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Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

Shocks, flops and a masterclass - the best and worst of the festival

Ruby Walsh was head and shoulders above everyone else on Thursday
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Equine performance of the week

Defi Du Seuil was widely considered a good thing in the build-up to the festival and where others faltered, he excelled. Philip Hobbs's exciting juvenile could be called the winner a long way from home and the trainer was in no mood to play down the hype afterwards.

Whether he stays over hurdles or graduates to fences, this is a seriously talented animal who proved himself to be in a different league to his peers this week.

Human performance of the week

After two days in the doldrums, summed up by the stunning failure of Douvan to win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday, Ruby Walsh could have been forgiven for feeling more than a little sorry for himself.

Instead, the modern day king of Prestbury Park regrouped and came back stronger than ever on Thursday, putting on a riding clinic to secure a sensational four-timer courtesy of Yorkhill, Un De Sceaux, Nichols Canyon and Let's Dance. Brough Scott, who has seen a thing or two, called it "the finest piece of sustained and varied riding that this great place has ever seen".

Who are we to argue?

Tweet of the week

Willie Mullins also suffered alongside Walsh on days one and two before providing the jockey with each of his four winners on Thursday. Robbie McNamara summed up the slightly over-the-top reaction to the trainer's opening 48-hour blank.

Robbie McNamara never lost faith in Willie Mullins
Disappointment of the week

In a week when plenty of short-priced favourites failed to do the business, this may seem harsh in the extreme but here it goes: Altior.

This undoubtedly superb animal added a Racing Post Arkle to his Supreme Novices' of 12 months ago but when expectations were for something out of the Sprinter Sacre textbook, his performance left a little something to be desired.

He could one day reach the heights of his illustrious former stablemate but right now those comparisons need to be put back on the shelf for a while.

Judge of the year award

Labaik's win in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle surprised practically everyone in racing – most of your friends who told you they always knew he could put in a performance like that are lying.

One man, however, can honestly say he saw it coming. At a festival preview evening, Jamie Codd said: "You're going to laugh at me and tell me to shut up but if Labaik, of Gordon's... [pause as audience laughs]... I swear to God, he's possibly one of the best work horses I've ever seen in my life. It's an ordinary Supreme Novices' – if the horse jumps off, I swear to God, he has a chance."

The 'no really, I'm fine' moment of the week

Imagine having a very talented mare taken away from you by her owner, then sending two of the best mares you still train into battle with her at the festival and coming up short.

It is hard to comprehend how frustrated everybody associated with the Willie Mullins yard must have been when Apple's Jade got the better of Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle and it is to their great credit that any such feelings were kept private.

Picture of the week

Might Bite sails over the water in the RSA Chase

Few photographers can match Ed Whitaker when it comes to creativity and this spectacular shot of Might Bite, making a glorious shape in the air with the magnificent Gloucestershire countryside on a fine afternoon as a backdrop, captures so much of what we love about Cheltenham.

U-turn of the week

Davy Russell on Presenting Percy's British handicap mark for the Pertemps, 6lb higher than his Irish rating, weeks before the race:

"I'd be very surprised if he was capable of winning a Pertemps off that sort of weight. That will fairly stall him, I think."

Davy Russell after Presenting Percy hacked up by three and three quarter lengths:

"I have to apologise to Phil Smith, he was completely right. Ninety-nine times out of 100, the handicapper does a good job but I thought he'd been harsh with this horse."

Lizzie Kelly is a picture of frustration after parting company with Tea For Two

The 'blink and you missed it' moment of the week

One of the storylines that gained widespread national attention coming into the festival was Lizzie Kelly becoming the first female jockey in 33 years to ride in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Unfortunately for Lizzie, she and Tea For Two made it no further than the second fence and her punch of the ground said everything anybody needed to know about how frustrated she was to have been unseated so early in her history-making ride.

Quotes of the week

"He's without doubt the worst horse I own."

Michael O'Leary after Champagne Classic won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle – If only we could all have one so useless.

"Apple's Jade was sweet, Cause Of Causes was special but to win the Martin Pipe after working for Martin – he's a very good friend of mine – that was very special."

Gordon Elliott, was thrilled with Champagne Classic's victory.

"It must be beginner's luck!"

Jessica Harrington was being far too modest after she won the Gold Cup with Sizing John, the first horse she had ever saddled in the race.

"The decision was right but all I've done is stopped My Tent winning a Champion Hurdle, which he so deserves to do."

Nicky Henderson comes to terms with being the architect of his own star's latest Champion Hurdle near miss.

Whether he stays over hurdles or graduates to the bigger obstacles, this is a seriously talented animal who proved himself to be in a different league

Key data

Labaik
Bookmaker
Price
E.W. Terms
Sporting
BetVictor
Sky bet
Boylesport
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