There’s plenty to be learned from the races, and here are three nuggets Tuesday’s Cheltenham fixtures taught us.
It was a bit like Istabraq 2002 all over again in the end. Sprinter Sacre was returning from a two year Cheltenham gap after a heart problem downed him following his 2013 win in the Champion Chase.
Istabraq was chasing his fourth Champion Hurdle off an uncertain preparation the year after the whole show had been lost to foot and mouth. It was clear after a couple of furlongs that the real Istabraq hadn’t turned up and he was quickly pulled up by Charlie Swan.
It took about a mile and six for Barry Geraghty to make the same decision yesterday – but it was sad to see the highest rated horse for a generation pull up before the last.
Trainer Nicky Henderson was fraught after the race and insisted that no immediate retirement decisions would be made. “Once we’ve done the tests we’ll let everyone know,” he said. “We’ve only just unsaddled and are trying to gather our thoughts. I don’t think we can make any predictions today as to the future. If there’s a switch we can find that gets rids of what is affecting him today, who knows.”
Don Poli began his Cheltenham career in fairly inauspicious circumstances last year by winning the conditional jockeys hurdle. Hardly the normal route to greatness. However since switching to fences this season he has morphed into a real contender for stardom.
Unbeaten in two starts over fences his trainer Willie Mullins (who else) was prevaricating between running him in the four-miler on Tuesday and the RSA Chase over three miles yesterday.
He looked as though he was half asleep for most of the trip with Bryan Cooper pushing him along from early on. However he arrived with ears pricked at the last and asserted easily. Mullins was thrilled. “It was special. It looked like he was idling the whole way up the straight, ears pricked. It looked like he’d have won the four-mile chase after all! If that’s the best in Ireland and over in England, you’d have to say that he could be a future Gold Cup horse.”
Normally it is considered good manners to wait until 30 seconds after the last race of the 2015 festival before speculating on the winner of the first one next year. An exception is necessary. Moon Racer, winner of the bumper in the last race of the day yesterday could well win the Supreme Novices next year. Sent off as favourite under a ton of late money it looked glum for Tom Scudamore’s mount after a stuttering start. The six year old was bought out of Michael Ronayne’s stable for a king’s ransom after he stormed home in his debut at Fairyhouse last Easter and easily won his British debut at Cheltenham in his only other race. The manner in which he made up lost ground and stormed up the hill yesterday was impressive.
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