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Overturn fails to mount challenge on Cheltenham Festival’s opening day
SIMONSIG justified his short price to win The Racing Post Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival – but his expected duel with Overturn failed to materialise.
The 8-15 favourite couldn’t settle early in the two-mile contest and wasn’t fluent at a couple of his fences but still managed to hold off 33-1 shot Baily Green by two and a quarter lengths.
The £150,000 Grade 1 race had been billed as the battle between Simonsig, the outstanding chasing prospect trained by Nicky Henderson, and Donald McCain’s Overturn – the most versatile horse since Sea Pigeon and one of the most popular in training.
Overturn made the early running but the tacky ground didn’t suit the nine-year-old and, once he crashed into the third last, his challenge was over.
Simsong also endured a particularly hairy moment when misjudging the water jump but he took the last two fences superbly and, ridden by Barry Geraghty, was driven out up the hill to the finish to give Henderson a 47th Festival victory.
The trainer said: “He was just doing too much early on because we knew that Overturn was going to set a big gallop. We have always said he is not short of pace but he needs to learn to drop the bridle a bit. He made one bad mistake and was going a bit too quick for his own good.”
Geraghty added: “It was harder work than I expected. He missed the water jump down the back and one or two others after that, which is very unlike him, but he was brilliant at the second last and tidy again at the last.
“He really rallied on the run-in. He had to dig deep and battled well and we got the result, but I wouldn’t say it was a special performance.”
Corks were popping all over the racecourse when Champagne Fever (5-1) virtually made all to win a thrilling opening William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Ruby Walsh took the six-year-old, trained by Willie Mullins, to the front on a strong gallop right from the start of the two-mile half-furlong contest but it inevitably came down to a showdown between him and AP McCoy on board the hot favourite My Tent Or Yours (15-8).
The money had been coming for Champagne Fever throughout the morning but he clattered the second last and, at the final flight, his strong travelling rival loomed ominously alongside. But the tough winner stuck his head down and ground out a half-length victory.
Walsh said: “When AP came upsides at the last I didn’t worry too much as I knew mine would out-battle anything if he had to. A fight suits his game.”
Mullins added: “I thought the game was up with the mistake at the second last but I never had a doubt that he would stay on up the hill.”
Quevega (8-11 fav) wrote her name into the record books when becoming the first horse since Golden Miller in the 1930s to win five successive races at the Festival.
Mullins’ super mare, who gave him and Walsh a treble for the day, had plenty to do coming towards the final flight but moved spectacularly through a sea of runners to beat Sirene D’ainay (33-1).
The opening day also saw Golden Chieftain (28-1) spring a surprise off bottom weight in the JLT Speciality Handicap Chase, while the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Chase went the way of Rajdhani Express (16-1), who just held off Ackertac.
With parts of the cross country course still frozen, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Steeplechase was postponed and will now be staged tomorrow at 5.15pm.