Cheltenham: Queen Mother Day

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I’ve said it over and over, a mantra learned and relearned – all you want in this game is that moment when it can actually happen. That moment when your horse is in the right place, he’s traveling, it’s going as planned, you can see it. 

Many times, you don’t get that moment, things are going asunder from the moment the flag drops, the gate opens, and you can’t possibly imagine a positive outcome. You don’t shout, hell you don’t utter a sound, you stand in utter disappointment, without a moment. In with a shout. That’s all you want.

We were in with a shout at the second-to-last in the Arkle. We’ll take it. Certainly not satisfied or sated but we had that moment when you could see it. I’ll admit, my heart raced for a moment there, my friends and family yelled, we had that moment.

As always proud of Valdez, he’s a classy horse who will have big days in the future. We have had our runner at Cheltenham, turn the page, look for the next runner, the next winner.

As for other shouts, the public changing of the guard happened yet again at Cheltenham when Hurricane Fly failed to stave off rivals – time – and finished fourth in the Champion Hurdle. Jezki, four years younger and 20 races fewer – won the battle over My Tent Or Yours. Hurricane Fly received as loud an ovation as Jezki in the winner’s enclosure, they were still clapping when the two-time champ plunged his head into the yellow bucket of drinking water on the ground at Willie Mullins’ feet, gasping and gulping for resolution. Goodbyes are never easy.

A race later, the changing of the guard was in question again when Quevega returned to the cauldron to try to make it six wins in a row in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle. As she galloped to the start, I explained the significance of the moment to our contingent of Americans – race fans and horsemen but not crusaders like some of us. Probably too loud and too passionate, but it turned into a six-minute sermon about the public changing of the guard, the vanquished Hurricane Fly and the moment at hand. I explained every move Ruby Walsh would try to make aboard Quevega, every counter move around her, how it’ll look like she’s in trouble, then she’ll lengthen…then we walked outside and it unfolded in front of us, a 2 ½-mile play. Sixteen of us roared as Ruby pulled her alongside stablemate Glens Melody and then she did the rest. Tears flowed. The guard is still the guard.

As for today, the Queen Mother Champion Chase highlights the card. Two miles, big fences, helter on skelter. The race lost its main attraction when last year’s winner Sprinter Sacre wound up on the sidelines earlier in the season, his departure increased the participation and decreased the separation. Sire de Grugy, winner of his last three, takes top billing for father/son team Gary Moore and Jamie Moore.

As always, here’s a quick preview of the races with some picks for you to ponder. Managed to pick three winners yesterday – Vatour, Quevega and Midnight Prayer. The latter at 8-1, the others shorter. Keep the foot on the floor.

Second day. We’re not even halfway home…

The First. The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. Grade I. $199,000. 2 5/8 miles.

Ruby and Willie try to sweep the novice hurdles with undefeated Faugheen in the opener. His comments from last four starts – impressive, very easily, easily, easily. The beat goes on. For Britain, Red Sherlock counters, putting his undefeated record on the line. Nicky Henderson sends out Royal Boy, who handed Josses Hill (who ran well yesterday) a loss at Kempton. John Ferguson seeks his first Festival win with Fennell Bay.

The Picks: Faugheen, Rathvinden, Cup Final.

Second Race. RSA Novices Chase. Class 1. $249,000. 3 1/16 miles.

Read through the conditions, you see what Cheltenham is about, basically giving an opportunity in all divisions, here is the 3 mile chase for novices. Yesterday, the Arkle, was the 2 mile chase for novices. Like at the Breeders’ Cup and other festivals, the key is keeping the quality up as it inevitably gets watered down. Alan King aims for his second win at the Festival with Smad Place. Mullins and Walsh attack with Ballycasey.

The Picks: Smad Place, Many Clouds, Corrin Wood.

Third Race. Coral Cup. Class 1. $133,000. 2 5/8 miles.

America tries to get on the board with Meister Eckhart, fresh off a game second at Fontwell in his return. Twenty-eight runners, weights ranging from 158 to 147. Throw the dart. Good luck.

The Picks: Bayan, Whisper, Meister Eckhart.

Fourth Race. Queen Mother Champion Chase. Grade 1. $581,000. 2 miles.

My favorite race. Speed, stamina and precision. Sire de Grugy is the most accomplished this season. Sizing Europe has been here before. Arvika Ligeonnierre represents Walsh and Mullins.

The Picks: Sire de Grugy, Sizing Europe, Hinterland.

Fifth Race. The Glenfarclas Handicap Chase. $83,000. Cross Country race.

Big Shu tries to repeat his win from last year.

The Picks: Balthazar King, Big Shu, Sir Collonges.

Sixth Race. Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Grade 3. $124,500. 2 1/16 miles.

Twenty-four runners. One for the paddock, pick out the best-looking 4-year-old hurdler.

The Picks: Clarcam, Dawalan, Ivan Grozny.

Seventh Race. Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Grade I. 2 1/16 miles. Flat.

Another for the paddock. Willie Mullins runs three.

The Picks: Black Hercules, Joshua Lane, Our Kaempfer.