Richard Forristal's Race Reads: Day One
1.30 Stan James Supreme Novices' Hurdle 2m
Magen's Star set a strong early pace, but the Tommy Stack-trained mare ultimately paid the price, trailing home at the rear. The favourite Cue Card settled into its rhythm in the middle of the field, and looked to be in a good position turning for home.
However, Sprinter Sacre travelled even better, only to wilt after jumping the last, at which point his stablemate Spirit Son gained a narrow advantage. With Cue Card unable to raise a challenge, Barry Geraghty's mount kept on, but had no answer to Ruby Walsh and Al Ferof, which stormed up the hill to score.
Keen not to let the pace drop, Davy Russell pressed from the top of the hill on Rathlin. He kept on for an admirable sixth, just in front of Zaidpour, whose blunder three-out cost him any chance of a place.
2.05 Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase 2m
Having been caught late on Spirit Son, Barry Geraghty must have thought his luck was about to change as Finian's Rainbow, which had fenced well, eased into a lead down the hill. Geraghty had sat handy all the way, but Finian's Rainbow had nothing more to give when he hit the last.
Captain Chris also raced close to the pace, but he had been off the bridle from three-out. Once he was close enough to challenge, his stamina was always going to come into play, and he battled well to win by the best part of three lengths.
Medermit looked to be struggling to go the pace from a long way out, while Realt Dubh ran a blinder to take third. Paul Carberry hunted him round quietly, but they just lacked the gears to challenge the front couple.
2.40 Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase 3m
Already a contender for finish of the week. Bensalem was trained to the minute for this since tipping up here last year, and neither he nor Carole's Legacy looked likely to give an inch in a thrilling spectacle.
In the end, Bensalem, which Robert Thornton had dropped in and given a wonderful patient ride, somehow found enough to repel Carole's Legacy, a third successive runner-up for Geraghty. Reve De Sivola ran a race full of promise to be third, with mistakes at crucial times costing the novice.
The favourite, Sunnyhillboy, crashed out at the seventh, while Great Endeavour, having been slowly away, went on to run and jump for fun under Timmy Murphy, only to take a tired fall at the last. Rare Bob had led at a furious pace early on and pulled up going out on the last circuit.
3.20 Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 2m
Pretty much everything went to plan for Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly. He was positioned on the inner early, with Brian O'Connell sitting alongside him on Dunguib. The only slight issue was in that first half a mile, when Hurricane Fly, rather than the gassy Dunguib, was sweaty and reluctant to settle.
Dunguib could never get into the race, while Hurricane Fly crept on to the heels of the leaders by the time they got to the second last.
Peddlers Cross and Oscar Whisky, which had both sat handily, took up the running there, and gave Ruby a lead home.
Hurricane Fly responded gamely when asked to pick-up at the last, and fought off the determined Peddlers Cross by a length and a quarter.
Oscar Whisky ran on for a gallant third, with Thousand Stars fourth, which got hit with a fair shoulder three-out by Hurricane Fly as Walsh manoeuvred into position, but it didn't cost him a place. Menorah was the disappointment of the race, failing to raise his game when push came to shove.
4.00 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 3m 7f
Whatever your take on the merits of this race at the Festival, you cannot deny that it has a habit of throwing up a cracking finish. Andrew Lynch never missed a beat on Sizing Australia, leading home an Irish 1-2-3 from the ageless Garde Champetre and A New Story, which between them had won the previous three runnings of the race.
Lynch sat prominently throughout, and led for spells when the intensity dropped. As he was joined at the head of affairs by Maljimar two-out, Sizing Australia's number looked up, but he responded gamely, and kept finding more to repel Garde Champetre.
A New Story also threatened on the run to the last, but lacked a turn of foot, but he didn't flatten out as badly as Maljimar, which eventually took fourth. There was no faller in the race, though One Cool Cookie ran out at halfway, and L'Ami pulled up suddenly before the 22nd.
4.40 David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle 2m 4f
Hard as it may be to believe, Quevega won this easier than she had done the previous two times. Ruby Walsh dropped her in and took his time, and the only difficulty he had was holding on to her for long enough, although Quevega did step at the last flight.
Obviously it helps that he is riding good horses, but Walsh's ability to time his runs so brilliantly in such a cauldron of intensity should never be underestimated.
To be honest, it is slightly surprising that many of his rivals play into his hands so readily, with Sparky May one of a number of fancied horses on the day to give him a fine tow.
Having made a bad mistake early, that one might have been best served by more patient tactics, but instead was in front after the third-last.
Still, she would never have won, and remains a mare of some promise.
5.15 Centenary Novices' Handicap Chase 2m 4f
The leaders set a suicidal pace in this, with Nadiya De La Vega, Rougham, and Tullamore Dew all paying the price for over-exerting themselves. In fairness, Tullamore Dew kept on for third, but those that waited off the pace were always going to have an edge once the front few kept taking each other on.
If Ruby Walsh has the patent on calm, measured deliveries, Tony McCoy has the copyright on never-say-die gusto. As he jumped the last on Quantitativeeasing, it looked as though he was about to drag another one over the line, Jonjo O'Neill's runner having ruined McCoy's good early work with an expensive mistake three-out.
It was a fair effort from both man and horse to get back into it, but Graham Lee, not for the first time, gave a masterclass on the winner Divers. Ferdy Murphy had been telling anyone who'd listen in recent weeks that this horse could win, and Lee's wonderfully executed waiting ride smacked of a man equally confident.