Sussex favourite Goshen is out to banish Cheltenham Festival demons
Goshen endured heartache at the Cheltenham Festival in March when unseating his jockey Jamie Moore at the final flight in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
The four-year-old held a 10-length lead at the time and was showing no signs of tiring in the G1 contest, staged over two miles and a furlong on the New Course at Cheltenham.
But this Saturday, December 12, day two of The International, the French-bred son of 2007 Derby victor Authorized is set to return to exactly the same course and distance, being one of 10 entries for the £112,000 G2 Unibet International Hurdle.
Prior to his mishap in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, Goshen had won all three of his starts over hurdles with wide-margin victories at Fontwell, Sandown Park and Ascot. Since The Festival™ Goshen has made two appearances on the Flat, most recently finishing third in a mile and a half handicap at Goodwood on 11 October.
Goshen heads the market for Saturday’s contest at 3/1 with race sponsor Unibet.
Speaking in a call arranged by Great British Racing, West Sussex-based trainer Gary Moore said: “We are really looking forward to Saturday. Goshen has been really good in the last few weeks. He schooled last week and jumped well. He then had a school this morning and was very quick and accurate. I could not be happier with him.
“People were quite rude about him before Cheltenham and I knew I would have him right for Cheltenham. I did, except for what happened at the last. He was spot on at his hurdles on that day until the last - that wasn’t a bad jump, it was just a freak of nature.
“We will walk the grass at home to see if it is good enough to work on and he would then do his last piece of work tomorrow morning. He will then be scoped afterwards and if he is clean and good, all being well we will head to Cheltenham.
“I felt the Wincanton race [G2 Unibet Elite Hurdle on 7 November] was going to come too soon after the Goodwood race in which he had a harder race than I would have liked him to have done. It took more out of him than I expected. After that, he just wasn’t himself. For Newcastle and the Fighting Fifth, we gave him a bit of work and his scope wasn’t perfect. His work wasn’t A1 and his scope wasn’t A1, so he didn’t go.
“It has been very frustrating for me, the team and the owner [Steve Packham]. I wanted to run the horse, but I want to run a horse who is 110 per cent right for these top-class races.
“I have never trained a horse as good as Goshen before, but he is very inexperienced over hurdles. He has only had four runs and, if you are running in top-class races, you need to be pretty damn fit. He does need experience, but there are two or three options we can take after Saturday all being well.
“He had quite a long layoff from March and I probably minded him too much as he seriously blew up at Haydock. Then at Goodwood, I thought he ran an absolute blinder. He was running off 88 there and started winning off of 64 on the Flat so it was a big jump up. I thought he was coming back to the winner at the end of the race. That was good, he finished with a full tank of petrol. I was very positive, but I do feel he had a hard race. It was hard for him to go as hard as he did up the hill at Goodwood. Hector [Crouch, jockey] thought he had to make it a strong test of stamina and I think he set it up for the others to be honest. He just used him up too much going up the hill.
“Goshen did amazingly well. I can’t remember his weight, but he put on a few good kilos. I will have to check what it is before he goes to Cheltenham. All being well, I am desperate to go to Cheltenham if I can get there. The only way I wouldn’t go now is if he is not healthy or if the ground had the word firm in it. That racecourse has its own little microclimate. We might be soft or heavy down here and they can have good, good to firm ground. I hope they had the rain we had this week, because it had been pretty dry before that.
“Goshen has only had four runs over hurdles. It is nothing when you are taking on top-class horses. Goshen has changed a lot and has grown up a hell of a lot. His demeanour is completely different to what it used to be. He used to be very buzzy and very keen. You had to make the running before, now you can settle him in and ride a race on him – hopefully, that will improve him a bit.
“I think Goshen is better than Sire De Grugy because he has more speed. Sire De Grugy could never run in a race like the Champion Hurdle like Goshen hopefully can. Sire De Grugy was obviously a better chaser than he was a hurdler. I think Goshen also looks like a horse who will make a chaser and he should jump a fence no problem at all. Sire De Grugy was a proper chasing type.
“If Goshen is good enough to win or run in a Champion Hurdle, I would be in no rush to run him over fences. If he can hold his own in top-class races over hurdles, why would I need to go chasing?
“I am quite old now and I have never seen a horse do what he did in the Triumph Hurdle in all the time I’ve been in racing. It was just a freak thing. We have messed about with his shoes to ensure there is nothing hanging out of the back of them so he cannot do it again. I can’t believe he would do that again, I really can’t. I just put it out of my mind completely.
"We have just made sure there is no overhang at the back of the shoe. The back foot got caught on the front foot in the Triumph Hurdle - the only other person who said they had seen something like that was Dan Skelton. I have never seen it happen before and we have made sure his shoes are rasped down so there was nothing he could get hooked on - it won’t happen again.
“It [Triumph Hurdle] has been spoken about so much it bores me. It was just a freak accident and these things do happen in life. I just completely put it out of my mind and I wouldn’t even think about it twice.
“It is a tough year for them [juvenile hurdlers going into all-age races]. I always think it is their hardest year to progress from their three/four-year-old career going into the next season. I don’t know why but there are a lot of horses that don’t come back to their best that season and then the season after that they return to form.
“He never had a hard race last season - every race was just a canter round – and even in the Triumph Hurdle, he didn’t come off the bridle. The first time he had a whack was at Goodwood, he had never had a stick put on him. He might not find anything, but you would hope he would find something.
“I have big respect for Epatante. She could not have been more impressive in the Fighting Fifth. The speed at which she jumps her hurdles, you wouldn’t want to be going down to the last half a length down on her - you would want to have the race won by then hopefully.
“If Goshen runs on Saturday, you can expect a very big run from him. I am not sure what else is going to be in the race, but I would be disappointed if he isn’t the one they have to beat if he runs. I just hope his work is good tomorrow.
“Saturday will tell us everything. If he can’t win at Cheltenham on Saturday, then God knows what we will do with him. I want Saturday to be the easiest race possible. Whatever he takes on, it is only what he can beat. I would hate for him to have a hard race, it just depends what he takes on, but I would prefer him to have an easier race than a hard race to be honest with you given it is his first run back."
Goshen will be reunited with his regular pilot Jamie Moore on Saturday. The jockey injured his back and sternum following a fall at Fontwell in August and was out of action until returning on a winner, Nassalam, trained by his father Gary, at the same course on November 15.
Moore continued: “You can’t believe how much it meant to see Jamie return from injury with a winner. I didn’t even know if he would come back from that injury, I know a lot of people wouldn’t have done.
“Luckily, he rode a nice horse when winning that day. He has got his confidence back and now got his eye back in which was worrying me before he had to ride Goshen in a big race. You have to be riding every day when you have a ride in big races like on Saturday, as you need to have your eye in and be involved in the game.
“It was the second time Jamie had broken his back and it was in four places. I am not sure I would want to come back from that after a fall. They are a different breed now. AP McCoy has changed things around in terms of injuries. Jamie had his first fall since on Friday, but he was fine afterwards so that is all good.
“I am confident that Jamie is back to being as good as he ever was. He has a lot of confidence in Goshen and is 100 per cent fit - that doesn’t worry me at all."
The nine other entries for the Unibet International Hurdle also include last year’s winner Call Me Lord (Nicky Henderson), who was last seen when runner-up to Song For Someone (Tom Symonds) in the G2 Ascot Hurdle on 21 November. Call Me Lord’s trainer Nicky Henderson is the most successful handler in the history of the Unibet International Hurdle with six victories. The master of Seven Barrows has also entered star mare Verdana Blue, who enjoyed her finest hour when landing the 2018 G1 Unibet Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park.
Also engaged are Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies), who put up a fine performance under top-weight when second in the G3 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at The November Meeting, and Sceau Royal (Alan King), winner of the G2 Unibet Elite Hurdle at Wincanton before chasing home the 2020 Unibet Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante in the G1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on 28 November. Silver Streak (Evan Williams) was third in the 2019 G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle and will be hoping for better luck than when carried out last time in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
Further strengthening the contest are Summerville Boy (Tom George), winner of the 2018 G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival™ and Ch'tibello (Dan Skelton), who was third behind Call Me Lord 12 months ago. Completing the entries is Stormy Ireland (Paul Nicholls), a dual G3 winner over hurdles for former trainer Willie Mullins. The six-year-old mare could revert to the smaller obstacles after two seconds in novices’ chases this season.
Since it was first run in 1963, seven winners of the Unibet International Hurdle have also won the Unibet Champion Hurdle. Only three however completed the double in the same season - Salmon Spray (1965/66), Comedy Of Errors (1974/75) and Rooster Booster (2002/03).
Unibet International Hurdle, Unibet odds:
4/1 Sceau Royal
5/1 Ballyandy, Silver Streak
6/1 Song For Someone
10/1 Call Me Lord, Summerville Boy
12/1 Verdana Blue
16/1 Stormy Ireland
Ed Nicholson, Head of Unibet Racing sponsorship and communications, said: “The Unibet International is a race Unibet ambassador Nicky Henderson has farmed over the last few years. He has won the last three renewals with Call Me Lord (2019), Brain Power (2018) and My Tent Or Yours (2017), and he has entered both Verdana Blue (12/1) and Call Me Lord (10/1) for this Saturday’s contest.
“But it is Gary Moore’s Goshen who heads our market at 3/1, just ahead of dual Unibet Elite Hurdle winner Sceau Royal at 4/1 in a race that has an open feel to it.”