A week is a long time in National Hunt racing and the highs and lows of the Sport of Kings were there for all to see this weekend as not only were we treated to some sublime performances on the track, there was a sad postscript to the week as a former Cheltenham Festival hero lost his life at Tipperary. We look at the five big stories of the last seven days in our weekly round up.
Purple Bay Shows Elite Class At Wincanton, As Irving Falls
A crashing fall from the heavily-fancied Irving at the final flight of the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton threw the Grade 2 event wide open, but it was the John Ferguson-trained Purple Bay who showed a tremendous late turn of pace to storm to victory in the weekend showpiece. Mikey Ennis was the first off the bridle on the 16/1 outsider, as he struggled to keep up with a swift pace set by Rock On Ruby, but turning for home Ennis had cajoled his mount into contention. Irving had just been sent to the front by Sam Twiston-Davies, but he was not a certain victor and with Purple Bay just avoiding the fallen jolly he strode clear to beat Bertimont with aplomb. Still a 50/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle, the five-year-old showed superb tenacity to get back into contention in an incident-packed finish.
Theatre And Saint Show Star Quality For Nicholls
Paul Nicholls may have had a topsy-turvy day at Wincanton on Saturday with the aforementioned fall of Irving, but the Ditcheat handler would've been pleased with Southfield Theatre's victory in the Rising Stars Novices' Chase and last year's Pertemps Final runner-up is around a 14/1 shot for the JLT Novices' Chase and available at 16s for the RSA. Meanwhile, over at Sandown Park, Nick Scholfield piloted Irish Saint to a facile victory over Chris Pea Green and the 10-length winner is now a best-priced 16/1 for the Arkle Challenge Trophy to bolster a smart bunch of novice chaser within Nicholls' artillery.
Former World Hurdle Hero Solwhit Dies After Schooling Fall
Charles Byrnes' eight-times Grade One winner Solwhit suffered a fatal injury in a schooling fall at Tipperary. The Irish superstar was one of the shining beacons of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, as he outbattled Celestial Halo in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, before going on to land the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree the following month. Amassing over £950,000 in prize money, the nine-year-old tipped up at Tipperary and broke his shoulder, so it was with sadness that the Emerald Isle lost one of their elite horses. However, he will be etched into Cheltenham folklore after that three-mile success at the Prestbury Park extravaganza and connections were luck to own such a sensational performer at the highest level.
God's Own Bags Haldon Glory, As Cue Card Trails In Fourth
Tom George's God's Own showed that his shock Grade 1 win at the Punchestown Festival was not a flash in the pan as the six-year-old stormed to victory in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, in a race that saw the well-backed Cue Card trail in a distant fourth. It was a tough test for Cue Card, who was looking to give some emerging chasers a lot of weight, but he was beaten turning for home and it was Balder Succes that was the primary challenger to God's Own, but the eight-year-old bounded clear and still in the novice sphere is a best-priced 12/1 for the Arkle at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, whilst a shade shorter at 10s for the 2m 4f JLT in March.
AP McCoy Set To Miss Cheltenham Open With Injury
AP McCoy has been forced to take an unwanted break from the saddle as the perennial champion jockey suffered a recurrence of an injury he picked up at Worcester a month ago. The Northern Irishman has been eager to try and smash his own record by riding 300 winners this season, but an aggravation of this injury has forced him to sit on the sidelines and he will miss the three-day Cheltenham Open meeting that kicks off on Friday afternoon. He has only ridden two winners since October 15 and with this absence he will find things extraordinary tough to try and break that elusive 300-winner barrier.