Sunday 23 April 2017

Fehily uses all of his guile to get best out of Special Tiara

Noel Fehily celebrates after winning the 3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Special Tiara. Photo: Reuters
Noel Fehily celebrates after winning the 3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on Special Tiara. Photo: Reuters

Marcus Armytage

It is not so long ago that jump jockeys with their 40th birthday disappearing in the rear-view mirror were either trainers or pundits.

However, with developments in fitness, nutrition and safety, the sell-by date for this special breed of sportsman is advancing all the time.

The teenage Jack Kennedy may have struck the first blow for youth on Tuesday but the riding star of Cheltenham so far has been Noel Fehily who, at 41, and with over two decades of experience behind him, is riding better than ever.

On Tuesday, he won the Champion Hurdle on comfortably the best horse.

Yesterday, with no margin for error, he topped that when he gave Special Tiara a sublime front-running ride to get him home by a diminishing head from Fox Norton in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Today, he aims to continue his clean sweep of Cheltenham's feature races when he rides the favourite Unowhatimeanharry in the Stayers' Hurdle.

The unprecedented achievement of winning all four in the same year will not be possible, however, unless he picks up an unexpectedly late spare in tomorrow's Gold Cup.

Yesterday's result may have been an 11/1 surprise after Douvan trailed in seventh reminding us there are no certainties in horse racing but it was no less deserved for all that.

Henry de Bromhead, whose Sizing Europe won this race in 2011 and was a standing dish in it until the age of 13, had Special Tiara in the form of his life.

Three times he has contested the race before but yesterday his well-being coincided with some sunshine, some spring ground and a jockey at the peak of his powers and he needed all that in his favour to hold off Fox Norton.

It will not have been lost on many that the runner-up is, ironically, owned by Alan Potts who owned Sizing Europe and last summer removed a dozen horses from De Bromhead.

Having made all the running, Fehily said he had been waiting for Douvan to sweep past.

"Of course I was," he said. "I didn't know where he was until I watched the replay walking back down the chute.

"But Special Tiara got into a particularly good rhythm today and at the ditch up the hill I was particularly happy. I thought Douvan might come past but nothing else.

"He's a great jumper but so much better on good ground. Two times he's been here this winter and both times he's been bogged down."

De Bromhead was elated. "What a ride from Noel," he said. "He gets on so well with the horse. It's a horse race so anything can happen but it's very hard to believe at the moment.

"No horse deserves it any more than this lad and Sally (Rowley-Williams, his American-based owner) loves her horses. No one deserves it more than her."

He continued: "I thought he jumped the slickest he's ever jumped. That's what two-mile chasing's all about. I came here hoping if we got placed it would be a fantastic achievement."

Might Bite had earlier claimed the narrowest of triumphs after an extraordinary conclusion to the RSA Chase.

Nicky Henderson's inmate looked to have gifted stablemate Whisper certain victory when hanging badly to his right after the last, but, with the aid of a loose horse, Nico de Boinville somehow managed to coax a late rally out of the 7/2 favourite and got back up by a nose.

Naughty

"He's not naughty, or anything like that, but the future is obviously enormous," said Henderson, who is already thinking about running him in the King George at Kempton over Christmas. "What to make of it all? It just goes to show why you run two horses in a race.

"It was extraordinary. Might Bite is only a baby but he's hugely talented. He just grinds it out and keeps going, but then he stops and has an ice cream!"

Davy Russell picked up a four-day ban for his use of the whip on Whisper.

Willoughby Court (14/1) showed great bravery to subdue Neon Wolf in the Neptune Investment Management Novice' Hurdle - much to the joy of Ben Pauling, who was claiming a first Festival success.

Pauling said: "I must admit that when I saw Neon Wolf looming I was worried but I was just hoping we could get him off the bridle and we did. He won't go to Aintree and I'd be surprised if he ran again this season as he's had a hard season."

Fehily was given a two-day suspension for his use of the whip on Neon Wolf.

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Telegraph.co.uk

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