Saturday, May 04, 2024

A brief review of the 2023/24 jumps season

Champion jockey: Harry Cobden

Champion trainer: Willie Mullins

Winning owner: J P McManus

Champion conditional jockey: Patrick Wadge

A week before this year's Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins had plenty of ground to make up to become the first Irish trainer to win the British championship since Vincent O'Brien in 1953/54. 

After nine Festival winners - Gaelic Warrior (Arkle); State Man (Champion Hurdle); Lossiemouth (Mares' Hurdle); Ballyburn (Gallagher Novices' Hurdle); Fact To File (Brown Advisory); Jasmin De Vaux (Champion Bumper); Majborough (Triumph Hurdle); Absurde (County Hurdle) and Galopin Des Champs (Gold Cup) - W P Mullins set his sights on the Grand National. 

7/1 joint favourite I Am Maximus won the Aintree showpiece and a week later Macdermott pipped Surrey Quest a nose in the Scottish National. 

There was almost an air of inevitability about it all at Sandown on the final day when Minella Cocooner went past Annual Invictus after the last to land the bet365 Gold Cup; a total prize money haul of £3,326,135 was £344,716 ahead of nearest challenger Dan Skelton.

Jack Kennedy secured Ireland's jump jockey championship with 123 winners, beating Paul Townend on 121. 

When Ballyburn landed the spoils in the Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle on May 3rd, Willie Mullins became the most successful Irish trainer, having sent out 4,378 winners.

Willie Mullins' annus mirabilis contrasted rather sharply with what Nicky Henderson might reasonably describe as his festum horribilis with several of the yard's runners withdrawn from Cheltenham showpiece races on account of ill health.

Back in the autumn Jetoile sprung a 25/1 surprise in the Old Roan while Blackjack Magic claimed the 62nd running of the Badger Beer Handicap Chase at Wincanton on drying ground.

A week later the going for Cheltenham's November Meeting was soft; we didn't know it at the time but one of the wettest winters in recent memory was to follow. 

Racing from the front Stage Star won the Paddy Power Gold Cup in much the same way he'd won the Turners Novices' Chase in March. 

On the same card plenty thought they'd seen the Triumph Hurdle winner when Burdett Road went clear to win the trial by six and a half lengths. 

The Nicky Henderson trained Sir Gino beat James Owen's charge ten lengths at the end of January, unfortunately missed his intended Festival target but gained compensation at Aintree by winning the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle.

Soft / heavy ground held no fears for Iberico Lord who won the Greatwood and Newbury's Betfair Hurdle; one of the few Henderson runners allowed to take his chance at the Festival, he was pulled up behind State Man in the Champion Hurdle.

Beaten by Gentlemansgame after a mistake at the last in the Charlie Hall, Bravemansgame couldn't live with Royal Pagaille in the Betfair Chase at Haydock; on the same day Shishkin, sporting first-time cheekpieces, refused to start at Ascot in a race won by Pic D'Orhy.

Shishkin and Bravemansgame took on one another in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. 

The former appeared to have the measure of the latter jumping the penultimate flight but Shishkin stumbled a stride or two after the fence and unseated Nico De Boinville. 

Reigning champion Bravemansgame looked to have enough in hand coming to the last but Hewick appeared from a different parish to win going away.

On the same card Il Est Francais looked impregnable in the Kauto Star; next time out he finished 55 lengths last of five at Auteuil. 

In a sad footnote Shishkin was found cast in his box with a fractured hind leg just before he was due to travel over to Ireland to run in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

Datsalrightgino won Newbury's Coral Gold Cup, Jonbon the Tingle Creek and Nassalam the Welsh National. 

At twelve years of age Paisley Park is a credit to all concerned but those connections must still be wondering what they'd done to deserve such a season of near-misses.

Andrew Gemmell's pride and joy was beaten a head by Dashel Drasher in Newbury's Long Distance Hurdle; a short head by Crambo in the Long Walk Hurdle; and a head by Noble Yeats in the Cleeve. Connections announced his retirement after he came home tenth in the Stayers' Hurdle, some 15 lengths behind winner Teahupoo.

My Silver Lining won the Classic Chase at Warwick, Anglers Crag the Eider and Beauport the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter despite jumping right on occasions and charting a wide course on the final circuit. 

It proved a rather chastening season for the blog's selections; the small respite gained during Cheltenham Festival week was desperately required.

Clearly the sport has a number of issues including affordability checks and the prevalence of small fields; the Jockey Club's decision to reduce its contribution to prize money funds following the decline in attendances at this year's Cheltenham Festival must surely have set alarm bells ringing.

Personally, I'm just hoping next season doesn't prove quite as wet as this one.