One down. Three to go.
Rough day at the office yesterday, needing to borrow cab fare from George Baker to get home to North Cerney last night after dinner at 131 in Cheltenham. The younger crowd was on their way to Club 21, those days, my friends, are long gone. Now, it’s dinner, Racing Post and an early night for a fresh start for day two. Yeah, day two, once more unto the breach.
Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty continued their brilliance yesterday, delivering Epatante for a fierce and facile score in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. Henderson notched his eighth win in the Champion Hurdle. Eighth. He’s been doing it for decades, an assassin when it comes to big prizes on big days. Epatante was a willing and chilling partner yesterday, slicing through the field to win easily. The ground was meant to be against her, she was facing the boys, she had flopped at Cheltenham last year…nothing but pebbles on her pavement.
"It's a nice race, isn't it? It goes back such a long time since the first one, which was I think was 1985, so it's quite a long time. She was always travelling and you were always quite pleased with where she was. Barry gave her a beautiful ride. He always just had it covered and she has the gears,” Henderson said. "I was worried a bit after last year, when she didn't run well in the mares' novice hurdle, and she fell to pieces afterwards. She went home to Martinstown, I sent her there looking awful and she came back looking fantastic, a million dollars.”
Epatante was just one of three fillies and mares to star yesterday as Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore slipped through the inside to win the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle and Put The Kettle On gamely turned away Fakir D’Oudairies in the Arkle, hence, I needed cab fare.
Blackmore is simply a jockey. Precision and decision, she’s as good as I’ve ever seen.
"I was travelling well to the second-last and then became kind of forced in, but I knew that I had plenty of toe at the back of the last,” Blackmore said. “It's a big week and I am delighted. You kind of realise early in the day that these winners are so hard to get, so I am so lucky to be riding all these horses. It's every jockey's dream to be in the position I'm in, and Cheltenham is what it is all about."
Race 1. 1:30. The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Grade 1. £125,000. 2 miles, 5 furlongs.
Eight-for-eight, Envoi Allen rolls into the opener for the Cool Hand Luke of jump racing, Davy Russell (did you see his ride on Galvin yesterday?). Untouchable this year, the 6-year-old should handle a strong field, including the also-undefeated Sporting John for Philip Hobbs.
The Picks: Envoi Allen, Sporting John, Shakem Up’Arry.
Race 2. 2:10. The RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase. Grade 1. £175,000. 3 miles, 80 yards.
I wrote “chaser” on Allaho’s square in the program last year. He’s won one of two over fences this season. Champ divides people like Trump, he’ll need to unite here, which he didn’t when falling over the same course in January. Minella Indo won the Albert Bartlett last year and looks to be going the right direction.
The Picks: Minella Indo, Allaho, Copperhead.
Race 3. 2:50. Coral Cup. Handicap Hurdle. Grade 3. £100,000. 2 miles, 5 furlongs.
Richard Johnson banged his hip when he came off Brewing’upastorm in the Arkle yesterday and was stood down, missing out on his final three rides. Hopefully, he’s back at his best to steer my bet of the day. Now, having your bet of the day in the Coral Cup is like having a picnic in Piccadilly, it’s the roughest race of the meet with 26 in the mix.
The Picks: Honest Vic, Protektorat, Franco De Port.
Race 4. The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Grade 1. £400,000.
The life of a horse trainer. On the morning of winning his eighth Champion Hurdle, Henderson had to scratch the one-and-only Altior, defending champion of the Queen Mother Chase. A three-star fracas has been reduced to a two-phenom scrum. Chacun Pour Soi has won three of four since joining Willie Mullins while Defi Du Seuil rides a three-race win streak and 14-win career for Philip Hobbs. Winner of the JLT Novices’ Chase last year here, he’s faced Chacun Pour Soi once, finishing 4 ¼ lengths behind him at Punchestown last year. But that was last year. Fascinating race, just six line up in a tactical thriller.
The Picks: Chacun Pour Soi, Defi Du Seuil, Sceau Royal.
Race 5. 4:10. The Glenfarclas Chase. Cross Country.
Stand back and watch a one-off icon who has done it all in an unexplainable, inexplicable career. This will be Tiger Roll’s fifth Cheltenham Festival victory.
The Picks: Tiger Roll, Easysland, Yanworth.
Race 6. 4:50. The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Grade 3. £80,000. 2 miles, 87 yards.
The Fred Winter. Check out the strength of the 4-year-old division, we need to focus on this division at home, offering the easiest and simplest rung up the ladder to young horses who need it. Twenty-two line up in another puzzler.
The Picks: Mick Pastor, Palladium, Blacko.
Race 7. 5:30. The Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Grade 1. £75,000. 2 miles, 87 yards.
Appreciate It has been the talking horse all year.
The Picks: Appreciate It, Adrimel, Queens Brook.