Cheltenham Day 3: World Hurdle Day

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Last year, I wrote…

Sprinter Sacre turned right, veins bulging, blowing, beaten. Sire De Grugy walked straight, tired but typical, then he turned left. Dodging Bullets walked straight. Then stopped. 

At Cheltenham, you want to walk straight, like an arrow into the center, into the winner’s enclosure.

The crowd roared, nothing like they would have if Sprinter Sacre or Sire De Grugy had pulled off their reclamations, but they saluted the new champion.

The public changing of the guard occurred yet again at Cheltenham Wednesday as former champions Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy failed in the Queen Mother. Interrupted seasons, injuries, age, simple health issues, perhaps ground conditions played their parts in the derailment. The fragilities of the horse in full specter as Sprinter Sacre, invincible two years ago when he floated through two of the most magical miles ever seen on a racecourse, faded tamely in this year’s Queen Mother, a few loyal backers yelled, “Come on Sprinter,” as he tried to muster a whisper but couldn’t. A shell of himself.

Well, that was last year.

Sprinter Sacre walked straight Wednesday, straight into the winner’s enclosure, straight into Cheltenham lore, straight into our hearts again. With a flawless performance in the Queen Mother, Sprinter Sacre regained his crown, an achievement which doesn’t happen often, if ever, at Cheltenham. Talented, peerless, unflappable, faultless two years ago, he awed us, but from afar. Now, after a heart ailment and other issues had him reeling, he’s one of us, relatable, touchable, human, if you will.

The hair on my arm stood up as he stood off at the fence at the top of the hill, as he sauntered past favorite Un De Sceaux, as he climbed the hill. The king – our king – crowned. Again.

As for Wednesday’s picks, well, they weren’t exactly Sprinter Sacre quality, as Yanworth suffered from a wide trip in the opener, we did manage to pick Coral Cup winner Diamond King and tabbed Sprinter Sacre in second, but that’s all. In the immortal words of J.P. McManus, there’s never a last race.

Race 1. 9:30. The JLT Novices’ Chase. Grade 1. $191,000. 2 1/2 miles.

The Picks: Bristol De Mai, Outlander, King’s Odyssey.

Race 2. 10:10. Pertemps Network Final. $132,500. Listed Handicap Hurdle. 3 miles.

The Picks: Arpege D’Alene, All Hell Let Loose, Saddlers Encore.

Race 3: 10:50. The Ryanair Chase. Grade 1. $461,000. 2 5/8 miles.

Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci made more enemies than friends when they audibled Vautour into this, rather than the Gold Cup. He’s the class of the field, but maybe karma will go another way. Of course, if you’re betting karma, you’re probably in trouble. 

The Picks: Road To Riches, Vautour, Smashing.

Race 4. 11:30. The Ryanair World Hurdle. Grade 1. $441,000. 3 miles.

Find your Iroquois horse here. Thistlecrack has been stellar all year, Cold Harden returns to defend his crown and the ground has finally come his way. I’ve liked Whisper for years, why not, he likes spring air. 

The Picks: Whisper, Cold Harden, Thistlecrack.

Race 5. 12:10. The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate. Grade 3. $147,000. 2 5/8 miles.

The Picks: Empire Of Dirt, Full Shift, Buckers Bridge.

Race 6. 12:50. The Trull House Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Grade 2. $110,500. 2 1/8 miles.

The Picks: Limini, Chocca Wocca, Smart Talk.

Race 7: 1:30. The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup. Handicap Chase. Amateur riders. $95,000. 3 1/4 miles.

I have to bet a son of With Approval, right?

The Picks: The Job Is Right, Midnight Prayer, The Giant Bolster.