Cheltenham Festival: Sprinter Sacre is star of the show

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  • Sprinter Sacre’s appearance in the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase was the most eagerly awaited of the entire Cheltenham Festival.

    And the Nicky Henderson-trained French-bred lived up to his billing, demolishing the field to stroll home 19 lengths clear of former winner Sizing Europe in a canter.

    Jockey Barry Geraghty described Sprinter Sacre, last year’s Arkle winner, as “the closest thing to equine perfection around at the moment.”
    “I’ve ridden some brilliant horses over the years but the ease and grave he does it with sets him apart.”

    Nicky Henderson, for whom this was a third winner at this year’s meeting, said: “He’s nearly the perfect racehorse. He looks it, and it’s rare to find one that looks so good and is so good. We were well aware that anything bar very stunning wouldn’t keep people happy, but that was stunning.”
    The Henry de Bromhead-trained Sizing Europe finished six lengths ahead of third-placed Wishfull Thinking.

    Twiston-Davies has a New star

    The New One gave Gloucestershire trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies a big winner at his local track when taking the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.

    The trainer’s son Sam rode the handsome son of King’s Theatre. It was a first Festival winner for Sam outside the amateur ranks (he took the Foxhunter on Baby Run in 2010).

    They finished four lengths in front of Rule The World and Davy Russell, with favourite Pont Alexandre back in third under Ruby Walsh.

    And Alan King was back in the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure with a one-two in the Coral Cup courtesy of Medinas (Wayne Hutchinson) and Meister Eckhart (Aidan Coleman).

    Mullins’ luck is still in

    After three winners on the first day, Irish trainer Willie Mullins carried on where he had left off, taking the first race, the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase, with Back In Focus.

    The Bob Back eight-year-old was ridden by Mullins’ son Patrick, who just collared Nina Carberry and Tofino Bay on the line.

    “My father won this race twice [in 1982 and 1984] and it means a lot for me to put my name beside him,” said Patrick, 23.

    And the yard signed off the day by winning the Weatherbys Champion Bumper with Briar Hill.
    Owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie, Briar Hill went off an unconsidered 25-1 under Ruby Walsh, but produced an impressive turn of foot in the final furlong to streak away from the favourite Regal Encore and AP McCoy.

    That’s five winners for Willie Mullins and four for Ruby Walsh so far this week – with plenty more chances to come in the next two days.

    First Festival success for Best Mate’s jockey

    Jim Culloty, who rode Best Mate to all three of his Gold Cup wins, scored his first Cheltenham triumph as a trainer when Lord Windermere took the RSA Chase.

    Jockey Davy Russell didn’t have an entirely smooth run through the race on the Oscar gelding, but managed to produce a run up the hill that gave him a length-and-three-quarters win over Lyreen Legend.

    Unioniste, the Paul Nicholls-trained favourite, could only manage fourth.

    There will be a precautionary inspection of the main track at 8am tomorrow, followed by an inspection of the cross-country track at 11am. The cross-country race was postponed from Tuesday until Thursday in the hope that the ground would improve. After a day of sunshine and a drying breeze at Cheltenham it should have done, but temperatures are expected to be several degrees below freezing again tonight.

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