All you need to know about the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham Racecourse on Wednesday March 15.
When and where can I watch the race?: 2.30pm on Wednesday March 15, live on Racing TV.
Which Grade? Grade Three. What course? Old Course. What distance? 2m 5f (10 hurdles).
What ages? For 4yo+. Weights and allowances: Handicap
On course for glory
Commander Of Fleet became the tenth of the past 13 winners to have previously run at Cheltenham when successful last year. And, like eight of those, he had finished in the first four - in his case when splitting Minella Indo and Allaho in the 2019 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
On the up:
Second-season hurdlers do well with no fewer than 18 winners this century having had nine runs or fewer over hurdles. William Henry is a recent exception, with 10 runs over hurdles before victory in 2019. And if they are rated 147 or lower, that is also an advantage. The message is clear: avoid exposed contenders or improvers who have already shown their hand a bit too much and been punished by the handicapper.
Bad race for market leaders:
Only two favourites have won this century - the gambled-on Xenephon in 2003 and Dame De Compagne in 2020. Four of the five past winners have been at least 20/1, with Commander Of Fleet obliging at 50/1 12 months ago.
Five of the past six winners have been seven-year-olds. This isn't a race for older legs. Since 1997, only two horses older than eight have won.
The past four winners have all worn some form of headgear. And the past two have both been ridden by conditional jockeys.
Fifteen of the past 17 winners had not run within at least 32 days of the Festival.
Henderson's fab four
Nicky Henderson has won the race a record four times since 2010. His winners have been Spirit River (2010), Whisper (2014), William Henry (2019) and Dame De Compagnie (2020).
No repeat winners
No horse has ever won the race more than once.
The Coral Cup, run over two miles and five furlongs, was introduced in 1993 and is one of the season’s most competitive handicaps.
The first-ever winner, Olympian, picked up a £50,000 bonus having won the Imperial Cup at Sandown Park the previous weekend.
The bonus was put up by Sunderlands - then sponsor of the Imperial Cup - to any horse that won the Sandown race and went on to success in any Festival contest. The incentive has been continued by other sponsors and Matchbook have since increased the bonus to £100,000.
The 2008 winner Naiad Du Misselot was the first Festival winner to succeed by a nose, only a recently introduced new distance at the time. No horse has won the race more than once.
2022 - Commander Of Fleet
Commander Of Fleet got up on the line in a thrilling, head-bobbing finish under a well-judged ride from 5lb claimer Shane Fitzgerald. The Gordon Elliott-trained winner, sent off at 50-1, was one of the few guaranteed to enjoy the testing ground and big field, having won a 23-runner handicap at Navan in early December.
The Jessica Harrington-trained Ashdale Bob set sensible fractions in front for the conditions and was still going well in front turning for home, jumping the last three lengths clear of his 22 rivals. However, the stamina-sapping ground proved his undoing. Jack Foley’s mount tired soon after, as Fastorslow and Commander Of Fleet bore down on the seven-year-old, who faded quickly, eventually finishing third, a further five and a half lengths behind the front two.
Elliott was gaining his first win of the week and said: "It might not have been one we were expecting but that is the game we are in, they are mostly running well. I often get to Thursday with no winner so we weren't panicking.
"I'd say the ground made the difference to this lad, and he was handy throughout. A lot of my others just couldn't handle the ground. The winner is obviously a good horse on his day. I don't know much about the jockey, but he's had a few winners for us and seems a nice fella."
2021 - Heaven Help Us
Heaven Help Us was not for catching out in front and powered clear by nine lengths to triumph at 33-1 in one of the stories of the week for trainer and breeder Paul Hennessy and 7lb claimer Richie Condon.
The mare is only one of three horses in training for renowned greyhound trainer Hennessy and the result was in little doubt after the last, finishing well clear of Craighneiche (17/2) in second with Tea Clipper (33/1) two and a quarter lengths back in third. Sayo (28/1) and Janika (33/1) were a neck and short head further back in fourth and fifth.
"She’s just amazing - I can’t describe her," said Hennessy. "We bred her, she was born at home and I’ve raised her. The places she’s brought us are just ridiculous. It’s amazing. There she goes, she’s my Enable. It’s off the planet to win here. I must be dreaming. Thanks be to God - I can’t believe what’s happening. We needed a miracle, and, Heaven Help Us, we got one."#
The trainer and Conden receioved a guard of honour in the paddock after Festival glory. "It's unbelievable," said the jockey. "For the Irish jockeys to give me a guard of honour on the way in was really special. We are like a family back in Ireland and all great sportsmen.
"It’s my first experience over here and I’m absolutely delighted. You dream about these kind of things and for it to happen in such an early stage in my career it hasn’t sunk it in yet. That’s it now, one ride, one winner. I can go home to Ireland a happy boy. I’m disappointed the pubs aren’t open but back home in Ireland we are dairy farmers and there probably won’t be a cow milked for a week."
2020 - Dame De Compagnie
Dame De Compagnie (5-1F) ran out a ready and well-backed winner to add further gloss to a brilliant week for trainer Nicky Henderson, jockey Barry Geraghty and owner J P McManus.
The mare travelled very sweetly behind the front cohort of runners off a fairly relaxed pace for such a big-field Festival contest, and looked to be going best turning in. She was made to fight after the final flight, but asserted again near the finish to deny Black Tears (12-1) by two and a quarter lengths with Thosedaysaregone the same distance back in third. Another Irish runner, Cracking Smart, finished fourth.
"There wasn't that head-long Coral dash you normally get with a lot of horses flat to the boards," said Henderson. "She is a lovely mare this and she is tough. It is always a very competitive race, but she was very good."
McManus said: "She looked good. I thought they maybe weren't going fast enough for her, but Barry always looked to be in a good position. Barry is very much the man of the moment!"
2019 - William Henry
Seven Barrows maestro Nicky Henderson became the joint winning-most trainer in the race’s history alongside Martin Pipe with a third victory following William Henry’s last-gasp 28/1 success.
Held up in the early stages of the contest by Nico de Boinville, the son of King’s Theatre still had plenty to do after the final flight. However, he thundered up the punishing Cheltenham hill to deny fan favourite, the late Wicklow Brave with a short-head success.
He finished the season with a creditable fourth stepped up to three miles in the Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree in April.
2018: Bleu Berry
Not a bad spare for Mark Walsh, one of Ireland’s top jockeys who tasted Festival success for the first time by delivering the seven-year-old with a well-timed challenge to beat Topofthegame by a neck at 20-1.
Jockey Paul Townend switched to Max Dynamite after injury to Ruby Walsh in the preceding race and the late substitute was at his cool best on Bleu Berry, settled right at the back off a good gallop and brought into contention as the field bunched up turning down the hill.
“You don’t want to ride a winner like that but I’m just delighted to be called up by Willie,” said the winning rider. “We got the splits, he winged the last and everything went to plan.”
2017 – Supasundae
Supasundae, representing Jessica Harrington and the Potts family, had run respectably in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the previous two Festivals, without ever really threatening but he made it third-time lucky by edging into the lead on the home turn and staying on strongly under Robbie Power to see off Taquin Du Seuil by two comfortable lengths.
It was to be a momentous week for this owner-trainer-jockey combination, who combined to win the Gold Cup with Sizing John on the final day.
2016 – Diamond King
The handicapper had had his say after Diamond King trounced five rivals at Punchestown on his previous start and a 13lb higher mark in this hotly-contested handicap demanded plenty more from the Gordon Elliott-trained eight-year-old, but he had clearly been laid out for this and he had all the right answers on the day.
Held up by Davy Russell, who was riding his third winner of the race, he was still on the bridle two-out and, once the button was pushed, Diamond King motored up the inside to clear away after the last and win decisively.
2015 – Aux Ptit Soins
It’s almost unheard of for a horse making their debut on British soil to land one of the most competitive handicaps in the calendar, but that’s exactly what Aux Ptits Soins did in 2015.
Although he had won both hurdles starts in France, the John Hales-owned five-year-old was returning from a 181-day absence and having just his fourth career start, so this was a tall order even allowing for the fact that he was potentially nicely treated on his French form.
On that basis, this goes down as one of the great training performances from Paul Nicholls and his team at Ditcheat, who produced the horse superbly on the day, but connections seemed to have a good idea they had something special on their hands, as the trainer said afterwards: "Aux Ptits Soins did two brilliant bits of work and Nick Scholfield said he was the best horse he has ever sat on but it's different doing it in a race. Homework doesn't really tell you anything."
2014 – Whisper
Whisper became the highest-ever rated winner of this event when prevailing by a short-head off a mark of a BHA mark of 153, although he was aided by the 5lb claim of rider Nico De Boinville, which ultimately proved the difference between defeat and victory given the winning margin over Get Me Out Of Here.
The young jockey would have taken great pride from the fact that it was the great Tony McCoy whom he got the better of in a ding-dong tussle to the line.
Whisper was improving at a rate of knots at that time, so much so that he went on to beat At Fishers Cross in the Grade One Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree the following month and has latterly become a fine chaser.
2013 – Medinas
What Medinas lacked in size he more than made up for in heart and he forged past his better-fancied stablemate Meister Eckhart up the hill to post a career-best performance and cause a 33-1 boil over under Wayne Hutchinson.
He had won the Welsh Champion Hurdle on his previous start and Alan King, who was winning the Coral Cup for the first time, had thought that a subsequent 8lb rise meant Medinas would likely struggle against better-handicapped rivals, saying “I fancied the second more, I thought Medinas was handicapped out of it”.
He was a tough horse on a roll, and he went on to win at Graded level in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle.
A bonus: drama in the 2000 renewal
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