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Five talking points from Day 2 of the Cheltenham FestivalPosted on Thursday 17th March 2016 @ 10.05

Will Rooney picks out five of the key talking points from the second day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival

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As frustrating as it is when connections change their mind at the last minute, more often than not, it's the right move.

Yorkhill looked to be heading for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle ever since he won the Tolworth at Sandown in January.

Willie Mullins was set to run him in the two-mile race and Bellshill in the Neptune Management Novices' Hurdle until, at the very last minute, decided to switch things around.

Granted, racing would be nothing without betting and a thought has to be spared for those who had backed Yorkhill for the Supreme and lost their money.

However, it proved to be a wise move from Mullins and Yorkhill bolted home from hot favourite Yanworth by one-and-three-quarter lengths.

Although there were probably few who backed him ante-post for the race given his schedule looked mapped out, the six-year-old still represented decent value for punters on the day against Yanworth and went off 3/1.

It may have been seen as a negative for some, but there was good reason why Yorkhill was switched.


All the talk heading into the Festival was surrounded by the likes of Mullins, Walsh, Rich Ricci, Graham Wylie, JP McManus and Gigginstown.

However, Cheltenham is a place for fairytales to come true and that is indeed what happened for Nigel Twiston-Davies and Ryan Hatch.

All the talk prior to the RSA Chase was about More Of That and No More Heroes and the other rivals were barely mentioned when the race was being previewed.

However, Blaklion well and truly spoiled the party to win for Twiston-Davies, who claimed his first Festival winner since Imperial Commander defied the dominant pair of Kauto Star and Denman in 2010.

Hatch has been a superb deputy for Twiston-Davies since his son, Sam, took up the retainer's job with Paul Nicholls and he registered a well-deserved second Cheltenham Festival winner and first at the top level.

He never gave up on the son of Kayf Tara, even when it looked as if the gelding wasn't travelling as well as some of his rivals. No More Heroes looked the likeliest winner but stumbled on landing two fences out and suffered what proved to be a fatal injury in the process.

It was Blaklion who took advantage, with Hatch being brave and waiting for the gap to appear before he made his move and horse took him to the front, and the gelding showed a game attitude to win by half-a-length.

Hatch has had a great season, previously topped by winning the Imperial Cup on Saturday on Flying Angel at Sandown, but his victory in the RSA is by far the biggest of his career. For a young lad who still has a 3lb claim, it was refreshing to see an up-and-coming, talented jockey take the spoils.

Twiston-Davies' fruitful day continued with Ballyandy grinding out victory in the Champion Bumper, with his son this time piloting.


Donald McCain junior has suffered a major relapse this season given he had a large proportion of horses he previously trained shipped off elsewhere.

A Hare's Breath, owned by Paul and Claire Rooney, has been on an upward curve for Ben Pauling since the owners moved all their horses from McCain and Gordon Elliott has also benefitted from the former Grand National winning trainers' ex-recruits.

Diamond King was rated just 132 when he was with McCain before he got switched across the Irish Sea by owner Diana Whateley.

Elliott has duly worked his magic with the son of King's Theatre and won a smart hurdle race on just his third start for the trainer.

Phil Smith punished Diamond King with a harsh mark of 149 for the Coral Cup. However, Elliott was upbeat about his charge's chances before the off and there was good reason to be.

Davy Russell timed his mount to perfection and won gamely by one-and-a-quarter lengths. He's likely to be put up at least four pounds for that effort, taking his mark 20 pounds higher than with McCain.

It'll be interesting if another ex-McCain gelding now trained by Elliott, Descoto County, can sneak into the County Hurdle on Friday. If he does, bookmakers will likely not take any chances of being fooled twice.


Following the Champion Chase last year, there was a large section of racing fans who wanted to see Sprinter Sacre retired.

Once a great champion, who his rivals could not lay a glove on, and who won the 2013 Champion Chase in impeccable style, his career went on a steep downward spiral after he pulled up in the Desert Orchid Chase in 2013 with an irregular heartbeat and had more than a year off the track.

When he did make his return, the son of Network looked nothing of his old self and he was written off for this season by most.

Nicky Henderson kept faith in Sprinter Sacre and carefully nursed the gelding to try and get him to recapture his former sparkle. Henderson did nothing that the horse did not want him to do and only went off the vibes that Sprinter Sacre gave him.

A win in the Shloer Chase in November gave the chances of him completing the impossible a glimmer of hope and a gutsy performance in the Desert Orchid at Kempton to beat Sire De Grugy also bolstered his chances of recapturing his Champion Chase crown.

Un De Sceaux was going to be tough to beat in the Champion Chase and it was going to take a special performance to thwart Mullins' charge.

That it was from Sprinter Sacre who, although he wasn't quite his old former self, produced a jaw-dropping performance to win the contest.

When Nico de Boinville took Sprinter Sacre past Un De Sceaux heading to the second last, the roar from the crowd was almighty. Those who clutched onto betting slips that did not have Sprinter Sacre's name on even yelled him on to complete his task.

The training performance from Henderson will go down as one of the best of all time, and rightly so.

From the depths of defeat, Sprinter Sacre, the people's champion, produced an unbelievable effort to beat a highly competitive field that featured six Grade 1 winners and two former Champion Chasers.

He dispatched his rivals and his effort will go down in racing history for decades to come.


It was quite remarkable that some bookmakers were taking bets on Paul Nicholls not to land a Festival winner in the build-up to the meeting.

The Champion trainer does not possess the arsenal he once did and is short of Grade 1 horses but he has a number of young, up-and-coming protagonists from France who will certainly be winning at the highest level in time.

His likeliest winner this week was probably going to come in one of the four-year-old races and he dominated the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, leading home a one-two.

Much like Aux Ptits Soins in the Coral Cup last season, the Ditcheat handler did not run Diego Du Charmil since recruiting him from across the Channel to protect his mark.

Nicholls was bullish about the son of Ballingarry's chances in the build-up to the race and he duly obliged.

Sam Twiston-Davies gave him a well-timed ride and, when he hit the front two hurdles out, although he idled in front, held on gamely to win.

Romain De Senam also ran a superb race in second, rallying late under Nick Schofield to get within a neck of his stablemate.

Both are likely to make excellent chasers in the future and Nicholls also looks to hold the key in the Triumph Hurdle on Friday. He looks set to lay a five-pronged attack on the race he last won in 2011 and it's well worth having an in-depth look on all of his runners.

Article Posted on Thursday 17th March 2016 @ 10.05

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