Roller-coaster of emotions all too vivid at Cheltenham
When declarations for the weekend came through, there was a real sense of anticipation among followers of National Hunt racing that the second half - the important half - of the season was upping a notch. It certainly proved eventful.
Thistlecrack, as exciting a jump horse as there is anywhere in training, lined up at Cheltenham, and duly obliged, and at home, Naas and Navan, two venues that often throw up exciting sorts, staged decent cards.
But just watching Cheltenham from afar yesterday it was something of an emotional roller-coaster so one can only imagine what it was like to be there as within minutes of Sprinter Sacre parading and getting a truly well deserved send off from the Cheltenham crowd following news of his retirement, his top class stable companion, Simonsig, took a horrible fall at the third fence of the Shloer Chase and unfortunately suffered a fatal leg injury.
Within the space of no more than ten minutes, Henderson was tearful as he recalled some of Sprinter Sacre's memorable moments on the racecourse, but the sight of the trainer walking up the famous Cheltenham chute after realising Simonsig's injury was utterly heart-wrenching and thoughts must go to all concerned at his Seven Barrows base.
A trainer who tasted very different emotions over the meeting was Thistlecrack's trainer Colin Tizzard who also won the Shloer Chase with Fox Norton.
Tizzard has made no secret of his intentions to run Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup and despite the eight-year-old being quite brave and sometimes showing novice tendencies on his second start over the larger obstacles, that still looks very much the plan and he remains the bookmakers favourite to oblige.
The slow pace and the fact that a stronger race would bring with it a stronger gallop had the Tizzard team quite happy with the progress to date.
The trainer said: "It's hard to describe it. He was a bit novicey but I think he'll be so much better when he has a proper race.
"He's got so much ability, he goes so easily all the time and he didn't look like falling. He's such a big, powerful, galloping horse. He has tremendous scope."
Whether or not Thistlecrack heads for the King George and steps out of novice company there or waits until the Cheltenham Festival and the Gold Cup to do so remains to be seen but there's no doubt Thistlecrack is very much a leading light of the remainder of this season.
The Tizzard's had their first winner for Alan and Ann Potts on Saturday but significantly, Fox Norton made a winning debut for his new connections as he stepped out of handicap company to become a leading player for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Fox Norton could hardly have been more impressive in the hands of Aidan Coleman and Tizzard will now plot a path along the leading two-mile chases for the six-year-old.
Domestically, Gordon Elliott continued his incredible run, reaching 100 for the season in Ireland on Saturday and beginning his quest for 200 at Navan yesterday, but despite the powerful start, even Elliott is reluctant to talk of the trainers championship owing to the respect he has for Willie Mullins.