Cheltenham Diary: A few close calls but ‘JP Wednesday’ fails to materialise

All the talk of ‘Ricci Tuesday’ had been replaced by an intense focus on what was expected to be ‘JP Wednesday.’

Cheltenham Diary: A few close calls but ‘JP Wednesday’ fails to materialise

McManus looked to have bombproof chances in the first two with Yanworth and More of That and was mob handed in several of the later races on the card.

Yanworth has been a long term festival banker for Alan King and was backed in to 11/10.

Any trepidations that lingered over his ability to stay the two mile and five fulong trip had been dissipated by and effortless win over the distance on soft ground in January.

Today would be much more suitable and it looked like he only had Yorkhill to beat. It was just a question of tactics.

The prevailing view was that Yanworth would be dropped in behind, allowing Barry Geraghty to keep Yorkhill in his eyeline and then use his kick to bound up the hill to victory.

Ruby Walsh didn’t quite see it that way.

When the tapes went up Ruby was scraping paint on the inside rail and Barry was widest out, both forced to ride their race without close up knowledge of what their rival was up to.

Ruby got it perfectly right grabbing the inside rail on the turn in and gaining a couple of lengths and a critical first move advantage that the game Yanworth couldn’t close.

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Still, JP had a second hotpot forty minutes later in More of That which would surely set things right having been backed all the way in to 6/4 to win the Royal Sun Alliance chase. Wasn’t to be.

The former World Hurdle winner ran flat for most of the way and finished a well held third to Blaklion.

Three runners in the next, the Coral Cup yielded only a fourth place through Blazer and in the Cross Country Chase he was again unlucky when Nina Carberry on the fast finishing Josies Orders just failed to peg back Any Currency.

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In between these two races was the Queen Mother Champion Chase, in which the green and gold colours weren’t carried.

This was the race that will define the 2016 Cheltenham Festival and probably national hunt racing for years to come.

The performance of Sprinter Sacre to reclaim his title three years after he had first won it, and a litany of heart and health problems in between represented a truly outstanding piece of racehorse husbandry by Nicky Henderson.

The reception for the horse was spine tingling in its genuine warmth and Irish voices were yelling as loud as the locals in appreciation.

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The presentation eventually got under way after many shouts of ‘three cheers’ for Sprinter and about a million mobile phone photos had been taken.

It was a relic of old British decency with the Queen’s grand-daughter Zara Tindall doing the honours in fairly hushed reverence and the air kissing and hugging among all the connections continued through Nicky Henderson’s emotional public interview on the presentation stage.

When the formalities ended stillness returned and the spectators smugly congratulated themselves on being at the right place at the right time when suddenly the reflections were shattered by a ballad cacophony coming from the Guinness village across the way.

“I’ve been a Wild Rover for many a year…” The normality of the mayhem had regained control.

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At this stage JP was probably beginning to feel it would be ‘no nay never’ on any possibility of getting a winner on a day that looked to have such rich promise.

Then in the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle, far from the classiest race of the week but one never without drama and excitement, Barry Geraghty came with a wet sail at the last on Campeador on the stand side looking all over a winner only to be joined on the inside by Ruby Walsh on Voix De Reve on one that looked even wetter.

They took off together and landed together and then both crumpled over with deadly symmetry. Three hours only since their masterpieces in the first. Fickle sport this.

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There was one last chance of redemption in the bumper, the last race of the day.

Barry Geraghty had recovered from his fall and was on Castello Sforza for Willie Mullins. Ran on well to be fourth. There will be more to come from this one in the years ahead.

In the meantime JP can only hope that St Patricks Day will be more generous with its bounty than JP Wednesday.

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