All you need to know about the Weatherbys Champion Bumper ahead of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.
Watch what our experts had to say about last year's renewal
By Andy Stephens
When and where can I watch the Bumper?: 5.30pm Cheltenham, March 13. Live in stunning HD on Racing TV.
Which Grade? Grade One. What course is the Bumper staged on? Old Course
What distance? 2m 1/2f. How much prize-money: £75,000
Race conditions: It is for four, five and six-year-olds which have not run under any recognised Rules of Racing, except National Hunt Flat races, Irish National Hunt Flat races or French AQPS races. Horses are not to have run in more than four National Hunt Flat races and, before February 27, must have been placed first, second, third or fourth in such a race.
Weights: 4-y-o: 10st 11lb, 5-y-o and 6-y-o: 11st 5lb, fillies and mares allowance 7lb. Maximum 24 runners.
Key Statistics and Trends:
The Mullins Factor:
The first place to start is with Willie Mullins, who has had the winner nine times since it was first run in 1992, plus had plenty of near-misses.
He often runs more than one contender and the market can get it wrong - for instance his past three winners have been returned at 12-1, 16-1, 25-1 and 25-1.
Last year, he had four of the first five home with his shortest-priced runner being fifth.Mullins usually holds the key in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper (PA)
Irish-trained horses have won 18 of the 26 runnings, with Mullins responsible for nine of those.
None of the runners are allowed to have run more than four times beforehand. Half of the past 12 winners have run only once, while another quartet lined up with two races under their belts. So the general rule is that less can equal more.
All 13 past winners had won on their previous start. Seven of them were unbeaten.
The majority of the winners have been five or six. Two four-year-olds, Dato Star in 1995, and Cue Card, in 2010, have broken their dominance.Cue Card showed a glimpse of his brilliance at Cheltenham nine years ago (PA)
In the past 13 years, the only winning favourite has been Moon Racer.
Do not discount them because they have won six of the past 11 runnings. Patrick Mullins, among their number, usually gets the choice of those runners trained by his father Willie.
Not essential. Three of the last 13 winners had run at Cheltenham in the past.
The Weatherbys Champion Bumper was first run in 1992 and was initially known as the Festival Bumper. The Tote and Guinness were early sponsors.
It has been sponsored by Weatherbys since 1997 and since then it has been known by its present title.
The Champion Bumper is the most prestigious flat race, or "bumper", in the jumps calendar and often features horses which go on to become leading performers over jumps, such as Florida Pearl, Cue Card and Champagne Fever.
Occasionally leading jockeys from the Flat ride in the race and the 2002 winner, Pizarro, was ridden by Jamie Spencer.
Recent runnings and replays:
2018 - Relegate
Relegate came from the clouds to deny stablemate Carefully Selected as Willie Mullins once again dominated the race.
It was a ninth win in the event for the champion trainer but a first for Katie Walsh, who delivered the mare right on the line.
Danny Mullins stole a march at the start on Carefully Selected and right until the dying moments it looked as if it would prove crucial, only for Relegate (25-1), making it three wins from as many starts, to fly up the hill.
"She's not over-big and I knew she wanted a bit of room," Walsh said. "Down the back I was struggling, but the further I was going, the better I was going.
"When she hit the rising ground, she took off. She's as hard as nails."
2017 - Fayonagh:
Fayonagh (7-1) looked to have lost all chance at the start, jumping off late and spending most of the race at the back of the field, but came charging through from last to first up the hill to beat Debuchet by a length and a quarter.
Jockey Jamie Codd had won the Cross Country Chase on Cause Of Causes 80 minutes earlier. Like Cause Of Causes, Fayonagh was trained by Gordon Elliott, for whom it was a fifth win of the week.
“We had a false start, then she got a fright and just halted for about two and a half seconds,” Codd said. “I thought I had lost all chance. It’s pure ability that has got me there in the end. She’s a great mare.”
Sadly, Fayonagh was fatally injured in an accident at home at the start of the 2017-18 season.
2016 - Ballyandy:
Nigel Twiston-Davies chalked up a 17th Festival success via Ballyandy (5-1), who took the spoils under his son, Sam by outgunning Battleford by a nose.
“It is lovely when your boys are riding – it is double the excitement,” the trainer said afterwards.
He added: “It was close at the finish, but I was confident during the race. Sam got into a bit of trouble coming down the hill, but said the leading horses were dropping back and knocked him back. Despite that the horse gutsed it out.
“He is better than Imperial Commander was on the Flat, so maybe he will be better over jumps. He will go hurdling next season.
Battleford (25-1) and Bacardys (16-1), both trained by Willie Mullins, chased Ballyandy home.
2015 - Moon Racer:
The well backed Moon Racer (9-2 fav) got the job done by a length and a half, despite fluffing the start.
David Pipe’s gelding, owned by Caroline Tisdall and Bryan Drew, kept on strongly up the hill to score from 33-1 shot Modus.
“It didn’t really go according to plan,” said the trainer. “It wasn’t the idea to come from where he came from.
Tom (Scudamore – jockey) sat where he had to sit – he had to really – and took the brave man’s route down the inside. The gaps appeared and then he quickened well.”
Scudamore admitted: “The tactics were forced upon me because of what happened at the start.”
2014 - Silver Concorde:
Dermot Weld’s patient approach with Silver Concorde paid off as the six-year-old led home a clean sweep for Irish runners.
The 16-1 winner scored by one and a half lengths from favourite Shaneshill, becoming a first Festival success for amateur Robbie McNamara.
Silver Concorde carried the purple colours of Dr Ronan Lambe and was bred for the job - being by top Flat sire Dansili out of a daughter of exceptional miler Ridgewood Pearl.
The winning trainer, who also saddled the strongly-fancied fifth horse Vigil, said of Silver Concorde: “The first time we ran him in a bumper he was third to yesterday's Stan James Champion Hurdle winner (Jezki).
“It’s taken time and he loves dry ground. On dry ground we always believed in this horse.”
2013 - Briar Hill:
Ruby Walsh admitted that Briar Hill’s emphatic last-to-first 25-1 success, at the main expense of Regal Encore, had come as a welcome surprise.
“It’s a bit of a shock as I had a couple of good rides earlier in the day and I wasn’t really counting on this guy,” he said. “It didn’t go to plan because I missed the break and had to change plan but it worked out and when I gave him a smack he took off. He was very impressive.”
It was Willie Mullins’s eighth winner of the race but owner Graham Wylie said: “I’m so surprised because it was only yesterday that I realised he’d be running.
“I knew he was entered but Willie rang yesterday and said he’d put him in the box to come over and that Ruby would be riding, which I thought was interesting. He came from last to first, it was a great effort.”
2012 - Champagne Fever:
A seventh win in the race for Willie Mullins courtesy of 16-1 Champagne Fever, ridden by his son, Patrick, who picked up a two-day whip ban.
“The horse just gallops and has a huge cruising speed,” Mullins said after the grey had beaten John Ferguson's New Year’s Eve. “He seemed to go even better when he hit the rising ground.
“I’m delighted for connections because Susannah Ricci has a lot of horses with me and a winner here is always fantastic but it’s even more special when it’s ridden by your son. He’s a big light-framed horse and I hope he will remain like that all of his life because that type of horse is easier to keep sound.”
Champagne Fever returned a year later to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but missed the 2015 Champion Chase after being bitten by a stablemate on the journey.
2011 - Cheltenian:
Irish-trained horses had won the first six races on the card but Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson prevented a whitewash with 14-1 shot Cheltenian, who scored by five lengths from the Welsh-trained Destroyer Deployed.
“He’s always impressed me and we were delighted when he won at Kempton.
“I certainly think there’s more to come. He’s definitely going to want a trip. He’s a real tough horse. If he ends up here next March I’d say it’s almost certain he would go for either the Neptune [Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, 2m5f] or the Albert Bartlett [Novices’ Hurdle, 3m].”
Winning jockey Richard Johnson said: “He was very strong and galloped right to the line. There are very few form lines coming into a race like this and they can all look like superstars as most of the runners have won or finished second in decent bumpers.”
Unfortunately, Cheltenian was subsequently troubled by injury problems and won only twice over hurdles.
2010 - Cue Card:
Cue Card now needs no introduction but he was on very few radars when lining up at 40-1 for Colin and jockey Joe Tizzard, having previously won on his debut at Fontwell.
Only a four-year-old, he travelled strongly throughout and thumped Al Ferof by eight lengths. “He has always done everything so easily at home and he is such an easy horse to train,” Tizzard Sr said. “Nothing has gone wrong since the day we broke him in and it has been easy - I suppose the good ones are.
“I said in my local paper that I am sure that this horse would have been third or fourth favourite if he was trained by Willie Mullins.”
Joe Tizzard added: "We absolutely love the horse. He is very exciting.”
Cue Card, now 12, is still going strong and has added eight more Grade One triumphs to his CV. He will make his final Cheltenham appearance this year.
2009 - Dunguib:
The well fancied Dunguib, sent off at 9-2, was a breathtaking 10-length under amateur Brian O’Connell. All of the first eight horses home were trained in Ireland.
Dunguib, trained by Philip Fenton, won at the main expense of Some Present with 5-2 favourite Rite Of Passage back in third.
The trainer said: “This horse is not a cool customer. Mainly because he is a box walker and gets excited about small things. We thought he was a beautiful horse the Christmas before last.”
O’Connell said: "To be honest, I would have been disappointed if he had been beaten.”
Dunguib continued to carry all before him but he could finish only third in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle a year later, when 4-5.
2008 - Cousin Vinny:
The Mullins family had long been synonymous with success at Cheltenham and there was a new name on the roll of honour after this renewal as 18-year-old Patrick Mullins partnered Cousin Vinny, trained by his father Willie, to an emphatic success.
“I think I’ve ridden 39 winners but I’d swap them all for this one,” said the successful rider, who was still at school at the time. “I didn’t have a choice about which of Dad’s I would ride, he picked which ones we would all be on but I was happy to be aboard Cousin Vinny.”
Mullins Sr was saddling his sixth winner of the race and also rode one of those horses to victory - Wither Or Which in 1996.
“Patrick is not going to ride for too long because he’s tall and will probably get too heavy,” said the winning trainer. “I thought this might be his only chance ever of getting a win here and I was just hoping that I’d got him on the right one, but we managed it.”
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