Treble delight for ice-cool Geraghty
NEW YEAR'S DAY racegoers who braved temperatures that just scraped above zero at Cheltenham yesterday may have been denied a glimpse of potential star Punchestowns, but they were grateful for a full seven-race card after three inspections, the last causing a half-hour delay to the second race.
The stewards eventually decided that racing should go ahead but allowed trainers to take horses out without penalty.
Though he decided not to risk the highly regarded Punchestowns in the Dipper Novices Chase, it was nevertheless a good day for trainer Nicky Henderson and his jockey Barry Geraghty.
This formidable partnership had a treble, winning the first and last races with Radium and Tetlami as well as the Freedom Hurdle with Sentry Duty, who was given a cheeky Carberry-esque waiting ride by Geraghty.
The Meath man teased the former Champion Hurdler Katchit by sitting a length off him until unleashing his mount 100 yards out. It was a fine return for the eight-year-old, who has been off since injuring himself badly in last year's Scottish Champion Hurdle.
Geraghty took a pragmatic view of the ground. "You encounter much worse at midweek meetings around the country," he said. "Because it's Cheltenham you expect it to be perfect. You might not a run a potential champion on it, but there are plenty you would run."
With two other absentees from the Dipper, a cat and mouse match between Seven Is My Number and Pigeon Island ensued. The mouse won, with Seven Is My Number reluctantly making all the running under Timmy Murphy and, in the main, jumping the better despite a bit of stargazing at the wings of some obstacles.
David Pipe explained that making the running had not been ideal for Seven Is My Number. "He's a good, accurate, agile jumper but, all his life, he's been a bit wary and he'd have been better with a lead. He's been a bit fragile so hasn't got many miles on the clock but he will be entered for the good races."
Another man more than happy that the meeting went ahead was Jonjo O'Neill, who won the Victor Chandler Handicap Chase with Can't Buy Time, an 18th-fence faller in the Aintree Grand National last year.
The gelding is owned by JP McManus, who retains McCoy and on whose Clan Royal McCoy was carried out at Becher's second time around in 2005 when looking to be travelling supremely well.
"He fell in the National last year after coming here for the four-miler, but I'd hope he could have another crack at it," O'Neill stated. "I thought he might find the ground a bit sticky but coming back in trip has helped. He's never run over this trip, but AP said he travelled well."
O'Neill will most likely give Can't Buy Time his National prep in a race at the Cheltenham Festival, and added: "There are a few races at the Festival which would give us three weeks until Aintree."
Victor Chandler gave Can't Buy Time an opening quote of 25/1 for the National while Paddy Power introduced him at 33s.
There was another 'local' success when Wolf Moon (100/30) proved one of the most popular winners of the day when taking the skybet.com Handicap Hurdle by a length and a quarter from Balthazar King for Martin Keighley and jockey Wayne Hutchinson.
Keighley said: "He's won here twice now and was unlucky the previous time as he made a crucial mistake coming down the hill.
"What he's doing is a massive bonus because we've schooled him over fences and he's fantastic at it. The plan would be to run him in a qualifier and then go for the Pertemps Final at the Festival."
Andrew Tinkler gave a patient ride to Henry Daly's Sherwoods Folly and the 11/2 chance picked off his rivals for a five-length call in the Cheltenham Annual Pony Club Handicap Chase.
Daly's Aintree Hurdle winner Mighty Man may be kept over fences following his stylish debut victory at Hereford with the trainer considering options at Huntingdon or Warwick in the coming weeks.
The 10-year-old had been due to revert to timber but such was the manner of his chasing success that connections could keep him going down the novice chase route.
"It obviously depends on the weather, but he could go to Huntingdon next week for a three-mile novice or possibly Warwick for the Tote Swinger Chase," said Daly
"We'll see how he gets on over fences for a bit and then make up our minds what to do (at the Festival)." (© Daily Telegraph, London)