As the curtain came down on another sensational season of National Hunt Racing at Sandown on Saturday, we take a look back on some of the biggest moments, the best horses and of course pay tribute to Eventmasters Horse Racing Ambassador, Richard Johnson, who claimed his first jump jockey title.
Thistlecrack shine brightest in a season packed with superstars
Coming into the season we all knew there would be some top-class horses in action, but few could have predicted the season that Colin Tizzard and Thistlecrack would have. The three-mile hurdling division was in desperate need of a hero and it certainly got one.
The eight-year-old enjoyed a fine end to his novice season in 2014/15 winning at Aintree’s Grand National Meeting before finishing second at the Punchestown Festival.
His campaign in 2015/16 started with an impressive six-length success in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, before smashing Reve De Sivola by eight-lengths in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.
Despite winning these races in impressive fashion, few still questioned his Cheltenham Festival credentials. But those questions were answered in emphatic fashion in the Cleeve Hurdle on Cheltenham Festival Trials Day, as Thistlecrack completely destroyed his rivals with an effortless 12-length victory.
Come the big day, Thistlecrack was sent off as the even-money favourite for the World Hurdle and there was no doubt he was the star of the show. Travelling powerfully throughout the race he made rapid progress two from home and devastating turn of foot to fly up the famous hill.
Sent off as the 2-7 favourite, he finished his jumps season with another Grade One victory in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree.
— PA Racing (@PAracing) 23 April 2016
Next season the Cheltenham Gold Cup looks to be the aim and if he can translate his hurdles form to fences, few would back against him.
Richard Johnson finally claims Champion Jump Jockey crown
After the retirement of AP McCoy, the race for the jump jockey title looked to be wide open heading into 2015/16.
The likes of Sam Twiston-Davies, Noel Fehily and Aidan Coleman all looked to be worthy contenders. However they were all playing for second as Richard “Dickie” Johnson rode an incredible 235 winners.
“He’s a proper man doing a proper job.”
— PA Racing (@PAracing) 24 April 2016
After finishing runner-up an incredible 16-times to McCoy, Johnson was in no mood to be second best yet again and produced some stunning performances. During the season he went past 3,000 career winners and his haul of 235 winners (at a strike-rate of 23%) was his best ever season.
Unfortunately for Johnson there was no Cheltenham Festival winner in 2016, but a superb victory aboard old-favourite Menorah on the final day of the season would have been just as satisfying. There were also big race wins on Native River (Grade One Mildmay Chase), Village Vic (Caspian Caviar Gold Cup) and Smad Place (BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase).
There is no-one more deserving of a champion jockey title that “Dickie” and everyone at Eventmasters hopes he can repeat his success in 2016/17.
Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card show that the old guard still have what it takes to beat the best
2015/16 will also be remembered as the year when the old guard bounced back to their best at the major National Hunt Festivals and Meetings.
One of the most memorable and emotional moments of the Cheltenham Festival was seeing ten-year-old Sprinter Sacre return to his imperious best. This former Champion Chase hero had been written off after a difficult season in 2014/15, but after victories at Cheltenham and Kempton there was a feeling he may be back to something near his best.
He thundered up the Cheltenham Hill to win his second Champion Chase, bringing the house down in the process, with three-and-a-half lengths separated him from red-hot favourite Un De Sceaux. But his most impressive win came at Sandown on Saturday as he confirmed his vast superiority over Un De Sceaux, slamming his rival by 15-lengths.
— PA Racing (@PAracing) 25 April 2016
Sprinter Sacre is back, and jumps racing is all the better for it.
Cue Card was a horse that nobody was mentioning at the start of the season after a string of injuries and problems, this former Cheltenham Festival winner looked to be finished.
Colin Tizzard’s ten-year-old won three of the biggest prizes of the season claiming the Charlie Hall Chase (Grade Two) The Betfair Chase (Grade One) and the King George VI Chase (Grade One) making him a Cheltenham Gold Cup contender.
A fall three out, meant that Cue Card was unable to emulate Kauto Star and win the Chase Triple Crown, but he bounced back in some style at Aintree winning The Betfred Bowl. What a season for this National Hunt favourite.
Can he finish it off with a victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup?
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