Five things we learned from the Cheltenham Festival

Envoi Allen was a stunning winner of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
Envoi Allen was a stunning winner of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.

With the dust now settled following some magnificent action last week at Prestbury Park, It's time to reflect on the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, and Steve Chambers picks out five things we learned from the National Hunt showpiece...

1. Novice winners can create a huge noise next season

Some of the big guns may have flopped on the big stage last week, but there was an emergence of some top notch novice performers, who are destined for the very top during the 2021 National Hunt season. Nicky Henderson's Shishkin drifted like a barge in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle betting and had to defy a troubled path throughout the Cheltenham Festival opener, but the Seven Barrows in-mate showed his class, as well as some guts, as he defeated Abacadabras. Touted as the festival banker, Envoi Allen produced one of the performances of the meeting, as he outclassed his rivals to win the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle. Both Shishkin and Envoi Allen now sit prominently at the head of the betting for the three Grade 1 novice chases at next year's Festival, with the first-named the favourite for the 2021 Arkle, while Envoi Allen heads the betting for the Marsh Novices' Chase and RSA Chase.

2. Goshen the star of the week despite his late tumble

The finest juvenile performance since Our Conor! Well, that's what we were witnessing in the Triumph Hurdle, as Goshen rocketed clear of his rivals in the Friday opener. However, unlike the former superstar four-year-old Our Conor, Goshen suffered heartbreak at the final hurdle, as he got his legs tangled together after crashing through the flight, and it forced Jamie Moore out of the side door. Despite not tasting victory, the Gary Moore-trained four-year-old stole the headlines on Cheltenham Gold Cup day, and it left those in attendance with appetites whetted as to what he can produce over obstacles. Already second favourite behind Epatante in the 2021 Champion Hurdle betting, Goshen has the National Hunt division there to conquer, and if he can come back from that tumble he could well be the next jumping sensation.

3. Easysland can dominate the Cross Country division for years

Tiger Roll lost nothing in defeat as his quest for a Cross Country hat-trick failed, but the Gordon Elliott-trained dual Grand National winner was just beaten by a much better horse on the day. Tiger Roll may have had his injury issues this season, but he performed to an extremely high level in the Cross Country, pulling 18 lengths clear of Out Sam in third. However, he came up against an improving, classy French-trained raider in Easysland, who is set to dominate the division for years to come. Bought by J.P. McManus following his impressive win at Cheltenham in December, Easysland hammered Tiger Roll by 17 lengths, and David Cottin's six-year-old is only going to improve in time. Quevega may have been a Cheltenham Festival certainty for years in the mares' division, but Easysland can be equally as dominant in the Cross Country for the next few seasons.

4. You can't beat experience in the saddle

Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell may be heading into the twilight years of their careers, but both jockeys showed that they are still two of the best National Hunt jockeys around after a sparkling week at the home of National Hunt racing. A.P. McCoy and more recently Ruby Walsh may have hung up their saddles, but Geraghty and Russell, both 40, showed last week that experience counts for a lot. They bagged eight winners between them, with Geraghty (five winners) just being pipped by Paul Townend for the Leading Jockey award following Al Boum Photo's win in the Gold Cup. Geraghty produced one of the rides of the week, too, as his never-say-die attitude on board Champ landed the pair RSA Chase glory, while Russell's abilities to judge the pace before unleashing a late surge were shown with his brilliance on board Chosen Mate in the Grand Annual. The pair may see retirement moving ever closer, but there were no two riders better than them in the saddle last week.

5. Standing starts do work

Groans and general disgruntlement plagued the opening couple of days of the Cheltenham Festival, as false starts somewhat dampened the mood ahead of some of the key races. However, jockeys trying to gain any sort of advantage at the start meant that the starter Robbie Supple was forced to bring all of the field back, and he was correct! The riders know exactly what they are doing, and you can't blame them, but calls for continual jig-jog starts instead of a standing start following the initial false start would lead to chaos. Rugby Union fans have become accustomed to continual reset scrums down the years - thus leading to a lull in the action - but racing has a strict time schedule to stick to (something Royal Ascot can rather take the mickey with), so a standing start is the only option to keep the action moving!

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