Nicky Henderson’s Simonsig maintained his unbeaten record over fences in the Racing Post Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival, but not without a fight.
Following on from the victory of Sprinter Sacre in the race 12 months ago, Henderson’s giant grey repeated the feat under Barry Geraghty, but not with quite the fireworks many had expected.
The race was billed as a clash between Simonsig, winner of the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle last season, and Overturn, last year’s Champion Hurdle runner-up.
However, the tacky ground, although not as bad as had been feared, did not help Overturn get into his usual quicksilver rhythm and he eventually faded into fourth.
It was left to Baily Green, an unconsidered 33-1 shot, to shake up the favourite and for a few strides after the last it looked as though Mouse Morris’ charge was going to reel in the 8-15 favourite.
But like so many before him, the famous hill just caught him out and Simonsig came home two and a quarter lengths clear.
Many expected a Simonsig cakewalk, despite him only having two previous runs over fences, and even Geraghty was underwhelmed by the performance after some sparkling work at home on the gallops.
He said: “It was harder work than I thought. The ground is dead, and maybe that didn’t help. He missed one down the back and that was unlike him. He was very good at the second-last and tight at the last.
“It didn’t set the headlines as we thought he might, but he was very good.”
A pretty serious mistake at the ninth fence seemed to spark him into life, according to Henderson.
“He has done well to win as he ran with the choke out the whole way, it was not quite the performance we expected,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“The first three fences they were going quick, and he was wanting to go even quicker. He’s not short of pace. We haven’t run him purposely since Christmas.
“He probably ran a bit too fresh and keen. He wasn’t concentrating terribly hard on what was going on. He made one bad mistake and that seemed to wake him up. The rest of it he was just going a bit too quick for his own good.
“He’s just had three runs now and there’s another race in him this year, I would have thought. We’ll give Aintree some consideration.”
As for the possibility of a mouthwatering clash with Sprinter Sacre next year, Henderson said: “He (Simonsig) looks a two-miler through and through and you can’t see him over further with that style of racing.
“He will learn to drop the bridle, he has to. We’ll have a job to keep him and Sprinter apart next season, there’s only the Haldon at Exeter, which is a handicap, the Tingle Creek, Victor Chandler and Game Spirit.
“That’s not a lot for one horse, never mind two.”
Trainer Mouse Morris said of the runner-up: “He ran a great race and was just beaten by a better one on the day.
“His jumping kept him in it. He’ll probably go to Punchestown, either there or Fairyhouse.”
Overturn’s trainer Donald McCain said: “It was just the ground. When we saw the first race we got a bit hopeful but he’s a Flat horse.
“It’s testing and holding – that’s not him. We’ll go wherever the ground is now. We’ll consider Aintree and Punchestown.”