Cheltenham: Half Time.

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The third-to-last of the Queen Mother. The bedlam of the crowd so far away. Silence. Peaceful. Hoof beats in a vacuum. 


Barry Geraghty in the middle of the storm. Motionless aboard Sprinter Sacre, the best 2-mile chaser in the world. Sprinter Sacre rises, lands, on terms with Sizing Europe. Geraghty takes a pull, like he’s galloping one in the morning. Sprinter Sacre obliges, curling his long black neck and waiting for the cue. A handful of spectators, in awe, a couple of superlatives uttered without knowing it. Cameras click, staccato. The stragglers pore over the fence, nobody’s watching them. The hoof beats echo away, down the hill, two to go. The crowd comes alight.

The hare. The hound. Sizing Europe trying hard. Sprinter Sacre simply toying with his rival.

Winning margin – 19 lengths.

“He leaves you speechless,” trainer Nicky Henderson said after the race.

Black as night and sinewy as a dancer, he’s the best we’ve seen in a long time. Young, talented, electric. A privilege.

It’s halftime. Two days down. Two to go. As always, the Festival hasn’t disappointed. As I’ve said before, pints downed, kings crowned.

Race 1. Jewson Novices’ Chase. Registered as the Golden Miller. Grade II. 2 ½ miles. Winner £56,950.

Nineteen go to post with leading trainer Willie Mullins and leading jockey Ruby Walsh teaming up with Marito while Britain counters with Dynaste for David Pipe and Tom Scudamore. Dynaste has been flawless this year, three starts, three wins. Captain Conan has the same mark for Nicky Henderson.

The Picks: Dynaste, Marito, Aupcharlie.

Race 2. Pertemps Final. Handicap Hurdle. Listed Race. 3 miles. Winner £45,560.

My old friend Junior (have I told you that story…?) against other old servants Fair Along, Catch Me, Backbenscher. Deep field, another puzzle with pieces spread across the table and no box top to tell you what to do. Sam Winner, for Paul Nicholls, rates the longest look.

The Picks: Top Of The Range, Shutthefrontdoor, Junior.

Race 3. Ryanair Chase. Grade I. 2 5/8-miles. Winner £156,613.

Hello, old friend. The great Albertas Run makes his seasonal debut and his seventh start at the Festival. Last year, he ran hard (as always) to just miss against Riverside Theatre in the same race. The 12-year-old faces many darts here, including Cue Card, First Lieutenant and his vanquisher from last year. Albertas Run is a longshot this year, the crowd will cheer for their old friend any way. So we meet again . . .

The Picks: First Lieutenant, Albertas Run, Champion Court.

Race 4. The Ladbrokes World Hurdle. Grade I. 3 miles. Winner £156,613.

The feature of the day and somewhat dull without the great Big Buck’s, out with an injury after dominating this race for the past four years. Henderson and Geraghty send out favorite Oscar Whiskey while Nick Williams produces Reve De Sivola, aiming for his third in a row. For the first time in years, you don’t draw a circle around one and go from there. Open race.

The Picks: Bog Warrior, Peddlers Cross, Wonderful Charm.

Race 5. Byrne Group Plate. Handicap Chase. Grade III. 2 5/8-miles. Winner £51,255.

Last year’s handicap star Hunt Ball returns but carrying highweight against traditional handicappers Walkon, Calgary Bay, Poquelin and others firmly in the grip of the handicapper. David Pipe aims for another handicap coup with Ballynagour, who made his British debut in February, winning at Warwick. Set up for this.

The Picks: Ballynagour, Cantlow, Vino Griego.

Race 6. Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Chase. Amateur riders. 3 1/8 miles. Winner £35,976.

Twenty four runners, amateur riders, Cheltenham. Dreams made and dashed in a matter of minutes.

The Picks: Super Duty, Prince Of Pirates, No Secrets.

Race 7. Glenfarclas Handicap Chase. Cross Country Race. 3 7/8-miles. Winner £31,280.

Rescheduled from Tuesday, due to frozen ground, I’ll simply cut and paste what I said then.

Cheltenham’s “funny” race. Never a race where I wade deeply, well, except for the old days when bettors abandoned old friends Spot Thedifference in 2005 and Garde Champetre in 2008, but an interesting race to watch, at the least. Purists don’t think it belongs at the Festival, perhaps, but I’m here once a year, I’ll take it and enjoy it.

Enda Bolger has won four of nine runnings and returns with Arabella Boy and Freneys Well. I’ll fish outside his pool and select Outlaw Pete, third in his most recent start.

The Picks: Outlaw Pete, Arabella Boy, Big Shu.