Champ’s late fall lets in Sue Smith’s Midnight Shadow for an unlikely win
Winner of the Relkeel Hurdle on the card 12 months ago, the classy seven-year-old, trained in Bingley, was winning for the first time over fences at the fourth attempt.
Champ, appeared to have matters under control for Barry Geraghty, albeit he had put in a few less than perfect jumps on the way round.
Running down to the second last, Champ had a five-length advantage with those in behind hard at work, but it all went wrong as he put in a short stride and Geraghty was fired into the turf.
That left Midnight Shadow to pick up the pieces, but he jumped the last awkwardly and idled up the hill despite Danny Cook’s best efforts, allowing Paint The Dream to close to within a length-and-a quarter.
“It looked like Barry had the race sewn up, but my lad was brilliant today,” said Cook.
“He relaxed really nicely, jumped from fence to fence, but just idled a bit after the last.
“We probably would have been a good second, but he was pulling himself up on the run-in.’’
Geraghty said: “He was brilliant through the race, but running to the second last he was looking around a bit and met it.
“It was a novicey fall. He seemed to get up OK, so hopefully he’s fine.’’
Summerville Boy returned to the scene of his finest hour to win the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle.
Since winning the 2018 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, not much has gone right for Tom George’s charge and he was sent off a 10-1 chance moving back to the smaller obstacles from fences. However, under new forceful tactics, Summerville Boy showed all his old dash to stake his claim for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival in March.
He looked a sitting duck turning into the straight with Janika, William Henry and Roksana all seemingly travelling better, but Summerville Boy just kept on pulling out more for Jonathan Burke.
Only Roksana was challenging after the last, but Summerville Boy galloped on powerfully up the hill to win by two and a quarter lengths.
The disappointment of the race was Emitom, who was last throughout.
Oldgrangewood prevailed by the narrowest of margins in an exciting three-way finish with Saint Calvados and Lalor in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
Lalor, ridden by Aidan Coleman for the first time, had led his rivals a merry dance for much of the race, showing all his old enthusiasm, but he looked in trouble running down to the last.
Dan Skelton’s Oldgrangewood, down the middle of the track, jumped to the lead while Saint Calvados was produced with a late run by Gavin Sheehan.
The famous Cheltenham hill looked like claiming another victim as Oldgrangewood’s stride began to shorten while Lalor, who was almost a length down at one stage, began to rally on the inside of Saint Calvados.
The three flashed across the line together and it was Oldgrangewood (12-1) and Harry Skelton who eventually got the verdict after a lengthy wait.
Top weight and 3-1 favourite Kalashnikov came home eighth of 10 finishers with trainer Amy Murphy later reporting that he had broken a blood vessel.
The Skelton team had earlier lost a race in the stewards’ room when Protektorat was demoted to second in favour of Imperial Alcazar.
Doing Fine gained compensation for the victory he was denied at Sandown last time - by demonstrating that stamina is his forte in the Markel Insurance Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
The Neil Mulholland-trained 12-year-old was first past the post in last month’s London National, but the race was declared void because the seven finishing riders failed to heed the yellow stop flag that was being waved because of a stricken horse.
Although turning into the home straight in third, the 11-2 shot saw his stamina reserves kick in to defeat course winner Cogry by four and a half lengths.
Mulholland said: “I’ve heard the word justice about 10 times in the last two minutes - it’s a very popular word.
“It is great for the horse and the Neil Mulholland Racing Club - and particularly good for Philip Donovan, who is attached to the yard as a 7lb claimer.
“He is a good lad and he deserved that. He took it again today, which is great. This horse is 12, and he gets a good tune out of him.
“He is a horse that is in good form - he is in the right frame of mind and is jumping well and seems to be in a good place.
“I think he will be better on better ground. He finished fourth in the Scottish National before - and if he could scrape into that, there is a chance he could go back for that.”
Imperial Alcazar returned to winning ways when he was awarded the Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, following a lengthy stewards’ inquiry.
Having initially finished second under Paddy Brennan behind Protektorat, the Fergal O’Brien-trained six-year-old was placed first as stewards ruled that interference shortly after the last hurdle had cost the 3-1 shot his chance of getting home in front.
O’Brien said: “I was delighted with the way the horse ran, and I’m not going to focus on the stewards’ inquiry. I love the way he jumped the last. He put his head down -he had to go around him and go and battle, but that is the way it is.
“We might try to get a Pertemps qualifier along the way, and go for that. We’ve a long way to go, though, and we will enjoy today.”
John Hales, part owner of the Dan Skelton-trained runner-up, indicated a plan to appeal against the result - describing the decision as the strangest he had ever seen.
Hales said: “Paddy never had to stop riding (on Imperial Alcazar). He never slowed down. He was never handicapped in any way as a result of what happened.
“Had he been, fair enough - but he wasn’t and galloped all the way from the last hurdle to the finish line. If that cross hadn’t have happened, the result would have been the same. We will probably appeal (against) that.
“That is the strangest one I’ve experienced since I’ve been in racing.”
Skandiburg lifted the spirits of owner Andrew Brooks when securing a tenacious success in the Paddy Power 69 Sleeps To Cheltenham Handicap Hurdle.
Saint Calvados was beaten a nose in the Grade Three chase in Brooks’ colours, but the Olly Murphy-trained Skandiburg ensured the owner did not go home empty handed.
Brooks said: “The lows are profound and the highs, you just take them when they are here as you don’t get them very often, so enjoy every moment.
“He went on and off the bridle the whole way round, but I knew he would stay up the hill so I’m absolutely delighted.”
The Pertemps Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is next on the agenda for Skandiburg, who initiated a double for rider Gavin Sheehan, according to the winning trainer.
He added: “He never travelled from the word go and in fairness to Gavin, he kept nudging and urging along and never went for his stick - he was a good winner in the end.
“I will freshen him up now and I would say he won’t be far away with a clear run round. He is a horse that will thrive in a big-runner handicap.”
Warren Greatrex had nothing but praise for Sheehan after Audacity survived a stewards’ inquiry to win by a neck in the Listed National Hunt Flat Race.
Greatrex said of the 16-1 winner: “He has run a bit green the last twice and we thought it might be because of the horses around him, so we thought we would buck him out the gate and let him roll.
“I don’t care what anyone says, he (Sheehan) is the best rider in a bumper from the front. He is head and shoulders above everybody. From turning in, it was going to take a good one to pass him.”
Cheltenham Gold Cup victor Al Boum Photo oozed class in making a winning reappearance in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore to claim the race for a second successive year.