The best and worst bits from a short but superb jumps season in Britain
Saturday would have marked the end of the jumps season in Britain. It may have been shorter than usual, but there was no shortage of talking points. From the ride year to the flop of the season, Brian Sheerin has examined the highs and lows of the British jumps campaign . . .
Race of the season
Little did we know then that the Champion Chase would not live up to expectation, but this race set the temperature for what looked like the hottest bunch of two-mile chasers Britain and Ireland has seen for a long time.
The old pro Un De Sceaux tried to raise hell from the front but stalking him in his slipstream was Barry Geraghty, who timed things to a nicety to score by a diminishing margin at the line.
Defi Du Seuil proved far superior in the Clarence House rematch, after which Un De Sceaux was retired but, for sheer entertainment, this early-season tussle had it all.
Billed as the best race of the festival, and one which was pored over for many a month, the event itself proved nothing other than a damp squib.
First, there was the Altior debacle. Nicky Henderson, doing his best impression of the hokey cokey, put his star in and out and he certainly shook things all about before eventually scratching the dual champion.
Then there was the last-minute withdrawal of Chacun Pour Soi, many people’s idea of the heir to Altior’s throne, which left the race on a plate for Defi Du Seuil. Wrong.
Despite being sent off at odds of 2-5, Defi Du Seuil never looked like reeling in the long-time leader Politologue, who won by almost 10 lengths, which tells its own story. An utterly forgettable race.
Best training performance
Gordon Elliott never lost faith in Samcro. So much so that in an effort to reignite the spark that threatened to burn out faster than the racing world had hoped, Elliott went as far as having a purpose-built paddock built for his stable star in order to keep him happy and healthy this season.
A horse who won the first seven races of his career, including the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018, Samcro developed a reputation as a busted flush after a number of major disappointments.
Most people had given up on Samcro before he battled best to take the Marsh Chase at Cheltenham, a victory that will undoubtedly rank as one of Elliott’s finest achievements. He never lost hope in Samcro and the horse repaid that belief in spades on the biggest stage.
The great riders have an ability to take it to the next level on the big stage and, when a couple of his weighroom colleagues visibly cracked under the pressure of the Gold Cup, Paul Townend rose to the occasion to take the race to his rivals and clinch back-to-back victories aboard Al Boum Photo.
Al Boum Photo got a nice tow into the Gold Cup in 2019, but the pace was nowhere near as strong this year.
However, Townend, confident in his own abilities, took the race to his rivals far earlier than he would've planned but at the same time executed the tactics to perfection.
Here was a rider who had endured a rocky start to the festival but proved his undoubted class when it mattered most.
Few horses got found out quite like Cyrname did this season. He is neither a Champion Chase horse nor a Gold Cup contender and after suffering a comprehensive drubbing behind stablemate Clan Des Obeaux in the King George, he was beaten when falling at the last in the Ascot Chase, hardly the stuff champions are made off. A good horse, yes, but a genuine top-notcher, he is not and he shouldn't be spoken of in the same breath as Al Boum Photo and the like.
It would be remiss not to mention the early-season favourite for the Gold Cup, Kemboy, in this category, while stablemate Klassical Dream didn’t do much to enhance his reputation either. Both Willie Mullins-trained beasts had seasons to forget.
Most Champion Hurdlers don’t usually begin the season by winning handicap hurdles off a mark of 137 but Epatante went from strength to strength throughout the campaign and made the division her own.
The Champion Hurdle may have been a weak one but Epatante answered everything that was asked of her before winning the day one showpiece at the Cheltenham festival with plenty to spare, ending her year on 162, some 25lbs higher than she started off on.
Riders Onthe Storm may have found Cheltenham a bridge too far but his improvement is worthy of an honorary mention.
Picked up for just 50,000 guineas last spring, Riders Onthe Storm won his first three races for Nigel Twiston-Davies, including the Grade 1 Ascot Chase, improving 22lbs in the process.
Brian Hughes: new champion jockey
It may not have attracted the attention in a season cut short by the coronavirus, but Brian Hughes making the breakthrough to become champion jump jockey in Britain was an outstanding achievement and one that was thoroughly deserved.
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