Cheltenham king Nicholls does it again with glorious four-timer

Paul Nicholls once again dominated proceedings at Cheltenham with a glorious four-timer.

And history was made when Unioniste became the first four-year-old to win the feature Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup.

Then, just over half an hour later, his stablemate Zarkandar claimed top honours against last year’s winner Grandouet and reigning champion hurdler Rock On Ruby in the International Hurdle.

Far West and Shooters Wood also got on the scoresheet for the champion trainer who has no desire to give up his title.

His 18-year-old nephew Harry Derham was on Unioniste, who came home by 11 lengths from Walkon.

Nicholls, who had five winners on the day courtesy of Rocky Creek’s strike at Doncaster, said: “I thought he had to run here off a mark of 137 as he wouldn’t get another chance and he’s not like a normal four-year-old, he’s a real professional and he knows how to jump.

“I’m so pleased for Harry, he has had to be patient but we’ve preserved his claim for big races like this.”

Zarkandar was in receipt of 4lb from Grandouet and Rock On Ruby and ended up beating the pair by a respective two and six lengths in a fascinating tactical battle for the valuable Grade Two event.

Nicholls said of Ruby Walsh’s mount: “I don’t think he was himself last year, especially after he fell at Aintree

“He’s the right age and I think he’s still improving. He’ll probably go for the Kingwell in February, but I haven’t made up my mind.”

Nicholls’s great rival in the title race, Nicky Henderson, had to wait until the last race on the card to celebrate thanks to Oscar Whisky’s win in the Osborne House Relkeel Hurdle for the second year.

“Oscar always gets us out of the mire,” said Henderson.

“When you see him win like that, you can’t possibly believe he won’t stay three miles. But if the entries for Cheltenham (Festival) were tomorrow, God knows what you’d put him in.”

Far West cemented his position as the best juvenile seen so far when strolling clear in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial while Shooters Wood just prevailed in the Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Chase.

Coneygree, a half-brother to the late Lord Oaksey’s Hennessy hero Carruthers, demonstrated a bottomless depth of stamina in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle with trainer Mark Bradstock keeping options open before the Festival.

Emma Lavelle celebrated the first four-timer of her training career with winners at three meetings.

Mud-lover Highland Lodge come home 22 lengths clear under Barry Geraghty in the Ryman Stationary Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham while Court In Motion made all in the RSA Novices’ Trial Chase at Lingfield.

Lavelle was at Doncaster where her only other two runners of the day were also successful.

Easter Meteor struck in the Follow At BetVictorRacing On Twitter Handicap Chase, with Court By Surprise hanging on by a nose in the BetVictor Non Runner Free Bet At Cheltenham Handicap Chase.

“An unbelievable day and all in proper races. I wish I could bottle it. It’s the first time I’ve had four in a day,” she beamed.

John Quinn lifted the Triumph Hurdle last year with Countrywide Flame and could have a serious candidate this season in Kashmir Flame. The former Irish-trained three-year-old looked good in the Summit Hurdle.

“He’s a likeable horse with a great attitude,” said Quinn.

“He’ll be aimed at the Triumph. We’ll give him one more run or maybe two and go there.”

The curtain came down on racing at Hereford for quite possibly the final time yesterday, with Martin Keighley and Alain Cawley going into the record books when teaming up for the last two winners, with Seymour Eric coming home in front in the concluding event.

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