those doubts were soon banished, as Elliott had said “of all of the good horses I have had, none of them were as good over hurdles”. As the festival neared, the support for Death Duty failed to relent.

What happened in the race?
Death Duty settled in midfield at the early part of the race, and was easy to spot for much of the trip due to his customary low head carriage. He made slight headway three from home, but jinked left and nearly ran out at the second-last. He was asked for his effort soon after but had no more to offer and faded up the hill. Bryan Cooper had accepted defeat at the last when Death Duty stepped and all but fell, throwing him to the ground. Willie Mullins-trained second-string Penhill who cruised into contention under the double-seeking Paul Townend to record a smooth success.

Redemption mission: where next?
Death Duty has always been regarded as a staying chaser for the future, so it wouldn’t surprise if he was put away for the summer after what looked a tired-looking fall. He is currently best priced 16-1 for the RSA next year alongside Albert Bartlett second Monalee, fellow faller The World’s End and Neptune one-two Willoughby Court and Neon Wolf. On the other hand he is 25-1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle, but it looks unlikely he will take up that engagement.

Wednesday was billed as D-day, and the Champion Chase looked a formality
E.W. Terms
Sky bet