Cheltenham Festival 2019: Matt Chapman looks back on an amazing four days at Prestbury Park

OMG. That’s all I can say about Cheltenham 2019. It had it all.

In sport so many times things are built up only to fall flat as a pancake.

Well no one can say that about what we experienced this week. It was sport – horse racing – at its very best.

From the drama of Buveur d’Air coming down, to the brilliance of Altior, to the joy of Bryony Frost and Frodon to the heart-wrenching story behind Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle hero Paisley Park and the eclipse of Faugheen the machine.

And that’s not to mention the Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo. Oh where to start?

Well first I want to reflect on Altior, who at many times once again looked in trouble in the Queen Mother Champion Chase – especially when making a bad error at the water – only to pull it out of the fire.


JON’S BUMPY RIDE Jonathan Pearce tries his hand at horse racing commentary


Altior is just a winning machine for Nicky Henderson, and he simply has that desire to come home first.

Let’s not forget his CV includes a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, an Arkle, and now two Champion Chase successes.

And you know what? I’m more convinced than ever he’s not even a natural two-mile chaser.

Strange though it sounds, I believe Altior has been crying out for a step up in trip for about a year now, and hopefully we will see that next season in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

His class brings him through over the minimum distance. Rather than his speed.

A word on Nico de Boinville, Altior’s jockey, who was a conditional when they first teamed up. Nico is a thoroughly decent guy. A fine rider. Just a good lad.

The Champion Hurdle was a mess, and do I believe the form? No I do not.

Espoir d’Allen simply hacked up for Gavin Cromwell and the brilliant Mark Walsh, and fair play to both.

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But let’s face facts. Buveur d’Air tumbled out, Apple’s Jade appears hopeless at Cheltenham and also seemed to get very depressed when taken on by Melon, while Laurina was never going a yard. It was a bizarre event.

Thursday’s racing will go down as one of the most thrilling ever shown on ITV, possibly ever on TV.

As someone who has insisted Frodon should go in the Ryanair, I was delighted he scored under the sensational Bryony Frost for the former ten-times champion Paul Nicholls.

But I’m not gloating here. The way Frodon was taken on by Sub Lieutenant but still kept on up the hill suggests if he had gone in the Gold Cup he might well have been placed.

Altior extended his winning run at Cheltenham
PA:Press Association

It was just glorious stuff, and old boy Un de Sceaux also ran a cracker, despite being taken out by Monalee on the home bend.

Speaking of old boys, Faugheen looked like a beauty before the Stayers’, and he tried his best at the age of eleven but simply wasn’t good enough.

Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park was a thoroughly deserving winner as the improver in this division all season, and it was about time Aidan Coleman scored in a major event on one of the biggest stages. Everyone deserved their victory.

Barry Geraghty also rolled back the years this week, with two simply awesome efforts on Defi du Seuil and Sire du Berlais. Fantastic to see the former’s trainer Philip Hobbs back in the bigtime, and Gordon Elliott’s plotting with Sire du Berlais just genius. He had to finish in the first six at Leopardstown before this to qualify – and he finished sixth. Wow!

Barry Geraghty was at his best on Thursday
Getty Images – Getty

Usually I am in the betting ring at major meetings for ITV, but this week I was asked to be in charge of the #socialstable and I have to say it was an eye-opener.

Obviously there will always be people who detest someone like me, but it was truly humbling how many racegoers wanted to say hello and chat.

On Thursday I was joined by Chris Hughes of Love Island fame. Chris really loves his racing yet can pull in a totally new audience to the sport.

It was a combination that I really enjoyed, and hopefully we’ll be able to do more together. That said, I don’t think Chris’s partner in crime, Kem Cetinay, will be losing any sleep!

It’s just been an amazing week, and tonight I’m off to relax at Ministry of Sound where the excellent The Manor are playing. And tomorrow I jet off for a little holiday. Cheltenham will still consume me. That’s the power of a great sport.

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