There were two dominant forces at Cheltenham on day two of the festival, one equine and one human, but Sprinter Sacre’s emphatic, mind-blowing victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase may have just eclipsed the prolific Willie Mullins, who notched wins number four and five at this year’s meeting, in what was a stunning day.
It was one of those “I was there” moments for the Prestbury Park faithful as Sprinter Sacre annihilated a previous Champion Chaser in Sizing Europe by 19 lengths and stormed home to a rapturous reception for all those who had backed him at the skinny odds of 1/4 with the bookmakers.
However, this was not racing fans hollering home Nicky Henderson’s superstar out of a need to fill their wallets, but they knew they had just witnessed a race that will be etched into Cheltenham folklore, as he was handed his stiffest test to date, but came through with flying colours to make his rivals look like selling platers.
Hurried in the first part of the race, Barry Geraghty was forced to hold his nerve and a slight mistake down the back had left his followers skipping a beat, but coming down the hill he eyeballed Sizing Europe and duly strode clear of the multiple Grade One winner with disdain, as he propelled clear and just for show put in an almighty leap at the last to cement his place as the best racehorse in training.
On to the dominant human of the festival so far, and Mullins cemented his place at the head of the Top Trainer table with a brace on the day and the Co. Carlow maestro kicked off proceedings with a win in the National Hunt Chase at 1:30pm, as son Patrick reeled in long-time leader Tofino Bay to kick-start favourite backers.
Boston Bob had looked like he would notch the double for Mullins in the RSA Chase, but a last fence fall left the race open for two fellow Irish raiders to battle it out and it was left to Jim Culloty, he of Best Mate heritage, to saddle his first festival winner, as Lord Windermere outbattled Lyreen Legend to success.
Pont Alexandre was another Mullins-trained hotpot, but he failed to quicken and it was popular local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies who cheered on The New One to victory in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, whilst Alan King was the star of the show in the Coral Cup as he saddled a one-two with Medinas getting the better of Meister Eckhart in a fine training performance for the Barbury Castle man.
Gordon Elliott regained the winning baton for the Irish when 25/1 shot Flaxen Flare stormed to an impressive win in the Fred Winter, but it was the deadly duo of Mullins and Ruby Walsh that were back in the winner’s enclosure in the Champion Bumper as Briar Hill landed the spoils at a gargantuan 25/1, as he beat Regal Encore with aplomb to round off another cracking day at the Gloucestershire venue.