Cheltenham Day 3: One for the Stayers

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Don’t ever be afraid of one horse. That’s what the oldtimers always say. Well, there were nine who were plenty scared of Douvan but showed up for the Queen Mother Champion Chase anyway. Veteran chaser Special Tiara certainly didn’t look or act scared, scampering away from the peerless Douvan, who jumped inconsistently and without any of his usual acuity. It was over early as veteran chaser Special Tiara and veteran jockey Noel Fehily put Douvan and his other foes on the defense from the outset.

Special Tiara never saw Douvan, actually, he never saw anything but big inviting fences and green grass. The Irish-trained veteran finally had his day, winning the Betway Queen Mother in a romp. Fehily added the Queen Mother to his Champion Hurdle haul from the day before.

On a warm Cheltenham, the warmest I ever remember, Special Tiara bowled down to the third-to-last, the race by the scruff of the neck, launched and set sail for the grandstand, the roar, the stardom. Ruby Walsh, a chess player on horseback, changed his hold once, twice, three times on Douvan. It was over. Special Tiara added his name on the lines of chiseled winners at the Festival. A well deserved victory for a horse who has spent his life setting up the pins for others.

Special Tiara is Trained by Henry de Bromhead and owned by American Sally Rowley-Williams, Special Tiara has been sparring with the best for his entire career. He finally had his day.

“The horse is just a legend and I just thought he jumped really quick today over his fences. He seemed in great form coming into this – I nearly said to our head lad Davy Roche at home that this fellow seems better than ever and I said, ‘No, no, I will stop.’ Special Tiara seemed in great form but it is hard to believe with Douvan and everything else. For our lad, it’s amazing. He just tries his heart out and no horse deserves it more,” De Bromhead said. “I thought that he jumped the slickest that he has ever jumped. Often, he jumps a bit high but he was so slick today, it’s incredible. Any day that you win a Grade One at Cheltenham is an amazing day and one of the feature races. My uncle and aunt bred this horse and for Sally, it’s just brilliant.”

As for the rest of Wednesday, frontrunner Might Bite looked home free, then went to the Arkle Bar for one before re-routing himself to win the RSA Chase by a nose over Whisper. Amateur Jamie Codd doubled with two librarian-patient rides on Cause Of Causes in the cross country and Fayonagh in the bumper.

Onward, it’s Thursday, Stayers Hurdle Day. Here’s hoping for a winner of the 3-mile feature who has a passport and wants to come to Nashville in May.


Race 1. 1:30. The JLT Novices’ Chase. Grade 1. 2 ½ miles.

Can Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh get off the duck here (never thought I’d type that sentence)? Yorkhill has an engine and a penchant for making jumping mistakes. If he overcomes, he’ll win. It will be Walsh’s finest hour if he does.

The Picks: Top Notch, Yorkhill, Disko.


Race 2. 2:10. The Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle. Listed hurdle. 3 miles.

Tobefair, a horse owned Down the Quay Club (a horse owned by a pub, you can’t beat that) rides a long winning streak for trainer low-profile trainer Debra Hamer. Come on, one for the little guys.

The Picks: Golden Doyen, Tobefair, Impulsive Star.


Race 3. 2:50. The Ryanair Chase. Grade 1. 2 5/8 miles.

Another high-wire act for Ruby Walsh, tempering Un De Sceaux for this trip. Nobody walks a wire better. I’ve liked Empire Of Dirt for seasons, he won here last year. He could win here again.

Wow, what a race.

The Picks: Empire Of Dirt, Uxizandre, Un De Sceaux.


Race 4. 3:30. The Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle. Grade 1. 3 miles.

Love that the race is called the Stayers again. For the best stayers in the world, it should be called the Stayers. As for the Iroquois, look for a light, fast-ground type of horse who doesn’t have a future chasing career here, i.e., not Thistlecrack, who dominated last year.

Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon, second and third in the Iroquois last year, would be just fine. As Willie Mullins said last year, “We’ve learned a few things, we’ll do it better next time.”

This is the hard leg.

Unowhatimeanharry rides a long win streak into this and should win hard held. Of course, I wrote that about Douvan yesterday.

The Picks: Unowhatimeanharry, Cole Harden, Nichols Canyon.


Race 5. 4:10. The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase. Grade 3. 2 5/8 miles.

Ah, another handicap and another minefield. Good luck.

The Picks: Baron Alco, Thomas Crapper, Pinkie Brown.


Race 6. 4:50. The Trull House Stud Mares’ Novice Hurdle. Grade 2. 2 1/8-miles.

Here’s a new one, a race for novice mares. The watering down…

Ruby Walsh had a tough choice here. He chose Let’s Dance over Airlie Beach. Both ride long win streaks and both could win.

“I hope I’ve got the majority of them right,” Walsh said, about making choices.

Tough call.

The Picks: Let’s Dance, Airlie Beach, La Bague Au Roi.


Race 7. 5:30. The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup. Amateur riders handicap chase. 3 ¼ miles.

Pendra hasn’t run since the Grand National in April. Mall Dini won here last year. Lisa O’Neill (my new favorite jockey after guiding Tiger Roll to victory) rides Doctor Harper for David Pipe. Our old friend Josh Newman rides Sugar Baron for Nicky Henderson. The patient Jamie Codd rides Squouateur for Gordon Elliott.

Wade deeply. Wade carefully.

The Picks: Squouateur, Mall Dini, Premier Bond.