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The coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate, which is resulting in endless sporting events being cancelled around the world. This includes, but isn't restricted to, the 2020 running of the Grand National, which means Tiger Roll will not have to opportunity to bid for a third consecutive National victory. The cancellations of sporting events, which are worth millions of dollars to the gambling industry each year, means punters are looking to play these instead, as the number of sportsbook betting markets continues to deteriorate as the COVID-19 crisis heightens.
The Cheltenham Festival did go ahead, but this resulted in divided opinion from people inside and out of the sporting industry. Despite this, it was again a very successful and popular week, with a number of eye-catching performances. Here we cover five to note.
Honeysuckle extended her winning record to nine, that saw her beat the Willie Mullins-trained Benie Des Dieux in the Mares Hurdle on the opening day of the Festival. The latter had gone into the Festival as the banker for many, looking to extend the remarkable run of Mullins successes in the race, and win the Mares Hurdle for the second time in her career. It was a slowly run race and played into the hands of the Henry De Bromhead-trained mare, who got first run. She took up the running turning in, and battled on well to hold off the late challenge of Benie Des Dieux by half a length. She is now unbeaten throughout her career and is one to follow until beaten, remaining one of the most exciting horses in training.
It turned out to be a remarkable Festival for owner J.P. McManus, with one of his recent purchases going on to victory. This was the French-trained Easysland in the Cross Country Chase. He went into the race, having won his previous six races in succession and an impressive seven-length victory at the track back in December. Sent off as the general second favourite behind two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll, he travelled well throughout and took up the running from the 20th flight, before staying on very strongly to win by 17 lengths to Tiger Roll, with a further 18 lengths back to Out Sam. The horse was awarded an RPR of 171 for the performance and the six-year-old is going to take the world of beating moving forward.
Another exciting prospect to take away from the Festival is the Willie Mullins trained five-year-old, Ferny Hollow. He was beaten twice at odds-on, before landing a bumper at Fairyhouse on the bridle. This was a very eye-catching performance and meant he was sent to contest the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, alongside stablemate and short-priced favourite Appreciate It. Ferny Hollow was held up in rear but travelled ominously well throughout the contest. He then made headway, before leading from a furlong out, despite not getting a clear run from three furlongs out. Driven out to the lead, he stayed on well to win by just over two lengths from Appreciate It in what was a very impressive performance - the horse could be a real star in the future.
A horse that must make the list but unfortunately did not win the race was the Gary Moore-trained Goshen. He was sent off as the favourite for the Triumph Hurdle and was all but set to win the race before unseating his rider at the last, when over ten lengths clear of the rest of the field. Willie Mullins then went onto win the race through Burning Victory. This was very unfortunate but connections can take positives that they have one of the most exciting young horses in training on their hands. Goshen is now likely to head for the Champion Hurdle next season, and could just be another future star of national hunt racing.
The final horse that must be included, is the Willie Mullins-trained Al Boum Photo, who landed the Gold Cup for the second year in succession. His trainer has now said that he will be pointed towards a third consecutive title, which would be some feat if he is able to pull it off. The horse also became the first since Best Mate in 2004 to win back to back Cheltenham Gold cups, and will now look to join the likes of Cottage Rake and Golden Miller in winning it for a third time - the latter, of course, went on to win the race for five years in succession between 1932 and 1936. Al Boum Photo travelled well throughout the race and was driven to lead at the last, before staying on well from the fast-finishing Santini. He is now clearly the horse to beat moving forward in the division, with great anticipation for the next time the same horses face off.
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