CELEBRATIONS were muted for racegoers at Cheltenham Festival on Friday, as incidents and accidents left jockeys and horses injured and a stewards’ enquiry left the Gold Cup result under a shadow.
As last year, the event was a sell-out, but things did not start well for celebrated jockey and leading Festival rider Ruby Walsh, who crashed out of the day’s racing after a fall from Abbyssial in the JCB Triumph Hurdle and was immediately taken to Gloucester Hospital, where he was treated for a compound fracture to his right arm.
The second race finally brought the only victory of the week for Olveston-born trainer Paul Nicholls, with Daryl Jacob riding the winner, Lac Fontana.
The five-year-old had gone up 12lb for winning at Cheltenham in January, but that could not stop him producing a winning run along the stands’ rail that carried him to victory by half a length from Arctic Fire.
However, celebrations were shortlived for Jacob, who was due to ride another Nicholls horse, Port Melon, in the next race, the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. The inexperienced Port Melon –who many readers may have seen in action at the Berkeley Point-to-Point - refused to follow the sand track to the starting line and instead shied into the grandstand railings, demolishing them and the hoardings and catapulting Jacob from the saddle, much to the horror of the crowd. Racing was held up while Jacob was treated by medical staff behind a screen before being taken away in the ambulance. Jacob suffered a broken knee, leg and elbow.
A shocked Paul Nicholls said: “The incident looked horrific.
“Thank goodness he rode that winner on Lac Fontana, otherwise he would have been suicidal. He’s ridden a winner and is generally in good spirits despite having a terrible injury like that.”
When the Albert Bartlett eventually got under way, favourite Briar Hill also crashed out of the race and it was 33-1 outsider Very Wood who went on to win The feature race of the day, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, featured another Nicholls horse, Silviniaco Conti, in what was expected to be a two-horse battle with the favourite Bobs Worth .
However, ultimately it proved to be Lord Windermere, On His Own and The Giant Bolster in a race to the finish and a stewards’ enquiry into a possible interference by Lord Windermere. Places, however, remained unchanged, and those present will no doubt reflect on what was, perhaps, the most peculiar Gold Cup Friday of all time, with very few successfully predicting the winner.
Nicholls said of fourth-placed Silviniaco Conti: “He ran a blinder. He jumped the last in front and could do no more.”
The single win in the first race ended an abysmal week for Nicholls, who retired Big Buck’s on Thursday after the 11-year-old finished unplaced in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
The trainer said: “Things are all good. I could see after three or four hurdles that all was not well - he was a bit short and choppy which can happen when they’ve had leg trouble. I knew it was game over fairly early on.
“He’s been a legend. We’re going to carry on cantering away on him for now and then give him a summer off. Who knows, I might hunt him in future.”
Oiseau de Nuit was unable to repeat his 2011 success in the Grand Annual Chase for Dursley-based owner Terry Warner as the 12-year-old fell two out, with Gold Cup winning jockey Davy Russell picking up his third win of the day on Savello.
It was a disappointing week for Warner with Grand Vision finishing 20th in the Pertemps Network Final on Thursday and Calculated Risk also finishing down the field in the Coral Cup.