Finian’s Rainbow made Nicky Henderson’s afternoon perfectly complete following a sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase in which it was almost impossible to encapsulate the drama.
A ghastly fall from Wishfull Thinking at the final fence on the first circuit required the jump to be bypassed as jockey Richard Johnson and a photographer caught up in the melee were attended to by doctors.
While a flag was waved by an official to warn the jockeys, Barry Geraghty and Finian’s Rainbow (4-1) had to continue their battle with last year’s winner Sizing Europe (Andrew Lynch) while swerving around the obstacle, and it was only in the final 50 yards Henderson’s runner passed the 4-5 favourite to win by a length and a quarter.
It was both remarkable and relieving there were no serious injuries when Wishfull Thinking crashed through the fence and into rails on the other side, scattering cameramen and consequently spectators.
Johnson was stood down for the rest of the day with soft-tissue damage to his thigh but hopes to return on Thursday, while photographer Jean-Charles Briens was taken to hospital for stitches in a badly-cut lip.
Sizing Europe was in front rather sooner than Lynch might have preferred and the two-mile championship quickly developed into a straight match between the two market leaders.
Geraghty settled just off Sizing Europe throughout but began to edge closer at the penultimate fence, and the pair were involved in a barging match to avoid the last with Geraghty having to take the long way round before producing one final finishing burst.
The win, one of four on the day for the combination, saw Henderson become the most successful ever trainer at the Cheltenham Festival, four clear of Fulke Walwyn.
He will also have a dilemma next season when he will have not only the king but the heir apparent, Tuesday’s devastatingly impressive Arkle winner Sprinter Sacre.
“He has beaten the reigning champion and he really was back on song today,” said Henderson.
“It was a pity they didn’t jump the last fence but it was a tremendous race between two very good two-mile chasers.
“This is very special but it doesn’t happen without an enormous amount of work. I only drive the ship, there’s a huge team at home including Corky Browne, who’s been through all the Cheltenham winners.”
Geraghty said: “He has really turned the corner since he was beaten at Ascot but that’s what Nicky Henderson does so well.
“He knows exactly how to get them right for the day that matters.
“The leader stretched me a little bit coming down the hill but I was able to get breathers into him before the final turn.
“Being forced round the last fence made no difference – it was a cracking race between two top-class horses.”
Henderson, winning his second Champion Chase, went on:
“After Ascot we thought he might want a bit further but when he’s really good like now he’s a proper two-miler. I’ll have a problem next year keeping him and Sprinter Sacre apart and I don’t know how we’ll solve it.
“But I had horses like Grandouet and Spirit Son that didn’t make Cheltenham so it’s great just to get the two of them here.”
Spirit Son, like Finian’s Rainbow, is also owned by Michael Buckley.
He said: “It’s true to say I wouldn’t have any jumpers if it wasn’t for Nicky. We’ve been together as owner and trainer and friends since the early 1980s.
“He has scooted past the all-time record and I’m proud and pleased to be part of the day.”
Lynch was given a six-day ban (March 28-April 2) for using the whip in the wrong place while Sizing Europe’s trainer Henry de Bromhead tried to remain sporting.
“We were eventually beaten fair and square, but things didn’t fall as you would like them through the race,” he said.
“Andrew tried to hug the rail all the way like last year and it would have helped if the fence had been there to jump.
“We haven’t really discussed it but he just said ’the last cost me the race’.
“I’m obviously disappointed not to win, but it didn’t happen today and he ran a blinder, he always does.”
Kauto Stone’s fall at the first was quickly overshadowed, while 2010 winner Big Zeb kept on for third but some 15 lengths behind.
Many wanted an explanation over the dolling off of the last fence but head of stewarding William Nunneley said: “Richard Linley, the inspector of courses, was down there.
“I know there was some confusion about where the chevrons were and the reason they were on the inside was to protect Richard Johnson on the other side of the fence.
“The procedures are agreed with the racing department. You can’t have a man with the flag on the track as you are putting him in danger.
“I’m sure like anything there are lessons to be learnt from this if needs be, but of paramount safety in a very short space of time was Richard Johnson and the medics treating him.”