Cheltenham Festival – Day 3

Paul Howarth

cheltenham 2 300x225 Cheltenham Festival   Day 3

(Getty Images)

Dispatches from the front line of The Greatest Show On Turf – Thursday 14th March

Thursday at the Festival used to offer significantly poorer fare than the other three days. Not now. Today we witnessed the most competitive Ryanair Chase and the most intriguing World Hurdle of recent years.

The select Ryanair field was made up of three groups. Horses who preferred not to take on the unbeatable Sprinter Sacre in yesterday’s Queen Mother, thank you very much, such as Cue Card (the only horse to get within eight lengths of the ‘Black Aeroplane’ over fences). Those stepping down from staying trips, such as Irish raider First Lieutenant. And the middle-distance specialists, like two-time winner Albertas Run and last year’s hero Riverside Theatre.

Colin Tizzard, Cue Card’s trainer, had thrown down the verbal gauntlet to his rivals pre-race, daring any of the competitors to go with his front-running charge. Champion Court it was who accepted the challenge, pestering Cue Card for much of the first half of the race and forcing a couple of half-errors. At the three-quarter mark, For Non Stop was travelling ominously well in behind as Champion Court started to feel the pinch. Then the favourite First Lieutenant worked his way into contention and the race was well and truly on. But still they couldn’t get to the strong-travelling Cue Card. Three out and First Lieutenant blundered, knocking the stuffing out of himself; For Non Stop, too, was labouring. And all the while, Cue Card pressed on in front. Another bold leap at the last sealed it, Colin’s son Joe urging his mount to stay on up the hill to record a nine-length victory over the favourite. I’d like to say the whole place went wild but it might just have been me.

In the absence of Big Buck’s, the World Hurdle was wide open.  Would Oscar Whisky be able to prove he stays three miles in top-grade company? Could Reve De Sivola repeat his performances from earlier this season on better ground? What else might surprise us? The answer to the latter question was this: Solwhit, a multiple Grade One winner in Ireland who’s quietly crept back to the top table after a frustrating couple of years. It could have been an even bigger shock if Celestial Halo (40/1) had jumped the last cleanly. However, Charles Byrnes’s inmate made no mistake and powered up the hill to score. Personally, I’m pleased for Paul Carberry. The winning jockey is, in my untutored eyes, the most stylish horseman around; not only that, but he was injured yesterday and must’ve gritted teeth through the pain to pass himself fit today.  Well done, Carbs.

By the way, if anyone had a winning accumulator in the other races today, I should like to hear from you.  20/1, 25/1 and 50/1 would make a lovely Trixie.

Thursday 14th March
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  • Barry Jessup

    Great to see the smaller stables picking up some nice prize. Thoughts with JT

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