The was a sense of foreboding around Cheltenham ahead of the opening race on day three of the Festival, those present waiting on news as to whether there would by a day four, writes Darren Norris
The was a sense of foreboding around Cheltenham ahead of the opening race on day three of the Festival, those present waiting on news as to whether there would by a day four and, if so, would the public be allowed in to see the week’s centrepiece, the Gold Cup.
After Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that schools, colleges, and childcare facilities in Ireland will close until March 29 because of the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus we waited on the next British move. And waited. And waited some more.
By the time Prime Minister Boris Johnson emerged to face the cameras, six of the seven races had been run. Would the day’s last be the week’s last, we wondered. It wasn’t. The show will go on but there’s now an unmistakable queasiness about the place ahead of what’s traditionally the busiest day of the week.
On the track, it was another superb day at the office for Gordon Elliott, the highlight of a 549-1 hat-trick coming in the first when Samcro, once thought to be the next coming, got his career back on track when just getting the better of the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Melon and Faugheen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase.
“Samcro was in the doldrums for a while and had lost his way, so it means a lot to get him back to win another Grade One at Cheltenham,” the Meath man said of the 4-1 shot, who was ridden to victory by Youghal jockey Davy Russell.
“He's had his issues, but he was right today and it was job done. It was a great feeling for him to win. Just to have him back is brilliant.”
As for the remarkable 12-year-old Faugheen, he’s unlikely to be seen at Cheltenham again but Irish racing fans may get to see him one more time.
“I don’t know (what happens next), it is a good question,” his owner Rich Ricci said. “We’ve got the Punchestown back in Ireland and I think the Irish would like to see him once more time, so if he is fit and well and ready to rock we will probably call it a day then.”
Elliott’s second win in front of a crowd of 65,218 came in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle when last year’s winner Sire Du Berlais, ridden by the week’s leading jockey Barry Geraghty, retained his crown at the expense of stablemate The Storyteller at odds of 10-1.
Victory number three came in the finale, the Kim Muir, when Milan Native obliged at 9-1 bringing Elliott’s tally for the week to six. For good measure, he’s also saddled six seconds, three thirds, and three fourths, a remarkable return on this the most competitive week of the whole year and undoubtedly a positive for Delta Work’s Gold Cup prospects.
It was a good day too for Willie Mullins as Min, ridden by Midleton jockey Paul Townend, made it fourth time lucky at Cheltenham when winning the Ryanair Chase.
“Min has been a bit unlucky at Cheltenham so he deserved it,” Townend said. “He's an incredible horse and it's brilliant that he got his day.”
Mullins later completed a double when Concertista, ridden by Wexford jockey Daryl Jacob, won the Daylesford Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
There was a shock in the big race of the day, the Paddy Power Stayer’s Hurdle as 4-6 favourite Paisley Park, regarded as one of the bankers of the week, failed to sparkle in a race won by 50-1 outsider Lisnagar Oscar, bred by Denis Fitzgerald from Cork.
There was also a Cork connection to the winner of the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase as Simply The Betts was steered to victory by Gavin Sheehan, who hails from Dunmanway.