Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Cheltenham race-by-race reports: Thrilling finishes galore on day four

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Held in the highest regard by the master of Closutton, the juvenile went into plenty of notebooks when an eyecatching third behind Kargese at the Dublin Racing Festival, and it was that duo who fought out the finish at Prestbury Park.

With Danny Mullins keen to keep a tight hold on Kargese, Mark Walsh cut a relaxed figure aboard the JP McManus-owned Majborough and after the second-last they were chief among the Mullins-trained battalion that emerged to swamp the forward-going Salver.

Heading to the last it appeared Kargese held the advantage as Majborough wandered around, but they jumped the final flight in unison, after which the stamina reserves of the 6-1 winner came into play as he was pushed out by his rider to strike by a length and a half.

It was McManus’ third win in the Triumph Hurdle following the victories of Ivanovich Gorbatov and Defi Du Seuil and it continues the Closutton dominance of the race, with Mullins winning it for the fourth time in five years.

He said: “I’m surprised at his price of 6-1 – I expected him to be favourite, he was my pick of this race.

“A lot of mine have been improving all season for their second run. I couldn’t get him out at Christmas, but I got him out at the Dublin Racing Festival and I think he needed that and I think Mark learned a lot about him.

“He came back in and said he was going to make all the running on him next time, which was the plan today and he was only fifth or sixth going round, so that shows how strong the pace was, but he jumped beautifully.

“When he came in the yard and they said he was a Triumph hope, I thought he looked more like a Gold Cup horse – he’s some beast.”

He went on: “Physically, he looks like a three-mile chaser.

“He’s a bit angular (at the moment) like all the French horses, but when he comes in from a summer’s grass he’s some beast.

“Who knows how good he could be? Sometimes with Triumph Hurdle horses, their juvenile year can be their best year, but this fellow is so untypical of that.

“He’s a big, jumping horse and normally you’d be going novice chasing next season. It’s not easy going novice chasing with a horse that young, but we’ll see.”

Willie Mullins’ success continued in the second race, with Paul Townend producing Absurde to perfection as last year’s Ebor hero got the better of L’Eau Du Sud in the BetMGM County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Willie Mullins and Dan Skelton have dominated this event in the last decade, winning eight of the last nine runnings between them, so it was no surprise to see the week’s top two trainers involved at the business end once again.

Paul Nicholls’ Afadil had led the field into the straight where Skelton’s 7-2 favourite L’Eau Du Sud appeared to be travelling supremely in the hands of the trainer’s brother, Harry.

However, Townend was weaving a passage to the front and after the last it was Closutton’s dual-purpose star who pulled out extra to land the spoils at 12-1.

As well as winning the Ebor when given an equally-inspired ride by Frankie Dettori, Absurde finished seventh in the Melbourne Cup, and Townend said: “I got a lot of satisfaction out of that one. What a horse to travel the world and then come back and put in a performance like that on that ground.

“I thought I’d have the pace of them all on his Flat form, but the ground was a big worry.”

Mullins said: “Paul can’t have a warm bone in his body, he was so cold the whole way and delivered him at the right time. He just missed the last but everything else went right.

“I was very worried about the ground, that’s why I thought Risk Belle was the best of my squad, I’d more or less drawn a line through him.

“They went very slow and his Flat speed was a big factor at the end. When I saw where he was early on I thought it wasn’t the place to be, but they were doing 18-second furlongs so I thought he might have a chance.

“He had to find his way through and while he missed the last, it was one hell of a ride, it was the ride of the week for me.

“He’ll probably go to Punchestown and then back on the Flat I’d have thought. It might be hard to qualify for Melbourne – I’d like to go though.”

In the third race, Sam Ewing and Stellar Story pounced in the very last stride to inflict Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle agony on Harry Redknapp and Ben Pauling at the Cheltenham Festival.

Pauling’s 18-1 outsider had led the field along from flag fall in the hands of Kielan Woods, with Gordon Elliott’s shock 33-1 winner one of those to track the pace setter.

The sedate early pace saw plenty in with chances as the runners descended towards two out, but one by one they dropped away as Woods upped the tempo aboard The Jukebox Man and made his bid for home.

Pauling’s charge held the advantage running down to the last, but the six-year-old got in tight and gave Ewing and Stellar Story a glimmer of hope and they took full advantage, rallying to reel in the brave runner-up in the shadow of he post.

It was Elliott’s second success of the week following on from Teahupoo’s Stayers’ Hurdle triumph on Thursday, but for young rider Ewing it was not only a first Cheltenham Festival success but also a maiden strike at Grade One level.

Ewing said: “Absolutely brilliant. He’s a horse that jumps very well, he loved that ground today and he battled very hard for me. He was brilliant at the last as well, when we needed it, so I can’t believe it.”

There was a winner for the north in the 4.10 as Fiona Needham’s Sine Nomine edged out 11-8 favourite Its On The Line in a thrilling finish to the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase.

The market leader’s jockey Derek O’Connor was attempting to enter the record books by winning all three amateur rider events in the same week, but it was Catterick clerk of the course Needham who added herself to the race’s roll of honour for a second time.

Needham rode Last Option to victory in 2002 for her father Robin Tate and Sine Nomine, who cost just £2,400 as a three-year-old, sported the same Tate colours here.

The eye was drawn to Sine Nomine throughout the contest as the eight-year-old travelled with real zest in the hands of John Dawson but there was still plenty of work to do as David Christie’s long-time leader Ferns Lock gave way on the run to two out and eventual third Time Leader took things up.

Dawson elected to make his challenge up the inner where O’Connor was working away urging last year’s runner-up and having found himself short of room after the last, Dawson had to switch and regather his mount before launching one last assault up the Cheltenham hill.

It was a challenge timed to perfection as although Its On The Line soon had Time Leader covered, he had no answer to Sine Nomine’s late thrust as the gallant grey became the toast of Yorkshire at odds of 8-1.

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