Racing

Horseracing: Jumps Review of 2017

Gary Carson

Willie Mullins found his perennial spot at the top of the trainer's table under severe threat for the first time in a decade in 2017 but had the extra quality at his disposal to regain his title once more at the death.

Gordon Elliott regularly dismissed any chance of a maiden title win throughout last season but found himself heading into the Punchestown festival as an odds on shot to claim the prize.

The backing of Gigginstown looked to be a major factor as a changing of the guard appeared on the horizon ahead of the season ending festival.

As in most recent years though the Kildare meeting has proved a happy hunting ground for Mullins and another terrific week wrestled back the lead from the young challenger.

It was a particularly satisfying conclusion for Mullins who had seen stars of the calibre of Annie Power and Douvan fall by the wayside.

The brilliant mare headed to the paddocks after failing to shine in her work before Punchestown while the seemingly indomitable Douvan suffered injury in a below par effort in the Champion Chase.

Faugheen was another superstar ruled out of action in the run-up to the Irish Champion Hurdle but luckily race-fans got to see him back in action in the new campaign.

Cheltenham defines most National Hunt seasons and the domestic dominance of Mullins and Elliottt spilled over into the festival with six winners apiece for the pair.

Elliott blasted out of the blocks on the opening day, recording a terrific treble on the Tuesday of the meeting.

The talented but recalcitrant Labaik sprang a shock in the Supreme Novices while Apple's Jade showed tremendous heart to claim the mares hurdle. Tiger Roll completed the haul under Lisa O'Neill in the four-miler.

Winners continued to flow for Elliott on the second session with the victory of Cause Of Causes in the cross-country and the stunning success of Fayonagh in the bumper.

Unfortunately the mare, who appeared to have the world at her feet, was lost after suffering an injury on the gallops in October.

Things weren't going well for Mullins over the opening two days but the Closutton handler is never down for long and he bounced back in some style on the Thursday with a fabulous four-timer.

Yorkhill got the ball rolling in the JLT before Ruby Walsh also booted home Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase.

Nichols Canyon, so often undervalued despite his Grade One haul, gained his day in the sun when claiming the Stayers Hurdle.

Tragically he was another star lost to injury at the back end of the year when taking a fatal fall

at Leopardstown's Christmas festival.

Let's Dance completed the haul in the mares' novice hurdle, making it two wins from two runnings of the race for Mullins.

Arctic Fire, in the County, and Penhill, in the Albert Bartlett, struck for Mullins on the Friday while Elliott matched his rival when Champagne Classic claimed the Martin Pipe Hurdle later on the card.

The last day is all about the Gold Cup, however, and this year produced a classic renewal won by an exceptional talent in Sizing John.

Jessica Harrington's charge had spent the early part of his chase career chasing the tail of Douvan but really started to shine in his own right when stepped up in trip.

He announced himself when taking the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February but still some doubted he would have the stamina for the big one at Prestbury Park.

The famous hill proved no barrier for the Midnight Legend gelding, however, as he powered home under Robbie Power.

It had long been the dream of his owners Alan and Ann Potts to win a Gold Cup and happily both lived to see their ambitions fulfilled.

Sadly Ann passed away in August after a long illness and her husband also died in November following a heart-attack.

Their legacy lives on with an expensively acquired team of jumpers continuing to carry their colours under a limited company.

Sizing John is undoubtedly the flag-bearer and ended his season when edging out old rival Djakadam and former champ Coneygree in one of the races of the season in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

He returned in style to take the John Durkan Chase in the Autumn but a slight cloud hangs over him after a disappointing effort at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting.

Similarly Harrington's other standout performer of 2017 has something to prove in the New Year.

Our Duke produced one of the best handicap performances of recent years when running away with the Irish Grand National last Easter propelling him to a lofty official rating just a pound below his illustrious stable-mate.

His much anticipated return in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal proved a major disappointment and resulted in back surgery.

Harrington will be hoping both her charges can get back on track next year and it looks set to be a season of comeback stories.

Faugheen has already started out on his road to Cheltenham and fans will be hoping he can set up a mouth-watering clash with last year's champion Buveur D'air.

The strength of Irish jumps racing was again evident with another record haul of 19 winners at Cheltenham last year and there look sure to be plenty of tricolours flying when national hunt's 'olympics' rolls around again next March.

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