Friday, May 04, 2018

A brief review of the 2017/18 jumps season

Champion jockey: Richard Johnson
Champion trainer: Nicky Henderson
Winning owner: J P McManus
Champion conditional jockey: James Bowen

This proved the wettest season in recent memory; trainers with good ground horses were still waiting for the ground to dry out at Sandown's final meeting.

Underfoot conditions certainly played to Native River's strengths as Colin Tizzard's charge stayed on up the hill to beat Might Bite in an epic duel for the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup; champion jockey Richard Johnson could barely stop smiling in post-race interviews.

Those who doubted Might Bite's powers of recovery after such a tough race were made to look a tad foolish four weeks later when the gelding collected the Betway Bowl at Aintree with the minimum of fuss.

Irish domination was a feature of this year's Cheltenham Festival and that domination was further emphasized at Aintree with Irish-trained horses filling the first four places in the Grand National.

After coming home first in the cross country race at the Festival, a month later the 2014 Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll just held Pleasant Company a head to claim this year's National; Racing Post readers voted Gordon Elliott's charge their Jumps Horse of the Year on the back of those exploits.

Footpad, Samcro and Presenting Percy looked particularly impressive at Cheltenham; Buveur D'Air claimed the Champion Hurdle and Altior the Champion Chase for Nicky Henderson.

Way back in mid-November Splash Of Ginge sparked wild celebrations among connections when claiming the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham. There weren't too many others joining in - Nigel Twiston-Davies' inmate was sent off at odds of 25/1 and had just enough in reserve to hold Starchitect a neck on the line.

Four weeks later the ill-fated Starchitect appeared to have gained compensation in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup when bursting clear three out but the gelding broke down, allowing the Nicky Richards trained Guitar Pete to claim the spoils.

Bristol De Mai demolished his opponents in Haydock's Betfair Chase, beating Cue Card an eye-watering 57 lengths, but he couldn't reproduce that form at other tracks.

Irish raider Total Recall was sent off favourite for the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (formerly the Hennessy) at Newbury and the money proved well-placed with Willie Mullins' charge holding Whisper a neck; the form of the race didn't really work out thereafter.

Might Bite took the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day but the proximity of Double Shuffle and Tea For Two led several to question the validity of the form. 2016 winner Thistlecrack also caught the eye back in fourth but he subsequently picked up an injury and unfortunately missed the remainder of the season.

The rescheduled Welsh Grand National was a memorable affair with sixteen year old conditional James Bowen guiding thirteen year old Raz De Maree to victory six lengths ahead of Alfie Spinner; the two oldest horses in the race finished first and second.

Bryony Frost proved a breath of fresh air throughout the long winter months; her association with Black Corton has been well documented while her efforts aboard Milansbar in Warwick's Classic Chase were certainly appreciated by handler Neil King. The pair were reunited in the Grand National and finished a creditable fifth.

Over the other side of the Irish Sea Samcro's fall in the Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival effectively ended Gordon Elliott's challenge to become champion Irish trainer; Willie Mullins secured his eleventh consecutive title.

At the same meeting Paul Townend suffered a dramatic 'brain freeze' when steering Al Boum Photo around the final flight with the Growise Novice Chase seemingly at his mercy. The jock returned the next day to ride a treble aboard Pravalaguna, Next Destination and Patricks Park.

On Friday 27 April Ms Katie Walsh won aboard Antey at Punchestown and promptly announced her retirement from the saddle; the following day Ms Nina Carberry won aboard Josies Orders at Punchestown and promptly announced her retirement from the saddle.

Blog selections fared considerably better than last year but, hey, that's really not saying very much at all.

I've noted that the form of the selections picked up markedly from February onwards, kick-started by Full Jack and a rather fortuitous victory in the Edinburgh National at Musselburgh. Worryingly, I can't fathom how that improvement came about.

Blog horse of the year has to go to Smooth Stepper who won the Liz Adam Memorial Chase at Kelso in a manner I could only dream of.

And the new season starts with the news that Sam Twiston-Davies has gone freelance and Harry Cobden is now the new number one at Ditcheat...

Philip Hobbs is on record saying that after such a wet winter he's going to keep a number of his good ground horses on the go over the summer. I wonder how many other trainers will follow suit.

And is there, perhaps, just the hint of an opportunity there?