I was there.
Three words that are a source of satisfaction to sports fans all over the world. There is nothing quite like being amidst the thick of the action, sharing unforgettable moments or days.
Followers of horse racing are no different, especially when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival.
The biggest meeting of them all conjures dizzy highs, crushing lows, and everything in between. Champions are crowned, champions dethroned. Triumph and despair are bedfellows. Next week's four-day extravaganza will be no different.
Cheltenham bills it as "four days of the extraordinary". And they are right. But some days are even more extraordinary than others.
Which have been the ultimate “I Was There” days at The Festival? And how many of them did you attend?
Here are eight suggestions since when Racing TV was founded in 2004.
I Was There? Attendance of 57,760. Runners: 118. Headline Acts: Best Mate & Iris’s Gift
The final three-day Festival concluded with Best Mate becoming the first three-time Gold Cup winner since Arkle in 1966.
He looked in trouble in the home straight as his rivals sought to keep him in a pocket before there was a life-affirming roar when Jim Culloty manoeuvred him back into clear water and moved ahead with a fluent leap two out.
The joyous post-race scenes included an emotional embrace between trainer Henrietta Knight and her husband, Terry Biddlecombe. The superstitious Knight often found sanctuary, preferring not to witness the action unfold. She could say "I Was There" but she just wasn't watching!
Best Mate’s success came just 40 minutes after Iris’s Gift had gained his revenge on Baracouda in an epic Stayers’ Hurdle rematch. The pair had also had a great scrap 12 months earlier, when Baracouda had won.
The popular 13-year-old, Earthmover, trained by Paul Nicholls, landed the Foxhunter six years after his first success in the race, and the day’s feelgood factor was cemented together by Nicholls and Ruby Walsh combining to win the Grand Annual and County Hurdle with St Pirran and Sporazene, who were both well-backed.
Made In Japan overcame 22 rivals in the Triumph Hurdle for Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson, while the Richard Guest-trained Our Armageddon had the distinction of landing the final running of the Cathcart Chase.
Triumph Hurdle: Made In Japan (20/1)
Stayers Hurdle: Iris’s Gift (9/2)
Gold Cup: Best Mate (8/11 fav)
Foxhunter: Earthmover (14/1)
Grand Annual: St Pirran (4/1 fav)
Cathcart Chase: Our Armageddon (9/1)
County Hurdle: Sporazene (7/1 jt-fav)
I Was There? 70,138. Runners: 158. Headline Act: Denman
High winds caused the second day (Wednesday) of The Festival to be abandoned. As a consequence, extra races were added to the remaining days and so Gold Cup Day was a bumper edition, featuring nine races.
This was the most eagerly anticipated Gold Cup of modern times with star stablemates Kauto Star and Denman, both 8 at the time, clashing for the first time. Racing fans were divided as to which of the pair would be the master, but the outcome was not in doubt from some way out, with the relentless Denman galloping his rivals into submission under Sam Thomas. The tables would be turned 12 months later.
The day had begun with the first running of the Mares’ Hurdle, and one of the greatest losing rides there has been at The Festival. Tony McCoy did everything but get off Refinement and carry her over the line, but it was Whiteoak who won by a nose for Donald McCacin and Jason Maguire after touching 499/1 in-running on Betfair.
There were also memorable finishes to the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and Coral Cup. Fiveforthree and Ruby Walsh edged out Venalmer by a neck in the former, with Niad Du Misselot and Dave Russell clinging on by a nose in the latter. Russell later completed a double with the help of Tiger Cry in the Grand Annual.
Another highlight was Walsh and McCoy fighting out the finish of the Triumph Hurdle aboard Celestial Halo and Franchoek. It was a day that just kept on giving.
Mares Hurdle: Whiteoak (20/1)
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle: Fiveforthree (7/1)
Coral Cup: Naiad Du Misselot (7/1)
Triumph Hurdle: Celestial Halo (5/1)
Albert Bartlett: Nenuphar Collonges (9/1)
Gold Cup: Denman (9/4)
Foxhunter: Amicelli (33/1)
Grand Annual: Tiger Cry (15/2)
County Hurdle: Silver Jaro (50/1)
I Was There? 55,734. Runners: 107. Headline Act: Hurricane Fly
Hurricane Fly became only the second horse in history to regain his Champion Hurdle crown, emulating Comedy of Errors in 1975.
There was little doubt the nine-year-old would win back his crown after hitting the front in the straight, travelling strongly, under regular rider Ruby Walsh. He edged a little right on the run-in but Rock On Ruby, who had won 12 months earlier, simply could not get to grips with him.
Walsh and Champagne Fever had won a pulsating Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the start of the day, edging out My Tent Or Yours and Jezki. The latter would win the Champion Hurdle 12 months later.
The hugely talented Simonsig stamped his authority on the Arkle, while Quevega won a fifth successive Mares’ Hurdle, having looked in big bother when hampered four out.Golden Chieftain sprung a surprise under Brendan Powell, then a conditional, in the Ultima, with the popular Big Shu taking the Cross Country.
Supreme Novices: Champagne Fever (5/1)
Arkle: Simonsig (8/15 fav)
Ultima: Golden Chieftain (28/1)
Champion Hurdle: Hurricane Fly (13/8 fav)
Cross country: Big Shu (14/1)
Mares’ Hurdle: Quevega (8/11 fav)
Novices’ Handicap Chase: Rajdhani Express (16/1)
I Was There? 63,251. Runners: 107. Headline Acts: Team Mullins
Day one of the 2015 Festival featured four hotpots trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh: Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Annie Power.
When the first three went in, Cheltenham was bouncing. Bookmakers must have felt like that kid bumping up and down on a raucous bouncy castle, out of control and feeling decidedly queasy but unable to get off.
Douvan was imperious in the Supreme (future Gold Cup winner Sizing John was back in third); Un De Sceaux ran his rivals ragged in the Arkle; and then Faugheen was flawless in the Champion Hurdle.
It left Annie Power as the final leg of accumulators that had escaped the attention of nobody. The prospect of the layers issuing IOUs seemed on the cards as Annie Power powered to the final flight of the Mares’ Hurdle in a clear lead with Walsh sitting motionless. But the it all went wrong. On her first race back for ten months, she clipped the top of the last hurdle and came crashing down.
The collective groan was like nothing you’ve heard before, or since. Mullins still won the race, with Glens Melody, but this was a tale of what might have been. Bookmakers were saved an estimated £50 million payout.
If all that was not enough, trainer Neil Mulholland gained a first Festival success via the well-fancied The Druids Nephew and Cause Of Causes won the Kim Muir - the first of three successive Festival wins for him under Jamie Codd.
Supreme Novices: Douvan (2/1 fav)
Arkle: Un De Sceaux (4/6 fav)
Ultima: The Druids Nephew (8/1)
Champion Hurdle: Faugheen (4/5 fav)
Mares’ Hurdle: Glens Melody (6/1)
NH Chase: Cause Of Causes (8/1)
Novices’ Handicap Chase: Irish Cavalier (11/1)
I Was There? 67,770. Runners: 115. Headline Acts: Annie Power, Douvan, Altior & Vroum Vroum Mag.
A year later, Annie Power and her supporters enjoyed glorious redemption when she scooped the Champion Hurdle.
It was a remarkable transformation in her fortunes, not least because she was not even originally entered. She was supplemented after Faugheen, her stablemate and in the same ownership, had suffered a setback that ruled him out the previous month.
Annie Power again came to the last with a clear lead. This time, she sailed over it to spark delirious scenes. She would end her career, having won 15 of her 17 races, her only other defeat coming when runner-up in the 2014 Stayers’ Hurdle.
Her high-class stablemates, Douvan and Vroum Vroum Mag, also owned by Rich Ricci, ensured it was another memorable day for Mullins and Walsh by winning their respective races, while Altior won a vintage edition of the Supreme. It was the first of four successive Festival wins for him, with Min, Buveur D’Air and Supasundae (all future Grade One Festival winners) among the supporting cast.
Minella Rocco fended off subsequent Gold Cup hero Native River in the National Hunt Chase, while Un Temps Pour Tout struck in the Ultima for David Pipe and Tom Scudamore. He would win it again a year later.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Altior (4/1)
Arkle: Douvan (1/4 fav)
Ultima: Un Temps Pour Tout (11/1)
Champion Hurdle: Annie Power (5/2 fav)
Mares Hurdle: Vroum Vroum Mag (4/6 fav)
National Hunt Chase: Minella Rocco (8/1)
Close Brothers Handicap Chase: Ballyalton (12/1)
I Was There? 57,093. Runners: 116. Headline Act: Sprinter Sacre.
Cheltenham was still catching its breath from 24 hours earlier when along came another stupendous afternoon.
This one was dominated by Sprinter Sacre, whose charge to super stardom had been derailed by heart problems. A shadow of himself when pulled up in the Champion Chase 12 months earlier, this was the day he reaffirmed himself as a champion quite like no other.
Cheltenham rose as one to salute the heavyweight getting off the canvas to deliver another knockout blow, albeit not in the manner of his imperious success in 2013.
Earlier, Yorkhill had exhibited all his swagger in landing the Ballymore, while the other Grade One prizes on the card were scooped in gritty style by Blaklion and Ballyandy, each trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies. Seven years on, both are still in training.
JP McManus had six horses in the frame without having a winner, although it didn't stay that way. Any Currency won the Cross Country but was disqualified five months later. He was found to have traces of triamcinolone acetonide in his urine sample, a prohibited substance on racedays, and so the McManus-owned Josies Orders, ridden by Nina Carberry, was belatedly awarded the spoils.
Ballymore (Neptune): Yorkhill (3/1)
Brown Advisory (RSA): Blaklion (8/1)
Coral Cup: Diamond King (12/1)
Champion Chase: Sprinter Sacre (5/1)
Cross Country: Any Currency (11/1)**
Boodles (Fred Winter): Diego Du Charmil (13/2)
Bumper: Ballyandy (5/1)
** Disqualified five months later.
I Was There? 65,534. Runners: 120. Headline Acts: Thistlecrack & Vautour.
You could make a reasonable case for the 2016 Festival being without equal. Tuesday was great. Wednesday was great. And Thursday was great. Friday wasn’t bad, either, by the way!
Vautour was a stunning winner of the Ryanair Chase (his third successive Festival triumph) after his late switch from the Gold Cup and Thistlecrack was poetry in motion in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Then there was the first running of the Mares’ Novices Hurdle, won in commanding style by Limini. Plenty had the short-priced trio in a treble and the bookies were left wobbling on the ropes, especially as Black Hercules and Cause Of Causes were also well punted.
Jamie Codd brought Cause Of Causes home from well off the pace, while Davy Russell also produced a masterclass on Mall Dini in the Pertemps.
JLT (Turners): Black Hercules (4/1 co-fav)
Pertemps: Mall Dini (14/1)
Ryanair Chase: Vautour (Evens fav)
Stayers’ Hurdle: Thistlecrack (Evens fav)
Brown Advisory Handicap Chase: Empire Of Dirt (16/1)
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle: Limini (8/11 fav)
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir: Cause Of Causes (9/2)
I Was There? 67,821. Runners: 131. Headline Acts: Paisley Park, Frodon and JP McManus-owned winners.
Thursdays have never been quite the same since they stopped screening Top Of The Pops back in 1996, but this one was something of a Greatest Hits package with one smasher after another.
You'll have your own No 1 from the day - probably Paisley Park powering home in the Stayers' Hurdle after typically teasing us with a flat patch, or Bryony Frost and Frodon pulling out all the stops to land the Ryanair Chase. Someone should have bottled her excitement afterwards and sprinkled it everywhere.
Cheltenham was still buzzing when a similarly exultant Lizzie Kelly punched home Siruh Du Lac in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase, and then Noel Fehily won a frantic Mares' Novices' Hurdle on Eglantine Du Seuil before emotionally announcing afterwards that he was going to retire.
The rest of the day belonged to JP McManus, pretty much, as his colours were carried to three victories. Defi Du Seuil outmuscled old rival Lostintranslation before Barry Geraghty gave Sire Du Berlais a ride and a half to somehow snatch the Pertemps.
Finally, the well-backed Any Second Now, trained by Ted Walsh, won the Kim Muir under a cool Derek O'Connor. The icing on the cake was Walsh taking the opportunity to get a few things off his chest live on Racing TV. "If you don't like racing, go and watch Peppa Pig," he said. And nobody at Cheltenham on this day would have disagreed.
JLT (Turners): Defi Du Seuil (3/1 fav)
Pertemps: Sire Du Berlais (4/1 fav)
Ryanair Chase: Frodon (9/2)
Stayers’ Hurdle: Paisley Park (11/8 fav)
Brown Advisory Handicap Chase: Siruh Du Luc (9/2)
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle: Eglantile Du Seuil (50/1)
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir: Any Second Now (6/1)
🐴 STATS AND TRENDS FOR ALL 28 RACES
🐴 A SUPER STATISTIC FOR EVERY RACE
📅 I WAS THERE: EIGHT MEMORABLE FESTIVAL DAYS
✍ DAN OVERALL STUDIES THE 9 HANDICAPS
✍ 11 THINGS WE LEARNT WHEN THE WEIGHTS WERE RELEASED
😲 WINNERS WHO HIT 999-1 IN-RUNNING AND EPIC LOSERS
🐴 BETTING OFFERS AND FREE BETS
✍ CHAMPION HURDLE RUNNER-BY-RUNNER GUIDE
✍ CHAMPION CHASE RUNNER-BY-RUNNER GUIDE
✍ GOLD CUP RUNNER-BY-RUNNER GUIDE
📺 WATCH: GORDON ELLIOTT ON HIS LEADING CONTENDERS
📺 WATCH: WILLIE MULLINS ON HIS LEADING CONTENDERS
📺 WATCH: MARTIN PIPE - RACING GREAT
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