Certainties go out window
'We will take it on the chin,' says Fenton as Dunguib's defeat rocks the Cotswolds
Never could you imagine 50,945 Cheltenham Festival racegoers could go as quiet. Without it being a church-like calm, there was a deafening lull of shock and disappointment around the Cotswolds as Dunguib failed to pick up in yesterday's Spinal Research Supreme Novices Hurdle and was forced to follow two home.
Beforehand, he appeared to be on a different level to the rest of the novices in the 2m brigade. But after the last hurdle it was clear that he just wasn't. And to make things slightly worse, his jumping, the one thing people feared could get him beat, wasn't the excuse. On the day it just wasn't to be.
Settled in the rear of the field by Brian O'Connell, the horse just failed to pick them up in the straight and those who felt that Dunguib should have been sent for an immediate tilt at the Champion Hurdle this year were taking a step back to reflect.
Some serious retracting has to be done by many, including yours truly, as to how big a certainty last year's Champion Bumper winner was for the Festival curtain raiser, and for someone who is so often adamant that there is no certainty in racing, it surely proved a stern slap on the wrist.
Let's not take it away from Menorah, however, who was a game winner for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson.
A bumper winner at Naas for Tom Mullins back last August, Menorah came into the race following a disappointing defeat at Ascot when 1/2 favourite on that day.
But he put that behind him to claim one of the most notable scalps of the week.
Philip Fenton was gracious as ever in defeat as he was in the same position of triumph last season.
"We are satisfied with his performance although it's obviously disappointing that we are not in the number one spot," said Dunguib's trainer.
"He has come back in one piece and seems fine, that's the main thing and we live to fight another day."
Regarding how the race panned out, Fenton said: "Things just didn't work out on the day. He has travelled well although I thought the gallop might have been a bit stronger.
"He had plenty of light at the last couple of hurdles and jumped the last well, he just couldn't pick up the first two.
"I wouldn't criticise (jockey) Brian (O'Connell), we are still in the winner's circle here at Cheltenham. We have been beaten and we have to take it and take it on the chin."
Things were not forgotten but the pain was eased amongst Irish punters as Sizing Europe put his doubters to the sword in the best way possible to land the Irish Independent Arkle Chase and provide a first winner at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival for the travelling contingent, to the regular appreciation of the vast Irish following.
"Up the Déise" they were heckling as Waterford trainer Henry de Bromhead welcomed back his stable star to the coveted winners' enclosure at the third time of asking.
Four times Sizing Europe has been to Cheltenham, and it got off to a great start with a win in the Greatwood Hurdle before he went on to win the Irish Champion and return to the Cotswolds as the favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
That had a cruel ending, though, as the 2/1 favourite cruised into contention two out before just cutting out and being virtually pulled up.
He was here last year too for another crack at the Champion Hurdle but on that occasion he was ruled out of the race with a temperature and there was a hoodoo beginning to form between the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and Sizing Europe.
That curse was well and truly put to bed yesterday, however, as he yet again was there cruising two out, but this time battled gamely all the way up a gruelling run in to hold off the ever closing Somersby in second.
"It's phenomenal, just brilliant," said a near speechless De Bromhead afterwards. "It's just a great felling, the roar when he passed the line was just phenomenal.
"He had problems with the ligaments in his back when he ran in the Champion Hurdle and he had some silly problems last year but we have got him right now and have learnt a lot about him," he admitted.
It was a career highlight for Andrew Lynch, who has had his best season to date, and connections will now look forward to mulling over their options for next season with De Bromhead confident the horse will get further having already won a novice chase over 2m4f.
Captain Cee Bee, the other leading Irish challenger, burst a blood vessel.