Cheltenham Day 2: Sprinter, Sire and Sceaux

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“The place was silent as she came to the last…”

That’s how Gary Murray described Tuesday at Cheltenham, when Annie Power and Ruby Walsh turned for home with the Stan James Champion Hurdle at her mercy. Last year, she turned for home with the OLBG Mares Hurdle at her mercy, then launched when she should have staunched. This time, she launched again, long and strong, landed running and earned redemption.

If sport offers one thing, it’s a chance at redemption. And National Hunt racing offers it more than most sports. Annie Power had lost twice in her career, both at Cheltenham. Last year, she made her biggest mistake, an inexplicable lapse in front of the world. A year later – same horse, same jockey, same fence, same spot (at least from this view)…

“Not many horses as good as her have come here and not won here, so she deserved it,” Walsh said. “She was so unlucky last year and we copped a fair bit of flak over it, but that is the nature of sport I suppose. She’s brilliant.”

Owner Rich Ricci wiped away a tear.

“No horse deserves to win here – but she does really,” Ricci said. “It’s brilliant. Sport offers such a chance for redemption and it’s fantastic to see. I’m happy for the horse and just happy for everyone.”

Annie Power delivered one of three wins for trainer Willie Mullins, whose dad trained the mare Dawn Run to win the Champion Hurdle.

“I’ve just seen Rich in tears and that’s good – that’s what it’s all about,” said Mullins. “It’s great he’s able to enjoy it like that with all the horses he has. I thought she was fantastic. It’s a super performance from the mare to come back like that with only one run under her belt. She bossed the race but that was Ruby’s plan. He told me a fortnight ago what he was going to do and it’s worked out like that.”

Walsh knows all about Dawn Run.

“I said to Willie I was going to ride her like Dawn Run – buck out and go,” Walsh said. “She travelled super, she jumped probably better than she’s ever jumped. She’s put in one hell of a performance.”

As for Cheltenham from the couch…not really one hell of a performance. I yearned for the noise, the punch, the vibe. Although, my picks were decent, which helped, a little. I picked three winners on top – Douvan, Vroum Vroum Mag and Minella Rocco and hit the board all day.

In the Sky Bet Supreme, my top pick Charbel did too much, too early, but has a big future. My top three boxed in an exacta returned $18.60. In the Racing Post Arkle, it was fill in the dots, Vautour over Sizing John, my cold exacta returned $6. In the Ultima Chase third, my top pick The Young Master finished third, returning $8.20. My top three in the Champion Hurdle came through, a dollar trifecta box returned $164.10. In the Mares Hurdle, top pick Vroum Vroum Mag won easy, returning $3.20 (take that bookies). In the sixth, my top pick, Minella Rocco won and returned $16.80. He’s got a serious future. Like Aintree future. In the crapshoot of the last, my third pick, Thomas Brown, finished third, returning $4.40.

Onward and upward.

Wednesday.

Race 1. 9:30. The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. Grade 1. $176,500. 2 5/8 miles.

Well, I bet Yanworth in the bumper last year. He finished fourth at 16-1 that day and hasn’t lost since. He’ll win again, but you won’t get 16-1. He’s 6/5 and money in the bank.

The Picks: Yanworth, O O Seven, Yorkhill.

Race 2. 10:10. The RSA Chase. Grade 1 Novices’ Chase. $220,500. 3 miles.

Wow, what an edition. More Of That, winner of the World Hurdle in 2014, puts his undefeated chasing record on the line. No More Heroes puts his on the line too, he’s 3-for-3 over fences in Ireland. The ground might have turned away from Seeyouatmidnight, but he’s a likeable horse who I’ve watched for a while now, I put him on top, then changed, then put him back on top, then changed…

The Picks: More Of That, Seeyouatmidnight, No More Heroes.

Race 3. 10:50. The Coral Cup. Grade 3. Handicap Hurdle. $132,500. 2 5/8 miles.

Always an intriguing affair, the Coral Cup attracts 26 runners. Handicaps at Cheltenham are like Mexican dinners, afterward, you swear, ‘I’ll never do that again,’ then you look, get enticed and eat too much.

Call The Cops won the Pertemps Final last year but carries 20 pounds more this year. John Ferguson, searching for his first Cheltenham win in his last Cheltenham try, sends out sons of Street Cry, Qewy and Three Kingdoms and Commissioned, a son of Authorized. Politologue looks set up for this.

Pass the tacos.

The Picks: Politologue, Diamond King, Rock The Kasbah.

Race 4. 11:30. The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Grade 1. $514,500. 2 miles.

The race of the day, perhaps, the meet. The three most recent winners – Dodging Bullets, Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre – return to the cauldron of their finest hours. But, the thing about cauldrons, you never come back the same. All have faced adversity since their victories. Dodging Bullets has run just once since winning it last year, a weak second behind Top Gamble at Newbury. Sire De Grugy, well, he’s been on and off the ropes since winning in 2014 and has yet to look like his best. And then there’s the great Sprinter Sacre, who faded into the dying light last year, pulling up a mile and a lifetime behind Dodging Bullets. Written off, he came back to finish second at Sandown in April and has won both his starts this season. If he wins, well, the hats will never come down.

Of course in racing, there are the good stories and then there’s the real story. Un De Sceaux is 14-for-16 in his career and tries to become the sixth horse since the turn of the millennium to win the Arkle and the Queen Mother in successive years. He’ll either win or fall, well, that’s what he’s done in all 16 starts. I’ve never liked the way he jumped, but, I learned long ago to doubt Mullins at my peril.

Tie on, it’s the fastest 2 miles in sports.

The Picks: Un De Sceaux, Sprinter Sacre, Dodging Bullets.

Race 5. 12:10. The Glenfarclas Chase. Cross Country Chase. $88,000. 3 1/4 miles.

Just stand back, watch and hope that Balthazar King completes his improbable comeback from falling in the Grand National to winning at the Festival yet again.

The Picks: Balthazar King, Cantlow, Third Intention.

Race 6. 12:50. The Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle. Grade 3. $110,500. 2 miles and 110 yards.

I wrote, “Big jumper by New Approach for Godolphin and Bolger,” on my Racing Post Horse Tracker for Jaleo when he ran at Tipperary in April. I’ll stick with that sentiment.

The Picks: Jaleo, Akavit, Duke Of Medina.

Race 7. 1:30. The Champion Bumper. National Hunt Flat Race. 2 miles.

Richard Hutchinson, Gary Murray, Matt Coleman…somebody text me from the parade ring and tell me which one looks like Hairy Molly (the 33-1 winner my wife and I tipped from the parade ring in 2006).

The Picks: First Figaro, Compadre, Avenir D’Une Vie.