There have been some superb performances during the first three days of the Cheltenham Festival. I was fortunate enough to be there for the opening couple of days and felt privileged to witness Samcro's win in the Ballymore NH, Altior's third successive Festival victory in the Champion Chase and Presenting Percy's success in the RSA Chase on Wednesday's card.
Samcro was sublime in the opener yesterday as he handed out a decisive beating to a host of promising youngsters. Gordon Elliott's latest superstar never looked in the slightest danger as he took charge after the second last. Black Op ran a cracker in second but was always playing second fiddle to the Germany gelding. Granted luck, Samcro looks a Cheltenham Gold Cup in waiting.
Many will argue that comment also applies to Presenting Percy who claimed his second Festival win. Brilliantly prepared by Pat Kelly and ridden by Davy Russell, the gelding toyed with his opponents, too. Creeping into contention, he readily swept past compatriot Monalee on the home turn and bounded clear. The runner-up was too keen early on and may benefit from dropping back in distance. Don't be surprised if Henry De Bromhead's charge develops into a Ryanair Chase contender next season. As for the winner, he is versatile in terms of ground and it is not hard to see him developing into a leading player in next year's Gold Cup.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase was a compelling race to watch. While both Ar Mad and Special Tiara raced prominently, they did set the frenetic gallop anticipated with Douvan taking over halfway down the back straight. Unfortunately, he came hit the deck at the fence at the top of the hill and we will never know where the eight times Grade 1 winner would have finished. Altior looked in trouble running downhill between the third and second last with Min travelling strongly and seemingly full of running. A handful of runners were in contention turning for home but the whole complexion of the race changed as Altior engaged top gear. Nicky Henderson's charge powered away after the last to win by seven lengths to register his third Cheltenham Festival victory. On this evidence, it will be a surprise if Altior doesn't stay two and a half miles, which brings next month's Melling Chase at Aintree into the equation.
On day one, Buveur D'Air retained his Champion Hurdle crown with a battling display under Barry Geraghty and, in doing so, provided Henderson with his seventh win in the race. Melon produced a career best in second throwing down a serious challenge to the winner in the process.
Both Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott have enjoyed a remarkable week and Ireland's champion trainer won his third win in the Arkle Trophy in the last four years courtesy of Footpad. The ex-French gelding made it four out of four over fences with a wide margin win. However, that doesn't tell the whole story with market rivals Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados playing into the hands of the winner thanks to overly aggressive rides. Davy Russell has ridden brilliantly this week but his tactics aboard the former were baffling. A drifter in the market, he was never going to maintain such a searching gallop. The Arkle is my favourite race of the week but the 2018 renewal left me frustrated.
The Irishman was back to his best on day three though booting home a memorable treble, including two for Gordon Elliott, namely Delta Work (Pertemps Final) and The Storyteller (Brown Advisory). Russell gave the latter a fantastic ride saving ground on the inside for the majority of the race. Once pulled out before the home turn, his mount picked up well before hanging to his right on the run-in. Rather like Might Bite in last year's RSA Chase, The Storyteller was straightened up in time before getting the better of BetVictor Gold Cup winner Splash of Ginger. It was a Russell masterclass.
With the exception of Coo Star Sivola (5/1) in the Ultima Handicap Chase on Tuesday, the Update didn't set the world alight on the first couple of days. Thankfully, day three proved very profitable with three winners advised at 14/1, 10/1 and 8/11. The likes of Glenloe, Supasundae and Mall Dini also ran very well in defeat finishing second. She may have been odds on but Laurina was devastating in the mares' novices' hurdle. The Mullins team formulated a plan which worked to the letter. Stablemate Cut The Mustard kept Maria's Benefit honest from the outset while Laurina sat in behind before pouncing. She was in a different league to the opposition. I was delighted for her owner Jared Sullivan who has been a big supporter of my publications this winter. When he told me last week that the Mullins camp felt Laurina was the best mare they had handled since Annie Power, he wasn't lying.
Fingers crossed we can keep the momentum going tomorrow. Thank you to all those clients who have emailed this evening - it is much appreciated. By the way, Forza Milan, who pulled up in the Pertemps Final, was found to have bled.
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