Monday, 18 March 2013

A vintage opening day of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival

I have attended the Cheltenham Festival on many occasions whether it was for just a few days or the entire week but this years Festival would have rank as the best that I have been lucky enough to be in attendance for so far after being treated along with thousands and thousands of others to 4 days of the very best National Hunt racing with the likes of Hurricane Fly reclaiming his Champion Hurdle Crown, The wonder mare Quevaga joining the great Golden Miller as a 5 time Festival winner, Sprinter Sacre putting in one of the great all time performances in the Queen Mother Champion Chase to confirm himself as the new superstar of NH racing and finally Bobs Worth capping a magnificent week storming up the hill to win a memorable renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Despite the freezing cold weather on the opening day the crowds where not going to be deterred from streaming into Cheltenham in there thousands and the customary roar when up when the tapes went up for the traditional curtain raiser to the Festival the Supreme Novice Hurdle which saw Champagne Fever return to Cheltenham after winning last years Champion Bumper to register his second success at the Festival under a brilliant ride from Ruby Walsh to make all to hold off the red hot favourite My Tent Or Yours to give the Irish a perfect start to the meeting.

The Arkle had been billed as a clash between the popular Overturn and Nicky Henderson's brilliant grey Simonsig but this clash never materialised as Overturn struggled on the soft ground so it was the Mouse Morris trained Bailey Green who was sent off a unconsidered outsider at 33-1, very stupid odds for any horse sent over by his very shred Irish trainer and he got closer than any other horse has got to Simonsig for a long time before Nicky Henderson's top class grey saw off the Irish challenger to score by 2 1/2 lengths. It was found that after the race Simonsig was found to have had a dirty scope that possibly accounted for his slightly laboured effort despite winning. It looks like he will be kept to 2m which raises the possibility of a mouthwatering clash between him and his brilliant stablemate Sprinter Sacre in next years Champion Chase. Lets hope they just make it to next years Festival fit and healthy.

The highlight of the opening day the Champion Hurdle attracted a small but very select field that included three former winners in the shape of Binocular, Hurricane Fly and last years winner Rock On Ruby. Hurricane Fly could only manage 3rd last year in a interrupted 2011/12 campaign but this season everything as gone like clockwork with both Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh confident that the 9yo could regain his crown and and The Fly sent the thousand of Irish in attendance into hysterics holding off the strong challenge of Rock On Ruby who despite finishing 2nd still possibly still ran above the level of his 2012 win in the race to make Hurricane Fly the best hurdler since the great Istabraq pull out all the stops to become the first horse since Comedy Of Errors 38 years ago to regain his Champion Hurdle crown.

Quevaga the four time Festival winner was hot favourite to land a remarkable 5th Mares Hurdle but it wasn't going to be all plain sailing this year for the 9yo wonder mare after she lost her position when being hampered coming down the hill and coming into the straight her four year unbeaten record looked in jeopardy after the French raider Sirene D'Ainey looked to be in full command entering the straight but once Quevaga got into full flow she flew up the hill to run down the French challenger and in gaining her 5th win in this race she joined the great Golden Miller as the only horses to win at the Festival for five successive years and in the process cap a memorable day for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh and the Ireland in general with there 3rd win on the opening day of the Festival.

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