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At the Cheltenham Festival 2020, race fans were treated to a typically outstanding spectacle of the best National Hunt horses in the world taking each other on ‘hoof to hoof’.
It was once again a fantastic four days for Irish racing, with Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott locked at the top of the Champion Trainer standings with seven winners apiece, and Ireland once again lifting the Prestbury Cup after outperforming Britain during the week.
For some of the competing horses, this will have been their last chance to shine on the Cheltenham track – Apple’s Jade, as one example, has now been retired. But for others, there will be more opportunities to come in major races, and the future certainly looks bright for a number of Irish horses that performed so admirably at the Festival.
So where will they be heading in the future? Let’s take a look back at Cheltenham Festival 2020 and explore what might be in store for Irish racing’s leading lights.
Triple Boum for Al?
The Gold Cup remains the most eagerly anticipated race of the Festival and arguably of the National Hunt calendar – Grand National fans might have something to say about that, of course.
Al Boum Photo, a French horse with indelibly Irish links (given that he is trained by Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend), won another edge-of-the-seat renewal in 2020 and will now be looking to complete a momentous hat-trick next year.
He could become the first horse since Best Mate to win three consecutive editions of the Gold Cup, and at the age of nine and with a suitably under-worked campaign the Buck’s Boum progeny should be ideally placed for a shot at history.
Keep your eyes peeled for the Cheltenham Festival ante-post horse racing betting markets to open up in the near future because Al Boum Photo will be well-fancied to complete a glorious treble.
Shishkin Shows the Way
You have to go back to the first race of the whole Cheltenham meeting to recall one of the most eye-catching performances of the week. Shishkin won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle from Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras to become the seventh Irish horse in eight years to win the renewal.
🏆Cheltenham Festival 2020 – Tattersalls Ireland Graduate Round Up🏆
✨Simply The Betts
✨It Came To Pass
— Tattersalls Ireland (@tatts_ireland) March 14, 2020
Just take a look at the rollcall of names on this trophy: Altior, Douvan, Vautour and L’Escargot have all won the Supreme, which acts as a precursor for bigger and better successes to come.
With impeccable breeding and in the safe hands of Nicky Henderson, the racing world is Shishkin’s oyster, and connections will already be plotting his next move. A tilt at the Arkle or Ryanair Chase at next year’s edition of Cheltenham is likely.
Oscar Poised for National Acclaim?
Often, Cheltenham Festival’s headlines are dominated by horses that didn’t win and should have, as much as those who cross the line in first place.
Paisley Park was practically inked in as the likely champion of the Stayers’ Hurdle, but Andrew Gemmell’s horse never looked in the hunt on the day and so it was left to the longest-priced winner of the Festival to storm home. Lisnagar Oscar has shown promise in the past but has endured a rather below-par season up until recently when he powered home in the Stayers at 50/1 to have the bookies dancing a jig of delight.
It was a fantastic run that gives connections renewed optimism that more might be to come from the seven-year-old. Having run well at Aintree in the past, perhaps a tilt at the hardiest race of them all – the Grand National – is in the pipeline for this Irish raider?
All Goes Swimmingly for Monkfish
While not necessarily a precursor to major success, the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle has thrown up some interesting winners in the past. Bobs Worth, for example, won this renewal in 2011 before going on to further glory in the RSA Chase a year later and, in 2013, winning the big one: the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
🏆 Albert Bartlett Result:
🥈 LATEST EXHIBITION
🥉 FURY ROAD
🅿️ THYME HILL
In a race known for upsets, the top four in the betting fight out the finish. MONKFISH battles bravely to beat Latest Exhbition and Fury Road. Thyme Hill narrowly beaten back in fourth pic.twitter.com/Fx4wvoJOJJ
— Cheltenham (@cheltenham) March 13, 2020
That suggests a potential pathway to the big time for Monkfish, the impressive six-year-old who triumphed in the Albert Bartlett this time around. His career has been dominated by low-key successes domestically thus far, but a strong showing at Prestbury Park in beating a pair of Irish horses – Latest Exhibition and Fury Road – indicates real quality.
Next year, expect Monkfish to step up in class on the chasing scene. One thing that is for sure, the future of Irish racing is in very safe hands.