Spring Heeled McNamara the Irish saviour
For the second day in a row it was Robbie McNamara's silky skills that salvaged something from a frustrating Cotswolds afternoon for the raiders, when Spring Heeled made all the running in the Kim Muir Chase.
On Wednesday, at least Faugheen's triumph in the opener had been banked. Yesterday, there was no such saver, as even Annie Power was conquered for a first time when More Of That edged an absorbing tussle up the famous hill in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
John 'Shark' Hanlon's Hidden Cyclone had also filled the runner-up berth with a gallant effort behind a superior Dynaste under McNamara's brother Andrew in the Ryanair Chase.
Still, when Gordon Elliott's Nina Carberry-ridden Cause Of Causes spurned what looked a winning position by taking the final fence in the final race by its roots, you found yourself doubting that the horse he had just handed the initiative to was actually trained in Ireland.
Mercifully it was, as Spring Heeled is in the care of Best Mate's triple Gold Cup-winning rider Jim Culloty in Churchtown, north Co Cork. Culloty hadn't saddled a winner since the same 12/1 shot scored at his home venue in Killarney all the way back in August.
Lord Windermere, which tackles this afternoon's Gold Cup, supplied him with his first Festival success in the RSA Chase 12 months ago, but his team has largely misfired in the meantime.
Like Lord Windermere and the Dermot Weld-trained Silver Concorde that carried McNamara to his debut win at the four-day gala in the Champion Bumper 24 hours earlier, Spring Heeled also sports Dr Ronan Lambe's maroon and yellow silks.
The seven-year-old was visibly on edge in the preliminaries, but McNamara bucked him out in front on a long rein when the tapes went up. That allowed him to relax into a rhythm and he fenced beautifully in splendid isolation until Carberry loomed up at the last fence.
Rather than the ignominy of a what threatened to be a rare blank day for the Irish contingent, the humiliation was instead left to rest on Cause Of Causes' shoulders.
The JP McManus-owned gelding has already been denied a nose and a short-head in two valuable chases on home soil this term, so he is becoming well-versed in near misses.
"That was unbelievable," a beaming Culloty admitted after watching Spring Heeled prevail by a couple of lengths .
"I've always thought the world of this horse, but as you saw beforehand, he is a worrier. He was a bit fractious as a youngster and as a result of that and me giving him time, he has ended up a well-handicapped horse. This year's aim all along was the Irish Grand National, and Cheltenham was a bit of an afterthought.
"He was supposed to run in the National Hunt Chase on Tuesday, but I walked the track on Monday morning and felt the ground was a bit dead, so I was happy to wait for this and let it dry out.
Our horses are back to form. They have been wrong, but this is a good omen. Lord Windermere has travelled over brilliantly and everything seems to be coming right."
of the front-running tactics, he added: "It wasn't really the plan, without saying 'don't do it'.
"I didn't tie Robbie to instructions. He gave him a peach of a ride. Robbie is so laid back.
"He knows where the winning post is too, as we saw on Wednesday. He is poetry in motion."
McNamara, who stands 6ft 3in tall, had joked 24 hours earlier that he couldn't fulfil a pledge to retire after he rode a Cheltenham winner because he had been booked to ride Spring Heeled.
"This is lovely," he said after doubling his tally in a race that hadn't come this way since 1983.
"The first one was more of a relief. I've been trying to ride a winner here for a long time.
"With the height of me, I'm not going to be riding forever, so this was the icing on the cake."
Elliott was left to rue what might have been.
"He has run a grand race but that mistake cost us," he said of Cause Of Causes. "He definitely would have won, I reckon. It's a shame but Nina has done a great job in staying on."
Such exasperation was a recurring theme throughout the earlier part of the day for the Irish contingent, though Willie Mullins was magnanimous after seeing Annie Power's colours lowered by McManus' Jonjo O'Neill-trained More Of That under Barry Geraghty.
"I think she ran to her mark and we were beaten by a better horse," he said humbly.
"We were in a good position at all stages and I don't have any excuses. It was a good horse race. We will look at everything for her.
"We might go to Liverpool, or I would say Punchestown at this stage. That would have been a hugely hard race and, time-wise, Punchestown would be a bit better."
Geraghty was capitalising on McCoy's wrong choice of mount in a championship race for a second time this week.
To rub salt in the wound, his second World Hurdle win edged him back in front of the Antrim-born icon on the list of Festival winners, the score now 31-30.
McCoy at least had his breathtaking coup on O'Neill's Taquin Du Seuil in the JLT Novices' Chase to savour. He was his sublime self in getting the 7/1 shot over the line, though he came within three-parts of a length of getting foiled by Uxizandre, a 33/1 shot sporting McManus' colours. That might have been too much for him to bear in one day.
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