As the pandemic was starting to grip the world 12 months ago, the Cheltenham Festival hit the headlines, and the debates raged as to whether it should have gone ahead.
A year on, the Festival was held behind closed doors. But while the stands remain silent one thing you cannot take away is the magic the Festival brings to the horse racing world.
Horse racing was still reeling from the fallout from the Gordon Elliott saga, so it needed a good festival to be delivered.
Crowds or no crowds, there were some fabulous highlights from a great four days at Prestbury Park.
De Bromhead on fire
Irish trainer Henry De Bromhead’s week got off to a flyer on Tuesday, when Honeysuckle stormed up the hill to take the Champion Hurdle.
24 hours later, in the Queen Mother Chase, another mare, Put the Kettle On, followed her success in the Arkle 12 months previously to take the big race on day two and upset pre-race favourite Chacun Pour Soi.
However, it was the end of the week that De Bromhead will remember, as he claimed the blue riband of steeplechasing: the Gold Cup. Minella Indo was a gallant second in the RSA Chase in 2020, but this time around he made it into the winners enclosure.
It was a bittersweet moment for Jockey Jack Kennedy, who had suffered extremely bad luck when coming down on Festival hotpot Envoi Allen on Thursday. This time around, he gave Minella Indo a terrific ride to see off the challenge from Rachael Blackmore and A Plus Tard with the two time Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo trailing back in third.
This girl can
One of the stars of the week is undoubtably Jockey Rachael Blackmore. A winner on Tuesday in the Champion Hurdle, her week kept getting better.
She took the Ballymore Novices Hurdle with Bob Olinger and produced one of the performances of the week partnering Allaho to Ryanair Chase success.
Earlier on the Friday, she recorded her sixth win of the Festival on Quilixios in the Triumph Hurdle. It is incredible to think that by the Thursday, Blackmore had more winners than all of the British runners had at this meeting.
She finished the Festival as the top jockey and it is testament to her drive and talent. A total superstar.
Shishkin and Monkfish: stars of the future
The Arkle Novices Chase has always been a strong indicator for future Festival success, especially in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
And the race this year, may have thrown up a potential future winner in the form of Shishkin; the way the horse showed the turn of foot when coming home was breathtaking, and surely will be tasting victory in next year’s race.
Willie Mullins also has a star on his hands in the form of Monkfish who took home the Brown Advisory Novices Chase. Although he made winning hard work, he will surely be a top three mile chaser at some point soon, and one could only assume that he would be one of the favourites for next year’s Gold Cup.
The Tiger roars again
In the week that Tiger Woods was released from hospital in America, on the other side of the Atlantic there was another Tiger back to their devastating best.
Tiger Roll had been doubted before coming into the Cross Country Chase. A year ago, the French raider Easysland walked all over Tiger Roll. This time around the roles were reversed with the Tiger showing why he is a legend of National Hunt racing.
It is a shame that we won’t see him apply his trade over the big obstacles at Aintree in the Grand National. However, five festival wins and two Grand Nationals make him the steeplechaser of a lifetime.
No crowds but they will be back
Sadly the Cheltenham Festival 2021 will be remembered for the lack of crowds , but there were some incredibly memorable performances, and you only imagine what the scenes would have been like when Honeysuckle and Tiger Roll passed the line in first.
The crowds were sorely missed in 2021, but it means it will be even sweeter when the stands are alive again, especially when the horses line up for the 2022 Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Nonetheless, the 2021 Festival has definitely given the country and the horse racing industry a much needed boost during these difficult times.
Feature image credit- Carine06