Thursday 22 March 2018

Glory worth the wait for Fehily

At weeks like Cheltenham when the jubilation of the first home being led back into that famous winners enclosure is the picture that sticks in our head, being a jump jockey seems to be the best job in the world.

But as that was happening both last year and the year before, Cork native Noel Fehily was suffering the other perils of his profession as he missed this meeting through injury.

Yesterday made up for that hardship, though, as enjoying just his second ever Cheltenham Festival winner, the man who hails from Dunmanway admitted: "I didn't ride here for the last two years as I was injured but it was worth the wait.

"You always dream of riding a Champion Hurdle winner but you never think that it is going to happen."

Based in the UK since 1998, Fehily was given numerous high-profile opportunities for Paul Nicholls last year as Ruby Walsh was sidelined, and the duo enjoyed 17 winners, but Rock On Ruby was just his fourth ride for the champion trainer during this campaign.

"It's great to give Noel a big winner like this," Nicholls said afterwards.

Rock On Ruby was agonisingly touched off by a short head from First Lieutenant last year in the Neptune Investments Novices' Hurdle which continues to prove a great trial for the Champion Hurdle and for Nicholls, it was success in the race he dearly craved.

Nicholls said: "It's a big team thing. It's a testament to the whole team -- Team Ditcheat, Team Seaborough -- from Richard Barber who bought him to Harry Fry who supervises the training (at the satellite yard of Seaborough).

"Noel is a good man and it's great to give him a big winner."

Of the race, Fehily added: "I went down to school him earlier in the week and he felt amazing and Harry Fry told me he was really happy with him and as well as he could have him so that gave me great confidence.

"Going to the last he started pulling up a bit, but when we got over the last and I got stuck into him he went on to the line."

Sprinter Sacre came into this week's Cheltenham Festival with one of the biggest reputations of any horse running here this week and from as far out as the third last fence it was almost clear he was going to live up to it.

Those who like picking holes had said that the unbeaten novice chaser may struggle to come up the gruelling Cheltenham hill, but he put that issue to bed with a seven-length victory over Cue Card and Al Ferof was a further 22-lengths back in third.

Barry Geraghty described Sprinter Sacre as an "unbelievable horse to ride". The Meath rider added: "I have said that he is probably the best (I have ridden) and he might be.

"Moscow Flyer was class but he was only beating average horses by a couple of lengths -- this fellow is class.

"It's just the way he does it -- the way he jumped the third last -- it gives you some feeling."

Trainer Nicky Henderson was equalling the record of Fulke Walwyn training 40 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, and of Sprinter Sacre he said: "We always hoped he might be a bit special and he was coming here to show off and luckily, that's the way he has done it.

"It's just the way he loves to do it, he is very flash and very toey, but he can afford to be. He looks like a proper horse and seems to do it like one. This is a special horse and you always wait for one to come out of the woodwork and lets hope that he is it."

Regarding future plans, Henderson quickly said: "We'll be looking after him a bit, he has to come back here next year."

With today's Champion Chase favourite Sizing Europe going to be an 11-year-old next year and Big Zeb 12, Sprinter Sacre's emergence on that scene is particularly good timing and he is just a 6/4 chance in places for next year's Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Proceedings got underway with Cinders And Ashes winning the Supreme Novices' Hurdle for trainer Donald McCain and Jason Maguire.

The length-and-a-quarter winner was deemed a "special horse" by McCain. He said: "He's a fair horse but people have tried crabbing him because he has been running on bad ground. It's the same with Peddlers Cross -- it's just where I sent him and he is a tool."

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