Cheltenham would not be Cheltenham without despair as well as triumph, and no image this week summed up the ability of one to turn abruptly to the other as the sight of Jamie Moore, head in hands, on the landing side of the final hurdle here on Friday at the end of the Triumph Hurdle.
Moore approached the obstacle on Goshen, trained by his father Gary, with a lead of at least a dozen lengths and the Grade One race seemingly his. Goshen was trading at 1-25 in-running on Betfair as Moore asked him to pick up at the last, but Goshen did not get the message, hit the hurdle and then stumbled across, giving his rider no chance of staying in the saddle.
His departure brought a howl of anguish from the stands, and left Burning Victory, from Willie Mullins’s stable, to come home in front of Aspire Tower for a very fortunate win. Mullins, whose son Patrick rides for him regularly as well as being his assistant, has never seemed as uncomfortable in the winner’s enclosure as he did here.
“I just feel sorry for Gary and Jamie,” he said. “We got the rub of the green there, lucky for us and unlucky for Gary and Jamie and connections. I know Gary and Jamie very well, a father-and-son team, [this was] their one shot at a winner at the Festival and it was all done, the work was done and the horse just didn’t respond to the question that Jamie asked at the last. We’ve been here with Ruby [Walsh, after last-flight falls] so I know what it feels like.”
Moore was too upset to speak as he returned to the weighing room, but Steve Packham, Goshen’s owner, who was having his first runner at the Festival, was sanguine about the turn of events.
“It’s one of those things, it’s jump racing, unfortunately,” Packham said. “He’s not the first horse to fall or unseat at the final jump at Cheltenham and he won’t be the last. Jamie is obviously distraught.
“It’s a massive thing for me just to have a runner at Cheltenham, because I’ve been coming here for 30 years. I’ve lived and dreamed every scenario over the past month, from falling at the first to falling at the last and winning, so it hasn’t completely surprised me.”
The only consolation for Goshen’s connections is that they clearly have a hugely talented hurdler who acts around Cheltenham, and Goshen is quoted at around 10-1 to return to the Festival and win the Champion Hurdle in 12 months.
There was a dramatic finish too in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle, as Mullins’s Monkfish got the better of a four-way tussle up the hill to edge out Latest Exhibition by a neck and a nose, with Thyme Hill, the favourite, another length and a quarter away in fourth having been short of room in the closing stages.
“Monkfish looks a real chaser,” Mullins said. “I thought Paul [Townend] gave him a fantastic ride to extract him out behind the two horses. I thought we were settled for third when they passed him after jumping the last but Paul really drove him up the hill.
“Monkfish is maturing all the time and Paul said that he felt there is still more to come, he said you could feel the power coming when he got after him. He is a huge, big horse, but if he has to come back and win a Stayers’ Hurdle, we won’t complain either.”
Mullins’s four-timer in the first four races on the card, which also included the victory of Saint Roi in the County Hurdle, was enough to secure him the prize for the meeting’s top trainer, while he finishes the meeting with a lifetime total of 72 winners. His run came to an end in the Foxhunters’ Chase, however, where Billaway, the 11-4 favourite with Paddy Mullins holding the reins, could finish only second behind the shock 66-1 winner, It Came To Pass.
It Came To Pass represents another partnership of the generations, as he is trained in County Cork by Eugene O’Sullivan and was ridden to victory by his daughter, Maxine. It was also the trainer’s second win in the race, 29 years after landing it with Lovely Citizen, with his brother William in the saddle.
“I’ve been trying to win this race for 29 years,” O’Sullivan said. “I won it when I was very young and I’m a lot older now. I just hope I don’t have to wait another 29 years to win it again.”