Dodging Bullets gave Paul Nicholls a fifth win in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, and he revealed afterwards that Sir Alex Ferguson had badgered him to sign up winning jockey Sam Twiston-Davies.
After the 9-2 winner was given a perfectly-judged ride from Twiston-Davies, Nicholls said: “I’m really pleased for Sam. Sir Alex [Ferguson] helped me decide to sign him up – he likened it to the best striker becoming available on the market and I had to get him before anybody else could.
“I got some stick for doing it, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. He’s settling in really well.”
Dodging Bullets landed the spoils but the race will be equally remembered for the sad sight of the great Sprinter Sacre pulling up.
A thrilling 19-length winner of this race two years ago, Nicky Henderson had tried to nurse Sprinter Sacre back to health after a heart scare and, when he finished second to Dodging Bullets on his long-awaited comeback at Ascot, hopes were high his ability still remained.
While Henderson had repeatedly stated he was not the horse that had taken our breath away in 2013, he had hoped to find enough improvement to be competitive in all of the major races once more.
However, that now looks a long shot as he was taken off to be scoped, with Barry Geraghty pulling him up before the last.
Nicholls was irked that, despite winning the two major pointers for this race, the Tingle Creek and the Clarence House Chase, Dodging Bullets was still behind both Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy in the betting.
But, with Gary Moore’s 2014 champion finding the ground too quick, it was left to two outsiders, Special Tiara and Somersby, to give Dodging Bullets most to do.
It was between the three at the last, but Twiston-Davies and Dodging Bullets pulled a length and a quarter clear of Somersby.
The winner was bred by Frankie Dettori, who was quickly on the scene to congratulate Nicholls.
“Frankie has been texting me all the time wishing me luck and he said he was going to have a jumper with me and I’m going to hold him to that,” said Nicholls. “I honestly couldn’t see Sprinter Sacre turning around the Ascot form and, while Sire De Grugy won well the other day, I fancied beating him. ‘Dodge’ won’t run again, he’ll be put in a field and the main aim will be to defend his title next year.”
Dettori said: “He was meant to win a Derby but this is second best. My legs were shaking a little bit. What a horse.”
Henderson said Sprinter Sacre will be given a thorough check-up before he can consider any notion of retirement for the former champion chaser.
“His heart is OK, which is the main thing,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
Meanwhile, leading owner John Hales is already dreaming of a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup tilt with Aux Ptits Soins after the French import starred in a treble for Nicholls by landing the Coral Cup.
Aux Ptits Soins lined up in one of the most fiercely competitive handicaps of the week as a fascinating contender, making his first start in Britain since winning at Auteuil last autumn. After overcoming a mistake at the second flight, the 9-1 shot was never too far off the pace in the hands of Twiston-Davies and battled hard to triumph by a neck.
Nicholls went on to seal a hat-trick with the Nick Scholfield-ridden Qualando in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
A photographer was taken to hospital after suffering a suspected broken leg during an incident-packed Glenfarclas Handicap Chase. French-trained favourite Toutancarmont did the damage as he backed off the second fence from the finish and veered left, taking out Nina Carberry and Quantitativeeasing, with both horses crashing through the rails. Racing Post photographer Patrick McCann was positioned underneath the rail and was caught up in the ensuing melee.
Victory in the event went to Tony Martin’s Irish raider Rivage D’Or, who benefited from a beautiful ride from Davy Russell.
Moon Racer (9-2) sent favourite-backers home happy by claiming the Weatherbys Champion Bumper under a jubilant Tom Scudamore.