Henry De Bromhead may have finished third in the day’s feature race, but the trainer’s first point of order when the 10 runners in the Queen Mother Champion Chase returned was to make for the losers’ area.
It was only after that, only once he had checked on the well-being of Sizing Europe, that the trainer made for the winners’ circle, his fast trot betraying an understandable eagerness to soak up the latest rays of sunshine that came with Special Tiara’s effort.
That Sizing Europe came first in his affections is no surprise.
Few horses have made such an impact on this festival in recent years.
De Bromhead has spoken before about how the now 13-year old has been “the horse of a lifetime” and “like a child” to him and why wouldn’t he given it delivered that win in the Queen Mum four years ago which in itself backed up a success in the Arkle.
Such treasures are priceless for small training operations and De Bromhead will surely spend a lifetime reflecting on how this seven-time Cheltenham veteran has stood hoof to hoof with the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Master Minded and Big Zeb around here.
He was still good enough to claim fourth in this race 12 months ago with Andrew Lynch on board and the reception as he approached the winner’s enclosure that day seemed a fitting end for the pride of Ann and Alan Potts.
Between them, owners and trainer decided to give it one more year and, one bad run in Clonmel apart for which De Bromhead accepted the blame, his form was sufficient to justify whispers of one last glorious blast even if no-one had him down as a real contender.
De Bromhead travelled with a sliver of confidence that expanded when Sizing Europe “turned inside out” in delight on arrival at a track he knows so well, but this two-mile chase was just behind him and he faded out to seventh.
“Europe was probably old and leg weary,” said the trainer afterwards. ” Johnny (Burke) didn’t knock him around. He’s been an incredible horse, never let us down, never. He’s been a legend for us.”
It was no surprise given his mount’s status as the oldest in the field by two years. A fact which begged the inevitable question as to what was next and, though no-one mentioned the ‘R’ word, everyone was thinking about it.
“I’ve thought about (the future) but I’d like to speak to Alan and Anne and we’ll think it over,” said the Waterford-based trainer. “He’ll be living in the house soon. Shows you how he stood the test of time, he’s turned up five times in the Champion Chase. He’s unreal.”
It was only after he had finished speaking and De Bromhead turned away to his party that the ladies’ tiara he held in his hand was noticeable. Whose it was he didn’t say, but it was a sight that captured perfectly the relentless onset of time in this industry.
Special Tiara may not be another Sizing Europe, but a Grade One win in Aintree two years ago and a Grade two at Kempton in December was franked by an impressive third here behind Dodging Bullets and Somersby.
De Bromhead saw enough to predict that his eight-year old can “pick up the mantle” laid down by Sizing Europe having finished sixth in this race last year and moving up to third here after another performance under Noel Fehily that was framed by a strong start.
“I thought coming to second last he might have won it, but he petered out in the end. Fair to say, he’s probably better on a Flat track. That last little bit of a hill … He ran a blinder, we’re delighted.”
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