Top 5 Controversial Cheltenham Festival Moments

Just days away from the horse racing Olympics and we have our Cheltenham Festival tips taking shape on the site. It’s the meeting that connections all want to get winners at but it has also had more than it’s fair share of controversial moments down the years from horses coming back from injury to win Championship races to those with public ill will against them being booed on their way back into the winners enclosure. We look back at five of the most controversial moments at the Cheltenham Festival.

2010 Champion Hurdle – Binocular

Third the previous year behind stablemate Punjabi, it had been a disappointing campaign to this point with defeat in both the Fighting Fifth and also the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Having won at Sandown at the prohibitive odds of 1/7, he was found to have a muscle problem, with trainer Nicky Henderson declaring that it would keep him out of the Champion Hurdle picture. The surprise was palpable then when not only did he please connections so much in a piece of work 6 days prior to the race that he was suddenly an intended runner again but then went on to win the Champion Hurdle itself. Matched at 999/1 on the exchanges when declared a non runner, punters fingers had been badly burnt. Watch Binocular’s triumph below.

2014 Gold Cup – Lord Windermere

One of the most unlikely winners of a Gold Cup, having almost dropped himself out after a circuit, it was a masterful effort in the saddle from Davy Russell to coax the horse home in front. A short head margin over On His Own was one of the most thrilling finishes in the Blue Riband but also ended up one of the most controversial as the stewards were left to enquire if interference on the run-in had cost On His Own a Gold Cup. The winner carried the runner up to the right, right across the track but Russell with his whip in the ‘correct’ hand was able to sway the judges in his favour. Those decisions go the other way on a regular basis, if this had been an ordinary chase at Hexham or Carlisle, chances are that the winner would have been disqualified. Willie Mullins, the trainer of the runner up left journalists in no doubt of his feelings on the matter, “I don’t see any need for stewards at this rate of going. There is absolutely no need for them.”

1980 Champion Chase & Gold Cup

It isn’t often that a horse loses a race at the Cheltenham Festival but in 1980, Irish winners of both the Champion Chase and Gold Cup were disqualified for failing drug tests. Chinrullah had absolutely spread eagled the Champion Chase field by 25 lengths but both he and Tied Cottage (the Gold Cup winner) were to lose their races at a later date. Traces of theobromine were found in samples, a substance subsequently taken off the disqualified list but not soon enough to save the tragic tale of Tied Cottage. He was a bold front runner who had crashed out at the final fence in the 1979 Gold Cup so it was to great emotion that he won in 1980 at the age of 12. His owner Anthony Robinson had usually ridden him but diagnosed with terminal cancer, it was Tommy Carberry who took the mount. Within months both his owner and trainer Dan Moore had passed away, a desperate footnote to a horse who could so easily have been a dual Gold Cup winner. You can watch his emotional 1980 win below.

1998 Coral Cup – Top Cees

It isn’t often that a Cheltenham Festival winner will come down the long, famous horse walk in front of the stands to a chorus of boos, but there was an unhappy feeling from the racing public long before the Lynda Ramsden trained gelding won the Coral Cup. Almost three years earlier, Derek Thompson of Channel 4 had claimed that Kieran Fallon had admitted to stopping the horse in a Newmarket handicap just a few weeks before connections landed a gamble in the Chester Cup. A lawsuit against the Sporting Life saw the Ramsdens awarded £200,000 in compensation just a month before the Coral Cup triumph. The ill feeling from people within the industry stood and what should have been a special Festival triumph was sullied. There had been Chinese whispers in racing whenever a Ramsden horse would win, especially if there had been market support and a victory on the biggest jumping stage proved porly received.

2016 Ryanair Chase – Vautour

A full scale Twitter meltdown ensued when Vautour was declared to run in the Ryanair rather than the following days Gold Cup which had been mentioned as the target for the majority of the season by owner Rich Ricci. Vautour would either run in the Gold Cup or stay at home, Ricci is alleged to have said at a preview evening but he was said to not be working as well at home as connections would have hoped in the lead up to his biggest race of the year. It was on the Tuesday morning that news broke that Thursday would be the target rather than the Friday while on Channel 4’s Morning Line programme to the sound of ante post slips being ripped up countrywide. Anyone who saw the display in the Ryanair could have been forgiven for wondering what he had been working with on the gallops to be considered to be going poorly as he gave a decent field an absolute walloping as punters were left wondering what might have been.

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