- Cheltenham Trials
Sprinter Sacre smoothly takes Victor victory
Sprinter Sacre was the runaway winner of the Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham as the 1/5 favourite eased home by 14 lengths from Mad Moose.
Sprinter Sacre is one of the most exciting chasers in training and Nicky Henderson's charge proved in a different league to his rivals over the two-mile-and-110-yard course.
Mad Moose went into an early 20-length lead but the reeling in by Barry Geraghty's mount started as the field headed out into the country.
With two to jump the lead had been firmly established by Sprinter Sacre and although Geraghty was keen to hold onto the seven-year-old, he let him stretch his legs after the final fence.
After the race Geraghty praised Sprinter Sacre's grace over the heavy turf. "He's so natural, he's one of the most natural I've ridden," Geraghty said. "I was afraid of the ground and didn't think it would suit him as well.
"He was very relaxed today, he jumped brilliant and I never had a moment's concern. He was very good. It's so easy for him, he travelled so easy, he jumped so well. He's all class."
Yet the watching Henderson did not enjoy the race as much, admitting that he was not sure whether allowing Sprinter Sacre to run on heavy ground would be the wisest decision.
He said: "I'm glad it's over. I had reservations about running, but we had to run. Barry was worried about the ground, I was worried he was a bit fresh. He can handle any ground, I think, and that's what a good horse should be able to do.
"Barry's confidence in him is unbelievable. He knows you can jump anything with him. He's such a gorgeous horse to look at, you would think he would be something special. He knows he is special and I suppose we are all starting to believe he might be."
The victory was Geraghty's and Henderson's second of the day after Rolling Star won the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial on his British debut. The French import was locked in a duel with the favourite Irish Saint, ridden by Ruby Walsh, from a long way out.
Walsh took his ride across to the stands' side rail while Geraghty stayed in the middle before making his move at the last to win by two-and-a-quarter lengths with Roc D'Apsis way back in third.
In the Argento Chase, Imperial Commander was denied a winning return to action after nearly two years on the sidelines as he was pipped at the post by Cape Tribulation.
It was a slow jump at the last fence by Imperial Commander which gave Denis O'Regan the chance to force Cape Tribulation ahead near the line and steal the win. Hunt Ball travelled well but weakened quickly in the closing stages and was 30 lengths back in third.
Cape Tribulation's trainer Malcolm Jefferson said the victory was the incentive he needed to bring his prospect back for March's Gold Cup.
"Now I think we'll probably have to come back for the Gold Cup," Jefferson said. "I'm not saying he's going to win it but he might get placed in one, this year's especially. He's in the World Hurdle, but he is jumping so well now I think the Gold Cup is the race he'll go for. On his day he's a good horse. Denis was brilliant, but if a horse does everything right these are good jockeys and they know what to do."
Tony McCoy claimed victory aboard At Fishers Cross in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle. The Rebecca Curtis-trained six-year-old ran down The New One's two-length lead, as he struggled going up the hill, and earned McCoy's praise.
"He's a real tough horse. I tried to get the rail, but Sam [Twiston-Davies on The New One] got away from me. He may or may not have been the best horse in the race, but the way conditions were today what he had was great heart, a will to win and to stay. I knew that was something in his favour. He knows when he's had enough." McCoy went on to ride Mr Watson to victory in the final race of the day, the Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle.
In the Cleeve Hurdle, Geraghty and Henderson were narrowly denied a hat-trick of wins when their horse Oscar Whisky came out second best in a toe-to-toe finish with Reve De Sivola.
Under the direction of Richard Johnson, the eight-year-old held off a late charge from Oscar Whisky, who was kept fresh for the final stages by Geraghty burying his ride in the pack for early part of the race.
Trainer Nick Williams has brought his winner back to his best form this season after he had lost his way over fences.
And Johnson was very pleased with his reformed mount, saying: "I had a little look turning in and I knew Barry was there. When he came to me this fella put his head down and he wants to win."