Top Five Jumps Moments of the Year: Champ brings the drama

2020 National Hunt Memories: Champ was a gutsy winner of the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
2020 National Hunt Memories: Champ was a gutsy winner of the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Steve Chambers picks out his Top 5 National Hunt moments of 2020, which include some memorable Cheltenham Festival races alongside some other infamous memories of a topsy-turvy year...

It's been a tough year for so many, with the Coronavirus pandemic sending shockwaves across the world, and the racing industry has had to deal with its own issues during a year many would wish to forget. In the aftermath of the Cheltenham Festival, racing was banished to the sidelines, as Lockdown ensured no equine action would take place for a few months. So, picking out five memorable National Hunt moments from 2020 would prove to be a bit trickier than previous years, but the list has been whittled down to a sparkling quintet which should bring back some memorable events from the last 12 months.

1. Champ Storms Home Late To Claim RSA Glory

Barry Geraghty's final season as a professional National Hunt jockey saw the legendary Irish raider go out with a bang, as he racked a magnificent five-timer at the Cheltenham Festival, with Epatante breezing to Champion Hurdle glory and Saint Roi handing the 41-year-old his final ever winner in the County Hurdle. However, his most memorable winner came in the RSA Chase, as he piloted Champ to a sensational victory in the Grade 1 novice chase, with the Nicky Henderson-trained raider storming up the Prestbury Park hill to nail Minella Indo and Allaho in the shadow of the post.

Turning into the straight it appeared that the Irish duo of Minella Indo and Allaho would fight out the finish, as the pair jumped the last fence about eight lengths clear of the JP McManus-owned Champ. But, it was all change in the final furlong, as Geraghty managed to get a real tune out of his gelding, and as the leading duo began to tire, Champ found a final surge from the depths to propel past them in the shadow of the post to hand Geraghty one of his most memorable Cheltenham Festival winners.

Relive that spectacular, spine-tingling moment here as Barry Geraghty lifts home a gutsy Champ to claim RSA Chase success on day two of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

2. Faugheen Rolls Back The Years With Fantastic Flogas Win

Having dominated the hurdling sphere between 2013 and 2017, there were a few raised eyebrows when Willie Mullins sent Faugheen over fences in the 2019/20 campaign. Heading into the twilight of his career, the 12-year-old had already amassed a flurry of top prizes, including the 2015 Champion Hurdle, but Mullins felt the Closutton legend had more to offer, and it would be over fences that the horse dubbed 'The Machine' would be next seen. 

Wins at Limerick and Punchestown at the end of 2019 showed Faugheen still had a real love of the game despite having had his previous couple of seasons ravaged by injuries and disappointments. But, it was his victory in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown's Dublin Racing Festival in early February, 2020 that would see Faugheen reign supreme once again on the big stage.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

Heading into the Grade 1 event as an unbeaten novice chaser, Faugheen would face his biggest test to date over the larger obstacles, as he took on some exciting rivals including Battleoverdoyen and stablemate Easy Game. Sent off the joint 13/8 favourite, Faugheen produced one of his finest displays on a racecourse, as he showed sensational guts in the closing stages to fend off Easy Game in a pulsating finish, which had the stands at Leopardstown rocking. Unable to end the season on high when finishing third behind Samcro in the Marsh Novices' Chase at the Chelteham Festival, Faugheen lost his unbeaten record over fences, but his memorable Flogas win will live long in Leopardstown folklore and fresh in the minds for those racegoers that saw the old stager deliver the goods yet again.

3. Virtual Grand National Makes Millions For NHS Charities

The jewel in the crown of National Hunt racing in the UK is the Grand National, but the Coronavirus pandemic forced racing to stop during April, so Aintree was unable to host the Merseyside showpiece, and it ultimately stopped Tiger Roll from trying to win a third consecutive crown in the marathon event. However, with the racing calendar blank, the Virtual Grand National was mooted as an alternative on National day, and what started out as a bit of gimmicky piece of fun turned into a really successful event.

With racing and bookmakers teaming up and announcing that all the profits would go to NHS Charities, the Virtual Grand National would go on to prove a real highlight during a bleak time for sports fans. Not taking the event too seriously, punters placed a few bets on the race knowing that well deserved causes would benefit in the long term, and come race time it had many tuning in to see who would be victorious.

For top jockey Charlie Deutsch it would prove to be a comical watch, as having pulled well clear of the field on board the Venetia Williams-trained Aso, the pair fell at the penultimate fence, sending a virtual Deutsch crashing into the Aintree turf. With the race thrown wide open it was the Christian Williams-trained Potters Corner that would go on to be victorious, but the real winner was the NHS Charities, who had £2.9m raised from the event, which was terrific news on a bleak time for the country.

4. Dharma Rain Wins Dramatic Fontwell Race After Finishing Seventh

A busy Sunday afternoon of racing on November 15, 2020 was dominated by the final day of Cheltenham's Open Meeting, with the Shloer Chase and Greatwood Hurdle taking centre stage. But, the news coverage the following day was spearheaded by a minor class 5 mares' handicap hurdle at Fontwell Park. In dramatic scenes, seven jockeys wrongly thought officials on the track were trying to make them bypass an obstacle, instead they were planning to try and guide the field around Bluebell Jenny, who had been pulled up and had sadly suffered an injury.

As the seven jockeys at the front bypassed the hurdle, Jack Tudor on the Clare Hobson-trained Dharma Rain rightly jumped the obstacle, and went on to be awarded the race despite finishing way out the back in seventh position. The confused jockeys continued to ride the race as normal, with the Harry Reed-ridden Just Henny passing the post first from Havacuppa, but that pair along with the rest of the field bar Dharma Rain were rightly disqualified.

In the aftermath of the chaos, the jockeys in the wrong avoided any suspension, with the authorities giving them the benefit of the doubt with the chequered flag mix-up, but it was the connections of Dharma Rain that benefited and thanks to the intuition of young jockey Tudor, it was to be a surprise victory for the horse that was way behind at the finish.

5. Burning Handed Triumph Victory As Goshen Falls When Clear

There's no doubting the most dramatic moment on a racecourse in 2020 came in the JCB Triumph Hurdle on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival. The highly touted Goshen had unleashed a blistering turn of foot to pull clear of his rivals in the four-year-old showpiece, but with the race at his mercy the Gary Moore-trained speedster crashed through the final flight and sent his jockey Jamie Moore crashing out the side door. Producing the finest juvenile performance at the festival since Our Conor a few years ago, Goshen was showing why the Moore team held him in such high regard, but ecstasy turned to heartbreak at the final hurdle, as dreams of glory were left shattered on the turf of the Gloucestershire venue.

The benefactor would be Burning Victory, who capitalised on Goshen's fall and the Willie Mullins-trained filly outbattled Aspire Tower and Allmankind in a bloodless finish to claim glory, but it will be a race that will be solely remembered for the final flight unseating of Moore on board Goshen, who showed that he could be the next potential superstar of the National Hunt game.

Goshen is all set for a crack at the 2021 Champion Hurdle, where he will look to down Epatante in the Tuesday Championship highlight, but so far the classy youngster will be best remembered for his Triumph tumble.

Cheltenham Festival Races

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