FOR THE third year in a row The Giant Bolster from David Bridgwater’s relatively small yard near Stow ran right up to his best form to be placed in the Betfred Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival on Friday.
On this occasion the nine-year-old gelding got as close as he ever has to pulling off a sensational result, beaten less than a length in third behind Lord Windermere and On His Own as six horses jumped the last fence together in one of the most exciting and controversial finishes to the big race in years.
Having been fourth and second in his two previous tries, The Giant Bolster battled on bravely up the hill under Tom Scudamore, who had his best ever Cheltenham week with three victories.
It was a moral triumph for Bridgwater, who keeps delivering the horse in the peak of condition on the day it matters – but always seems to hit the woodwork.
Bridgwater was happy even in defeat, saying: "That was brilliant. It wasn't the smoothest race and he had traffic problems, but I'm delighted.
“I think you will look at that race and with a bit of luck say we could have won. I hope people realise he's a good horse now."
Owner Simon Hunt added: "David Bridgwater's Gold Cup record is brilliant, and this horse has won three times on Trials Day. David has turned himself inside out for this horse – he’s a dream horse who we bought as a three-year-old. David deserves more horses."
Scudamore echoed those sentiments, saying: "What a wonderful horse to be placed in three Gold Cups. I hope he and David Bridgwater get the credit they deserve."
The Giant Bolster this time gave best to another Gold Cup specialist in Jim Culloty.
As jockey of the inestimable Best Mate, Culloty won the race three years running and he joined an elite group of only three others (Jonjo O’Neill, Fred Winter and Pat Taaffe) to win the race as both jockey and trainer when his stable star just held off fellow Irish raider On His Own up the final hill.
Remarkably, Culloty’s Festival winner 24 hours earlier, Spring Heeled, was the first success his stable had enjoyed since August.
The stewards did make Culloty wait several minutes before confirming the result after Lord Windermere had edged right and caused interference to the short head runner-up, but for which jockey David Casey is convinced he would have won.
For the first time this season a Guinness sponsored-Prestbury Trophy was forged to celebrate the battle between British and Irish trainers at the meeting and it went to the home side 15-12.
But the Irish had the upper hand on the final day with six of the seven winners, four of them in the colours of the Gigginstown House Stud, owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary.
The final afternoon was not just a triumph for O’Leary but also for veteran Irish jockey Davy Russell who rode a 3,926-1 treble.
In December, O’Leary sacked Russell as Gigginstown’s No.1 rider. But his young successor in that job, Bryan Cooper, broke his leg on the opening day, so it was Russell who was back in the famous maroon colours for the Gordon Elliott-trained Tiger Roll’s win in the JCB Triumph and aboard Savello for trainer Tony Martin in the meeting closer, the Johnnie Henderson Grand Annual Chase.
Two other top jockeys, Ruby Walsh and Daryl Jacob, suffered serious injuries on the final phase of the showpiece meeting.
Walsh crashed from Abbysial in the Triumph, resulting in a compound fracture of his right arm, while Jacob faces even longer on the sidelines having broken his leg, elbow and knee in a bizarre fall from Port Melon on the way to the start of the third race when he jumped over the rails and landed on some concrete.
At least Jacob was able to get a winner on board earlier in the day when Lac Fontana – also the one and only scorer at the four-day fixture for Paul Nicholls – won the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle, in which Alan King’s Montbazon finished an honourable third. Four horses died at the meeting including Barbury Castle-based Raya Star from the Alan King yard.
Cheltenham now undergoes a major makeover because in less than 10 days’ time the site will be handed over to the contractors Kier for the build of a new £45-million grandstand, set to be open the year after next.