A PAIR of men rich in Cheltenham Festival expertise conspired to steal a Ladbrokes World Hurdle in which most could not see beyond two other horses.
More Of That (15-2) was having only the fifth start of his career, but trainer Jonjo O’Neill has a magnetic grip on races at the meeting and jockey Barry Geraghty had already helped himself to Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle before halting the fanatically-supported 11-8 favourite Annie Power by a length and a half. There was to be a touching moment of generosity in the winner’s enclosure just minutes afterwards as Big Buck’s, a record four times the hero here before, was instantly retired after his advancing age propelled him to no further than fifth and he was given a lap of honour.
Annie Power had an unbeaten record more than twice as long as More Of That, and the form this week of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, as well as the belief they had in the giant chestnut mare, had seen a tide of support for her in the market which did not break before the start.
Walsh attempted to settle her in behind his old companion Big Buck’s, whose pilot Sam Twiston-Davies made an earlier move from the third-last flight but had started to become increasingly urgent as the 11-year-old did not respond in his traditional manner.
While Annie Power made progress, so did More Of That and At Fishers Cross, who Tony McCoy had picked ahead of the winner in what will bear frustrating similarity to the supreme jockey to finishing second behind another of his retaining owner JP McManus’ horses, Jezki, in the Champion.
More Of That had only appeared on the Cheltenham scene when making a successful return in December’s Relkeel Hurdle but he galloped remorselessly up the same hill once again, while At Fishers Cross was five lengths further back in third.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” said O’Neill, who had earlier won the JLT Novices’ Chase with Taquin Du Seuil.
“Barry gave him a super ride. I was only messing with AP [when reportedly telling McCoy to pick More Of That] but I was just pleased with my fellow. He doesn’t show you much at home, he’s just a real class horse and goes about his business, never does anything flash.”
Paul Nicholls said of Big Buck’s: “Younger legs beat him today. I could see halfway round we were in a bit of trouble and retirement is the right thing to do. We gave it a go. That’s what we wanted to do, but you have to be sensible. I wanted to bring him back for all the fans. They all like to see him. They won’t see him again racing, but I’m sure he’ll be back to see everyone.”
Owner Andy Stewart said Big Buck’s would remain in the Somerset village of Ditcheat, where Nicholls trains. “The great horse is not as great as he was when a nine-year-old,” he said. “We have done as much as we possibly can and there’s no way we can improve on that. It’s been very flattering the way the public have taken to him. He’s probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, staying hurdler of all-time, and it’s time to enjoy his retirement.”
McManus’ last great stayer was Baracouda, and he was delighted to have won his second showcase event in three days.
“AP had a lot of faith in At Fishers Cross – the horse had never let him down,” he said. “He thought a lot of More Of That but he thought another year wouldn’t do him any harm. Jonjo was surprised he didn’t pick him but someone was going to be disappointed and it was Barry’s day.”
O’Neill added: “If I can keep him safe and sound then there are loads of options. He’s a lovely big horse who could go chasing.”
Another trainer to enjoy a brace on day three was David Pipe as Ballynagour supplemented Dynaste’s earlier RyanairChase victory. Ballynagour was sent off the 7-2 favourite for last year’s Byrne Group Plate but he could finish only eighth on that occasion. However, as a 12-1 shot, Ballynagour won by eight lengths from Colour Squadron in the hands of Tom Scudamore.
Fingal Bay defied top weight to win the Pertemps Final in a thrilling finish from Southfield Theatre with Pineau De Re just behind in third. The Philip Hobbs-trained Fingal Bay was a Grade One winner as a novice but spent last season on the sidelines through injury before returning to win a qualifier for this event last month. Sent off the 9-2 favourite, Richard Johnson challenged after the last and eventually beat Southfield Theatre by a nose, much to the distress of jockey Daryl Jacob.
There was a poignant winner of the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup as Robbie McNamara partnered Spring Heeled (12-1) to victory. McNamara’s cousin, JT McNamara, was left paralysed from a fall in the same race 12 months ago.
Riding for Jim Culloty, McNamara demonstrated excellent judgment of pace to make all for a length-and-three-quarter verdict over Cause Of Causes.