On a day that was supposed to put the finishing touches to Festival plans for many, the Cheltenham crowd was stunned as Many Clouds collapsed and died after defeating Thistlecrack in the Cotswold Chase.
Oliver Sherwood’s pride and joy is the only horse to have won the Hennessy and Grand National in the same season and also broke the long hoodoo over Aintree heroes never winning another race.
This might have been a career-best effort, though, as he beat the King George winner in a performance which would have given him strong claims in the Gold Cup in March, on the way to Aintree once more.
Sadly that will now not come to pass, as the 10-year-old collapsed on crossing the line and failed to rise.
Sherwood said: “We’ve got to look forward and not look back. He’s been the horse of a lifetime and I always said he would die for you and he’s died for me and the team today doing what he does best.
“He wanted to win that race, he was beaten and then fought back in the last 50 yards to win. One thing I want now is for Thistlecrack to win the Gold Cup.”
Thistlecrack’s trainer Colin Tizzard said: “We were just beaten by the better horse on the day, two fantastic horses ran right to the line. Poor old Many Clouds. It’s as sad as can be, he was a lovely horse and he beat us on the day.”
Un De Sceaux (1-2 favourite) made light work of his rivals in the rearranged Clarence House Chase, saved over from Ascot last week.
Travelling sweetly throughout for Ruby Walsh, he bounded up the hill to account for the returning Uxizandre by five lengths.
It was nevertheless a mixed day for trainer Willie Mullins, who was forced to rule Faugheen out of Sunday’s Irish Champion Hurdle at the 11th hour.
Mullins said of Un De Sceaux: “He was very good. He jumped very big and fresh late on, which shows how well he is, but then I started to wonder if he’d have enough left for the finish.”
Unowhatimeanharry (10-11 favourite) cemented his position as favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle with yet another win, this time in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Harry Fry’s nine-year-old has gone eight races unbeaten since joining from Helen Nelmes. Fry said: “Barry (Geraghty) looked confident coming down the hill and then he thinks he’s done enough when he hits the front, but that’s probably why he keeps winning.”
Others to press the claims for the Festival were Philip Hobbs’ Triumph Hurdle market leader Defi Du Seuil (1-5 favourite), who faced a simple task when Charli Parcs, in the same ownership, was withdrawn, and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Wholestone (11-4 favourite).
Twiston-Davies also won with Foxtail Hill (12-1), who booked his place in the novice handicap chase at the big meeting, and there was a 50-1 winner of the Cross Country Chase in French raider Urgent De Gregaine.
Mullins maintained his 100 per cent record in England this season when Vroum Vroum Mag (1-5 favourite) narrowly won the olbg.com Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster.
Ziga Boy produced a brilliant front-running display to become the first dual winner of the Sky Bet Chase. Alan King’s grey had failed to get his head in front since his success 12 months ago in the race formerly known as the Great Yorkshire Chase, but jumped impeccably at the head of affairs under Tom Bellamy and had enough in the tank to hold off the strong-finishing Looking Well by three and a half lengths.