02
May

National Hunt Season 16/17: Our Five Most Memorable Moments

Jumps jockeys are a hardy lot.

Their 'season' goes all year long, with barely one day's break between finishing on Sandown's Gold Cup day, and starting all over again the day after. Such a long season inevitably creates dozens and dozens of incredible moments - even if this time we were to enjoy our sport without regular sightings of superstars Vautour, Faugheen, Annie Power, Douvan and Don Cossack.

Still, it was another remarkable season of National Hunt racing and here are our five most memorable moments.

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National Hunt Season 16/17
The Most Memorable Moments


Might Bite stops at the concessions stand before winning RSA

Even for Cheltenham - a course famous for heart stopping drama - this dash for the line was one of the most remarkable finishes in the sport's history.

The famous hill has broken many a superstar, and you just never see a horse able to regain speed after faltering - yet that's exactly what Might Bite did.

Nearly at a standstill on the run in, Nico de Boinville was losing his battle keep the quirky son of Scorpion to his task.

He'd hinted at having dramatic tendencies when falling at the last in the Kauto Star Novices Chase at Kempton while miles clear, when we were on at 8/1.

It seemed to be the loose horse that did the trick, causing Might Bite to regain focus just in time to regather himself and reel in the brave Whisper on the line.

No more than half an hour earlier Willoughby Court - tipped here at 16/1 - had held off Neon Wolf in a race that on an ordinary day would have been hoarding the superlatives for itself.

Instead, it had been quickly & thoroughly trumped by scenes racing fans will never forget.

Such is the unrelenting drama of the Cheltenham Festival!


Many Clouds & Thistlecrack's Costwold Chase Duel

No sport calls on such range or depth of emotions as Jumps Racing, and the 2017 Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham had the lot.

Many Clouds was a popular Grand National and previous Cotswold Chase winner - owned by the likable Trevor Hemmings.

Yet the story leading in to the race was the story dominating the National Hunt season.

Was Thistlecrack going to win the Gold Cup?

He'd already earned his stripes outside of Novice company, when beating Cue Card in the King George at Kempton, and this seemed like an easy opportunity to gain valuable chase course experience before the big one.

Many Clouds led them turning for home and jumped every fence like a stag. Thistlecrack was making mistakes - reminding us he was still a novice - but he still cruised up and looked the winner jumping the last ... and then again on the run in ... but Many Clouds was refusing to be beaten. Leighton Aspell surged home and got up by a head, tipped by our team at 8/1.

Even without the tragic events that followed, this race would have lived long in the memory, but with the passing of Many Clouds it has been cemented in to the folklore of the sport. Thistlecrack also wore the wounds of battle - unable to run again that season.

From euphoric highs to shattering news of a fallen hero in a matter of moments - no afternoon greater defined the sport. As Tom Kerr wrote, 'we came to celebrate one champion, and left with tears for another'.

Many Clouds swamped the vote and was named National Hunt Racehorse of the Year by the Racing Post, the second time he'd won the award.


Labaik; Laytown languishing to Festival flourishing

If quirky types are your thing then the 16/17 National Hunt season had plenty to keep you entertained.

In October he stood still in a Laytown Maiden.

In September he won a charity race at Leopardstown under Sheikh Fahad Al Thani.

In November there was a glimmer. A Grade 3 at Navan was decent form, but his tilt at the Champion Hurdle seemed far fetched after refusing to race all three occasions since.

At the tapes in March he was a 25/1 chance, half a furlong later he was 8/1.

Melon had been the Mullins hype machine all winter and Ruby must have thought the race was his turning for home - but the distinctive grey and orange flashed by in emphatic fashion.

Labaik did eventually frank the form with a 2l fourth in the Irish Champion Hurdle, but suffered a serious injury which threatens to bring his remarkable racing career to an abrupt halt.


One for Scotland

Gold Cups and Grand Nationals are regular highlights of the National Hunt calendar, and Sizing John is unlucky to miss out here.

The Irish Gold Cup especially was a fantastic race at a meeting full to the brim with breathless finishes.

Robbie Power swept the boards at all three Spring Festivals, much like our Horse Racing Tipster did at Punchestown, but for me the 2017 Grand National was the more memorable.

Actually, it was the 20 minutes following the great race, rather than the race itself.

It was so easy to be completely won over by the warm, genuine nature of the connections of northern raider, One For Arthur.

Lucinda Russell, and especially the 'Two Golf Widows', were a joy to behold - and represented much of the every day appeal of National Hunt racing. It was the human, affordable, likable side of the game - and it was a genuine pleasure to share their success on racing's biggest day in the calendar.


Tea for Two winning the Aintree Bowl under Lizzie Kelly

Often the Aintree Festival can feel like the consolation race, the second division of the opening handicap on the card and, Grand National aside, rarely has much of an impact on these sorts of lists.

However, Lizzie Kelly's story stands out and sneaks in to our top five.

The first lady to win a Grade One chase, Lizzie Kelly added another on the same horse - this time outside of Novice company.

The pair parted ways after just two fences in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, so to see off Cue Card by a neck after a well judged ride was an especially heart warming moment....even for Cue Card backers!

What was your favourite moment of the year? Join the conversation.

LW