Jon Ivan-Duke reflects on Cheltenham

Jon Ivan-Duke reflects on Cheltenham
vg tips welcomes jon ivan-duke to its team of writers

Jon Ivan-Duke

I miss Sports Live Radio, which used to broadcast via various bookmaker websites from the city I worked in for 12 years or more, Leeds, writes Vernon Grant.

One of the team was Jonathan Ivan-Duke. He can now be found now be found working for Sky Sports and via his Twitter account @jonivanduke He also presents the Foot In Mouth football podcast @fimpodcast

The Sports Live Radio team had a good thing going there and I know many punters listened, learned and often laughed along with a good team of professional broadcasters and knowledgeable racing folk.

I am delighted to welcome him to the team of respected writers who will, from time to time, offer VG Tips their own perspective on racing and football events.


Sprinter Sacre hot favourite for the Cheltenham festival

Sprinter Sacre. Photo by

It’s a little clichéd to speak of the highs and lows of sport, but at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, the boundaries of the emotional spectrum were extended at both the upper and lower levels. The Festival is one of only two times in the year where the wider-world pay attention to National Hunt racing (the other being The Grand National). For Joe Public, tuning in to horse racing for the first time this year, it must have been quite the eye-opener.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of every Cheltenham Festival is the quality of races. This year was no exception. Out of the Grade 1 winners, one horse stole the show: Sprinter Sacre. His trainer, Nicky Henderson, was visibly nervous ahead of the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He had nothing to worry about. The ease in which “The Black Aeroplane” beat a high quality horse like Sizing Europe, underlines his ability. Barry Geraghty has ridden some good horses in his time, including the double Champion Chase winner, Moscow Flyer. After Sprinter Sacre demolished his rivals, Geraghty likened him to the best on the flat, calling him the “Frankel of jump racing”. He could be the greatest we’ve ever seen.
champagne fever wins at cheltenham festival for members of vg tips

Champagne Fever wins for members

The team of Willie Mullins was in form. Champagne Fever has a bright future after his gritty win in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, getting the better of My Tent Or Yours up the notorious Cheltenham hill. Hurricane Fly became the first horse in 38 years to regain the Champion Hurdle and not long after, his stable-mate Quevega showed she’s every bit the superstar. She equalled the great Golden Miller by landing the same Cheltenham Festival contest five times. The whole family shared in the success of Back In Focus in the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase. He was a winner in the capable hands of Willie’s son, Patrick, for owners Andrea and Graham Wylie. Briar Hills was a surprisingly big-priced winner in the same colours, as Ruby Walsh rode him to victory in the Champion Bumper.

One of the biggest success stories was Bryan Cooper. Benefficient surprised backers of Dynaste to take the Jewson Novices’ Chase and give Cooper his first taste of Festival glory. Wins on Our Conor in the Triumph Hurdle and Ted Veale in the County Hurdle were to follow. Our Conor was an impressive winner. He is a leading Champion Hurdle contender for next year’s Festival after winning the Triumph by 15 lengths. Leading owner Barry Connell has already snapped him up for an undisclosed fee. Considering Connell paid €375,000 for bumper winner Golantilla, that undisclosed fee is likely to be a very large sum indeed. The disappointing news for Cooper will be that Danny Mullins, Connell’s retained rider, is likely to take future appointments on Our Conor. Still, Cooper demonstrated his talent and is likely to be offered plenty more rides.

The future is less certain for John Thomas McNamara who suffered a crashing fall from Galaxy Rock at the first flight of the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase. Whilst Davy Russell is back riding just a week after puncturing his lung at the Festival, McNamara remains in hospital in an induced coma, having fractured two vertebrae in his neck. One of the sport’s biggest owners, JP McManus, is a close friend of the amateur jockey they call ‘JT’. He describes McNamara as a “lovely, lovely man”.

The danger of a sport that provides so much happiness to the fervent supporters of National Hunt racing, was also highlighted in cruel fashion with the death of popular horse, Matuhi, in the Byrne Group Plate. David Pipe’s charge was a winner on the flat, over hurdles and over fences.

Champion jockey Tony McCoy was in sombre mood. He choked back tears after picking up his first victory of the Festival in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. The favourite, At Fishers Cross, was a popular winner in the stands. McCoy reminded the crowd what really matters, saying “It’s very hard to be happy after what happened to John Thomas McNamara.” We all hope that one day JT McNamara will return to Cheltenham, but as his colleagues and peers were quick to point out, that lies in the hands of the doctors and perhaps, fate.

It wasn’t quite the build up many had expected for the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup. The blue riband of jump racing had become a sideline to a man lying in a hospital bed. It didn’t stop the broadcasters determining that the show must go on. What a show it was. One of the best Gold Cup’s in recent times, with some suggesting on social networks it was as good as the 2011 renewal where Long Run, Denman and Kauto Star jumped the second last together. This year, as they entered the closing stages, Silviniaco Conti was running well when coming to grief three fences from home.

Bobs Worth wins cheltenham gold cup for members of vg tips

Bobs Worth and Nicky Henderson

The favourite Bobs Worth looked beaten, having guessed at a couple of jumps. Approaching the second last, Long Run was again one of the protagonists, narrowly in front. Sir Des Champs and The Giant Bolster both plugged on gamely, but Bobs Worth from well back in the field was staying on. The favourite had saved his best until last. Bobs Worth ended up winning by seven lengths and in doing so, gave Nicky Henderson a 50th Festival winner. It’s exciting to think we may not have seen the best from Bobs Worth yet. Henderson was nervous about the ground conditions being too soft before the race and many remain convinced Bobs Worth is a better horse on good ground.

Other notable performances: Cue Card proved his critics wrong with an easy win in the Ryanair Chase; Jim Culloty, forever associated with riding Best Mate to victory in three Gold Cups, got his first Cheltenham Festival winner as a trainer with Lord Windermere taking the RSA Chase; Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies celebrated victory in the Neptune with The New One; odds-on favourite Simonsig made heavy weather of it, but still came away with the Arkle; and in the absence of Big Buck’s, Solwhit ran a lovely race to earn the World Hurdle crown.

Jane Mangan thrown off with the winning post in site

Jane Mangan thrown off with the winning post in site

As the Festival wound down, teenager Jane Mangan was left in tears. She was clear on Oscar Delta in the Foxhunter Chase, only for her mount to jink and unseat her. The favourite Salsify was the luckiest of winners. Afterwards Jane’s father, Jimmy, who trained the horse, said she would be alright and he was glad it was only her pride that was hurt.

Whilst you count down the days to next year’s Festival, savour the memories of this year’s wonderful event. Sprinter Sacre in all his glory, Hurricane Fly imperious and Bobs Worth battling home in the Gold Cup.

Without jockeys, these feats would not have been possible. Brave, hardy souls who risk life and limb for our enjoyment and go to bed nursing bruises and sometimes broken bones.

Spare a thought for JT McNamara.

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