They saw very well backed favourites beaten even before 20/1 shot Lord Windermere brought off a shock win in the feature race of the meeting, the Gold Cup.
At the last fence it looked as though the two horses that led the betting market, Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti might fight out the finish. Then, in the bat of an eyelid, it all changed and three horses came seemingly from nowhere to drive past those two, and produce a gripping end to the race.
There was a stewards’ inquiry after the race but the outcome was never seriously in doubt.
It was a fairytale story for jockey Davy Russell. 2013 ended with him being replaced as stable jockey for the Gigginstown Stud run by Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary. It was the cruellest of New Year’s Eve presents from O’Leary.
But other trainers value Russell and racing fans admire the jockey. I was delighted that someone treated in such a shabby manner only three months earlier, enjoyed such memorable success.
Russell was so swept up in the moment that he missed his flight home to Ireland and spent Friday night in the not so winning surroundings of Birmingham airport.
He said: “The glamour of it all. I didn’t really care though. I would have slept on the road side if I’d had to.
“It’s just starting to sink in. Winning the Gold Cup is something every jockey dreams of.”
Russell was quick to pay tribute to another man who knows what it means to ride the winner in such a prestigious race.
Winning trainer Jim Culloty said: “I’ve only got 25 horses and 10 are three-year-olds so it’s pretty impressive to have two winners here, including a Gold Cup.”
Culloty had sent two horses to Cheltenham, both owned by Dr Ronan Lambe. Their other runner, Spring Heeled, won the Kim Muir race on Thursday. So a 100% strike rate for the team at the festival. Not bad at all.Indeed, only on Friday morning, Culloty had said that he would delay celebrations for the win of Spring Heeled until after the meeting had finished. He said that he would have a hangover on Saturday morning. And that was before his Scottish born Lord Windermere landed the most valuable race of the meeting.
Culloty reflected on the day: “We got home on Saturday at 9pm and had something to eat and a glass of wine before we went to bed. We didn’t even get to go down the village. We had a couple of drinks, and then I went back, sat down and watched the replay.”
But the planned hangover has only been postponed. Asked how he would spend the next week he said: “Drunk! Dr Lambe will have a party in Dublin and then we’ll have one here.”
Culloty is a rare breed. As a jockey he rode the winner of the Gold Cup, Best Mate, to three victories between 2002 and 2004.
He said: “It’s hard to differentiate between training one and riding one, but they’re both fantastic. As a trainer you get loads of time to think about it, but as a jockey you only have five minutes not to mess it up.”
While it was certainly not one of my more profitable festivals for me personally, writes Vernon Grant, I thought it to be one of the most dramatic. The impressive and easy win by Sire de Grugy (tipped up to members when available at 3/1 and 10/3) lit up the meeting. It will be the most memorable race for many.
But what was noticeable for me was the number of close finishes to races. I cannot recall a photo finish being required quite as often at the festival. Even the marathon cross country race needed the judges to decide which horse had won.
The bookies got stuffed on a couple of days and then, as is often the way, fought back on the final day of racing. But I’m always happy to see double figure priced outsiders win the big races. It was just a pity that this year, unlike the past two years, they were not on my radar.
But then, as often happens in the life of a punter, I made amends come Saturday when Goulanes won the Midland National for members at odds of 7/1 and a 20/1 football treble paid off handsomely.
All part of the rich tapestry of life as a punter!
**The Gold Cup Result
1. Lord Windermere (20-1)
2. On His Own (16-1)
3. The Giant Bolster (14-1)