The long journey from Essex this morning was rewarded this afternoon as Cheltenham served up a feast of top class NH racing with some of the star names of jumps racing putting on a show that will long live in the memory with Sprinter Sacre reinforcing his reputation as the new superstar of NH with a effortless win in the grade 1 Victor Chandler Chase and the 12 year old Imperial Commander in perhaps the race of the season only narrowly being denied a fairy tail comeback win after 2 years off the track by Cape Tribulation in a thrilling finish in the days feature race The Argento Chase.
The opening contest saw Nicky Henderson's highly regarded French import Rolling Star make a impressive UK debut getting the better of Paul Nicholls previously undefeated Irish Saint with these two high class four year olds miles clear of the remainder of the field. The following race saw Vino Griego who defied his odds of 25-1 to run out a 19 length winner of The Timeform Novice Chase with the favourite Rajdhani Express the last of only 7 finishers as the Heavy ground took its toll.
Venetia Williams had been talking of a Gold Cup bid with her exciting French recruit Katenko and he fully justified the trainers confidence with a dominant display to slam a very competitive field in the grade 3 Murphy Group Handicap Chase.
Next up it was the star of the show Sprinter Sacre the ultra impressive Tingle Creek Chase winner making it 7/7 over fences simply toying with the opposition to record yet another effortless victory and judging by this display he looks bombproof in The Champion Chase at The Festival. If he stays fit he could be one of best if not the best 2m chaser we have ever seen.
The days feature The Argento Chase saw the return to the track of Imperial Commander and no body could have asked for any more from the 12yo after such a long lay off and almost pulled off a famous win seeing off Hunt Ball in the home straight only to be collected in the shadow of the winning line by the younger legs of Cape Tribulation. Only four of the ten completed this gruelling contest with the favourite Grands Crus never getting competitive and pulling up and last years winner Midnight Chase stopping to a walk before the line to finish a very remote 4last of the four to finish. It will be fascinating to see how much of a bearing this has on The Gold Cup & if the runner up comes on for this excellent comeback there is no reason he cannot be in the mix come March.
A high class renewal of The Neptune Investment Management Novice Hurdle saw the very highly regarded The New One taken on dirk course winner Coneygree and the highly progressive At Fishers Cross and it was the latter who prevailed reeling in The New One who had had a clear advantage jumping the last with Coneygree fading after cutting out the early running to finish 3rd. The first two home both look nailed on to run big races at The Festival.
I decided to to make The Cleeve Hurdle the final race of the day before making a early exit to embark in the long journey back to Essex and for the third successive race the huge crowd was treated to another pulsating finish with Reve De Sivola who had thrived on a return to hurdles this season just holding off Nicky Henderson's duel Aintree Hurdle winner Oscar Whisky who despite defeat confirmed he stays 3m after stopping up the hill in last years World Hurdle. He was given a very patient ride by Barry Geraghty which was understandable in the heavy ground and ridden closer to the pace on better ground I would expect him to turn the tables on the winner.
After being starved of top class jumping action in recent weeks this outstanding day of NH racing of the highest standard. more than made up for the disappointment of last weeks Ascot and Haydock cards being lost and let's not forget it only now 45 days until 'The Greatest Show On Turf' The Cheltenham Festival.