THE Cheltenham Festival burst into life on Tuesday and famous owner JP McManus had a fabulous one-two with Jezki leading home My Tent Or Yours.
Synonymous with Festival gambles, McManus admitted to backing both of his horses but was quick to offer his condolences to connections of Our Conor, last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner who had to be put down after suffering a back injury from a horrible fall at the third flight.
Jezki had finished more than two lengths behind My Tent Or Yours in the 2013 Supreme and had also needed to turn the tables on Hurricane Fly, who was held for fourth in his bid to equal the three Champions claimed by Istabraq at the turn of the century.
Winning trainer Jessica Harrington lodges with Nicky Henderson during Cheltenham week, and as the latter was responsible for My Tent Or Yours, the evening ahead was more than likely to feature some good-natured repartee.
Tony McCoy, who had picked My Tent Or Yours over Jezki, was within touching distance himself but the white cap of McManus’ retained jockey could never get past the quartered green and gold, as much as he tried, with the race run in a new record time, bettering that of Vautour from earlier in the day, which had itself eclipsed the mark set by Istabraq.
McManus said: “The National Hunt season is centred around the Champion Hurdle for me because I didn’t have any Gold Cup horses and I’m unlikely to win the Grand National.
“The Champion Hurdle was all-important and full marks to everybody to have their horses looking in mint condition, as well as all the other runners in the race. They were all a credit.”
He went on: “I did back Jezki and My Tent Or Yours, and had a saver on Captain Cee Bee. You just hope for one.
I thought AP would pick My Tent, but I did think Jezki had a chance.
“They are all special – Istabraq was special, Binocular was special, and this is special.”
On Wednesday Sire De Grugy raised the decibel level at Cheltenham to a height which will be hard to top for the rest of the week with a conclusive and joyously-celebrated victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The groundswell of public affection towards the Moore family caused an eruption in the stands as loud as any Irish banker, and their standing in the British racing community could be measured by seeing nearly every one of the jockeys not involved in the race lining up next to the winner’s enclosure to welcome them back.
If the chestnut needed to offer any more proof of his position as this season’s top twomiler, it came with yet another demonstration of neat jumping, speed and courage as he crushed Somersby and Module by six lengths.
Jockey Jamie Moore is a chip off the old block of his father and Sire De Grugy’s trainer Gary, both popular through their approachability and modesty, but neither accustomed to success at anywhere near this class.
Sire De Grugy will always be dogged by the fact last season’s champion Sprinter Sacre has been sidelined, but he could have done no more during the campaign but roll off Grade One victories at Sandown and Ascot, as well as win the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton in which Sprinter Sacre capitulated.
Also on Wednesday Yorkshire toasted its first Cheltenham Festival winner of the week when Hawk High swooped in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Trained in Great Habton by Tim Easterby, the Trevor Hemmings-owned four-yearold sprang a 33/1 surprise under Brian Hughes.
Easterby said: “Delighted.
It’s the best place in the world to have a winner.
“He’s a very decent horse and he needs a confident ride.
He won on heavy at Warwick but he didn’t seem to handle anything right at Haydock. I don’t know why.”
Today it’s the fourth and final day of the fantastic festival, and the feature race of the week with the Cheltenham Gold Cup taking centre stage.
Reigning champion Bobs Worth is presently a hot favourite to defend his crown with King George VI Chase winner, Silviniaco Conti currently next best with the bookmakers.
It’s going to be very tight between the two and a race that could decide the trainers’ championship between Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls.