Nicky Henderson has trained 68 Cheltenham Festival Winners, interviewed by the RP in 2018 'You always say you'd settle for one and what you do settle for is a winner on Day One. It's amazing what it does if you can get any winner on the first day.'
2020 - I just didn't dream this bit up since Willie Mullins trained four winners in a row on finishing with Al Boum Photo in back to back Gold Cups. I've been banging on about this for ages. Nicky wins Supreme with a horse that drifted like a barge. All confident before Epatante? Henry takes Arkle with outsider. Stable with a spring in it's step before Mares Hurdle? Gordon interviewed after Ravenhill says 'Tuesday wasn't our good day, great to be on the board, big day tomorrow.' Double with Envoi Allen and Aramax. And those are just a few.
2019 - Tues, the rains came, Ruby cruises round on Klassical Dream. Willie interviewed, delighted, the joy and relief is coming out of the screen at you. What happens next? Duc De Genievres wins the Arkle, Benie Des Dieux should have, the Mares.
Wed - Not sure that William Henry would have made much difference to Altior but can't have dampened Nico's mood. Tiger Roll and Envoi Allen an Elliott double.
Thurs - Barry enjoys life on Defi De Seuil, immediately follows up with a barnstormer on Sire De Berlais.
2018 - Day 1 - W Mullins treble, Footpad the shorty, calms everything. Benie Des Dieux overturns Apples Jade, everyone happy then Patrick comes off the Festival Jockey Cold List with Rathvinden. All slept well.
Day 2 - . Apples Jade in the Mares didn't fire for G Elliott on the Tuesday, his next best chance for the week is Samcro 8/11. Concerned? That's him during the race. Praying? Then Tiger Roll, Veneer of Charm. Treble in six races. (Gordon sighs, I do know what I'm doing). Willie, now chilled, kicks on with Bleu Berry and a 1-2-3 in the Bumper.
Day 3 - Willie a double, Gordon wins three of the first five races. Gordon wins the Ryanair for his boss, overturning Willie's Un De Sceaux at the same time. Its an easy game. Gordon can't remember the Ballymore anymore.
Day 4 - Doubles for Elliott, Tizzard and Nicholls. I'm sure the GC parade ring was a happier place for Native River after Kilbricken Storm ploughed home in the Albert Bartlett. The Tizzards had just come off a losing Festival run of 42. Nicholls was on 18 before the wonderful Pacha. Relief? Joy?
2017- Altior wins Arkle for Nicky, does that make everyone chilled that the Big One has obliged? I'm sure it but it didn't hold back Buveur D'Air nor Might Bite. G Elliott finishes with a first day treble, Labaik and Apples Jade can only have helped Lisa O'Neill's confidence as she got the leg up on Tiger Roll. After Tiger Roll's win in the 4 miler, I was standing near the walkway at the bottom of the parade ring near that huge double sided big screen. Gordon Elliott went past, beaming smiles, couldn't say enough thank yous. I can't remember when I have seen a happier person. Another back to back stable double Wednesday with JJ Codd on Cause Of Causes and Fayonagh.
Every Festival brings stories like this. I asked Tom Wilson @TomWilsonHorses, author of the 2020 statistics book 'The Festival' to have a look at Nicky's statement above. Unlike me, Tom actually knows what he is taking about. He ran the numbers to check trainers having a win on the first day on the Cheltenham Festival and see how they then performed against market expectations on the subsequent days. Market expectations governed by Betfair SP. I'll not pretend to know what everything means.
Trainer who had a winner first day.
2020 - 8/72 11.11% -20.43 SP, -12.05 BFSP, +10.36 place. 8 wins vs 6.54 expected by Betfair SP, yielding a +1.56 WAX
2019 - 7/100 7% +79.36 SP, +247.15 BFSP, +60.27 Place. 7 wins vs 6.65 expected. +0.35 WAX
2018 - 5/86 5.81% -22.43 SP, -5.88 BFSP, -1.5 Place. 5 wins vs 7.39 expected. -2.39 WAX
In summary, Tom said that the results were 'interesting but not definitive.'
His conclusions over the
One Festival winner means well... Davy Russell - Racing Post March 2016. 'When you ride winners at Cheltenham it changes the look on everything really and changes the way people see you for a while. It means a huge amount.' Discussing the win on Mall Dini in the Pertemps that year, he said without hesitation, 'Ah yeah, it (Diamond King in the Coral) would have helped, and I probably rode better on the Thursday because of it. That's the beauty of Cheltenham, when you ride a winner it's a weight lifted.' Some months after the 2014 Festival Davy Russell was interviewed in the RP Supplement and said that without the win on Tiger Roll in the Triumph three races earlier he would never have ridden Lord Windermere as he did in the GC passing seven horses from the bottom of the hill to the winning post. He would 'have come there at the top of the hill, taken the lead early, finished 5th or 6th and everyone would have said what a great guy I was.'
Go back and watch Davy just after the finish of the Ballymore on Envoi Allen. I counted three fist pumps. Pretty demonstrative for Davy. It could be the pleasure of getting the stable good thing for the week home. Or could it be that he had just stopped a personal Festival losing run of 23? Relief?
This table shows Festival Days when trainers had more than one winner. For example, if you go to the 2018 Friday you will see that GE (Gordon Elliott) CT (Colin Tizzard) an PN (Paul Nicholls) each had a double. You know all these trainers, save to say that DP is David Pipe, JH is Jessica Harrington and JO'N is Jonjo O'Neill.
What does it show?
1. There have only been two days in the last 5 Festivals where there wasn't a trainer with a winning double. The 2019 Thursday (JP owned a double, B Geraghty rode both) and the 2019 Friday (stretching a little, but Joseph and JP would have probably had a double with Sir Erec. RIP).
2. Some trainers obviously better on certain days. Nicky's mainly a Tuesday man, Willie not particularly Wednesday but loves the rest. Gordon big on Wednesday. Paul has recently done well on Fridays.
3. In the last six festivals i.e 20 days racing, Willie Mullins has had 10 where he trained at least a double. Has only had a 'single' on three days. The 2019 GC Day (Ruby not great on Alloha?), the 2019 Thursday and the 2016 Wednesday, (Boston Bob fell at the last in the RSA) On the Tuesday hasn't had a 'single' day since 2012. It seems that he is currently three times as likely to have a double than a 'single'. Therefore if he gets one...
So then. Question. This is the Olympics. Can this relief, joy, momentum pass on to the next runner from the winning trainer, jockey, groom. owner? Don't know. What I do know is that horses rarely talk. Don't tell you why they won or lost. I do strongly believe that we are all guilty of putting each Festival race in its own separate box, as if what has just happened is irrelevant. TV, Newspapers, Pundits. We all do it. Each one set up as a stand alone event. Paul Kealy talking about Preview Nights 'At least 90 per cent of the people who attend these events already know what they are backing – or have already backed – in all the Grade 1 races.'
Last year, when did I wake up to the fact that Willie Mullins was farming Gold Cup Day? I'll tell you when, just in time to have a reasonable saver on Al Boum Photo. So why was I so slow? Because I still put Festival races in separate boxes, paying little or no heed to what has just happened. After the DRF I was backing Fury Road in the Albert Bartlett come hell or high water. Needed to lead. And sure, wasn't Burning Victory a fluke. You forget what difference any Festival success makes to a trainer or jockey.
In the film 'Being AP' they had a camera in the jockeys room on lunchtime on Champion Hurdle day for AP's last Festival in 2014. All jockeys including B Geraghty were just sitting there, no noise, no chat, just silence. Ruby talks over the pictures. He says something like 'The thing you notice about the jockeys at the Festival is the level of disappointment. So many jockeys in tears, sitting with their heads in their hands.' Remember Daryl Jacob's disappointment in 2014 after being caught on the line in the Pertemps by Fingal Bay? John Gosden - Racing Post 19th July 2015 - 'A horse will always sense an edgy atmosphere, someone who is nervous or a nervous jockey.'
Humour me. The link below should take you to the 1986 Triumph Hurdle won by Solar Cloud. Robin and I were there, our second year, dressed in best suits as we were so in awe of the place then. Still are. It looks completely different. Before 1986 you knew not to back anything trained by Josh Gifford or David Nicholson ''cos they can't train Festival winners." Then they got one... Sir Peter catches the importance of it all. Also another chance to watch Dermot Browne once again getting caught out of his ground, this time on Brunico. Stop it, now.
So just how happy/relieved/de-stressed are jockeys and trainers when they win that first one? Paul Townend had a losing run of 34 before Annie Power crumbled at the last in the 2015 Mares allowing Paul the chance to win on Glens Melody. He immediately followed up on Irish Cavalier and jogged round on Wicklow Brave later in the week. 4 timer in Limerick that Sunday. In 2017, his losing run was back up to 23, then he rides the top weight to win the County Hurdle. Seems to like that race. And what does Paul Townend do when he rides a Festival winner? He immediately rides another one. Penhill in the Albert Bartlett. 2018 Thursday. Penhill followed by Laurina (long odds on admittedly). 2019 wins GC on Al Boum Photo and then with his next ride, Roll Again at 11/4 in a Down Royal maiden hurdle the next day. The 2020 three on GC day. And all pretty good rides. Davy Russell (again) won on five successive Festival rides between 2014 and 2015, the last being Rivage D'Or in the cross country. That horse was the original stats crusher and hadn't gone a yard in the two races previous or in any of it's 6 races after. 'Going easily 2 out, led last, ridden out.' Wins by 2 and 1/4 lengths. Davy's confidence that day can't have been a hindrance. Barry Geraghty in both 2019 and 2020 rode one winner immediately followed by another one.
2020 and 2017 were big momentum winners for W Mullins. In 2017 Douvan didn't fire in the QM at 2/9 and although the horses hadn't run badly, no winners by Wednesday tea time. Gordon had five by that stage and, on course, I spoke to sages who told me that Willie 'had gone at the game' and had practically 'lost the power of his legs.' Well, no. The Willie Mullins 2017 Thursday saw him saddle four winners in the first five races, including the three G1s. Fine rides from Ruby. Then on Friday he made in 6 wins in 9 races with the Paul Townend double. I personally think that Yorkhill in the JLT was the most important of these. Don't tell me that once he obliged, the whole Closutton organisation didn't let out a huge sigh of relief and everybody relaxed a little. I'm sure Ruby relaxed as well. 'We're on the board.' was the quote. 2020 0 from 13 races before the bumper 1-2. A relieved man when interviewed. Harry Whittington ran only 5 horses at the 2020 Festival. Finished with a h'cap winner, a G1 second and a h'cap third. Not bad at all.
This Festival is so important to these people. A winner can mean prospective clients, wages for the next 12 months. Now, for betting purposes. Check if the winning jockey/trainer has a horse under 20/1 for the rest of the day. Be prepared to change tack. At least a little. God, that's easy to say, Bryan. I repeat. These are not stand alone events.
To finish, Momentum On A Big Scale. Racing Post Sunday 17th February 2019. Paul Nicholls on the 1999 Festival. 'That's when it all began for me' he enthuses, 'I won the Arkle with Flagship Uberalles on the Tuesday, Call Equiname on the second and See More Business won the Gold Cup on the third, and having never trained a festival winner, that was some three days and really got the ball rolling for me. On the wall at home I've got a picture of those three horses' heads and I always say to people they're the ones who started it all. They were good days.'
Barry Geraghty's only win in 2016 was on Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Triumph first race Friday. As he circled at the top of the hill after his success, Alice, the C4 lady, sticks the mike under his nose and asks, 'Where have you been all week Barry, I've been looking for you?' At that time the man had 34 Festival successes and a winner every year from 2002 to 2015 but it might be true to say that momentum was not the thing working for Barry in 2016. Lots of beaten favs. Nico now on Sprinter Scare. B Geraghty rarely gives much away. I'm not sure when he muttered 'Oh, I've been about.' that he was all that happy with Alice that day.
Move forward four years, after Defi Du Seuil took the 2019 JLT, putting Barry on the board, he says
'Its just great to get winners here. Not every lad is fortunate enough to be in a position to ride good horses. You see good riders in there who aren't riding winners and its a cruel business in that aspect. I've been feeling sorry for myself not getting winners the first couple of days. It means so much to get a winner - it's the be-all and end-all.' And at that time he had only the 34 winners? Immediately carries Sire De Berlais home in the 2019 Ride Of The Festival.
2020 - Ruby and AP now gone, Barry is asked what's it like to be the top Festival jockey currently riding. He replies 'You start every Festival on zero.'
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