THE sport of kings can sometimes test the patience and loyalty of its most ardent fans. Today was such a day. The end of the Cheltenham Open Meeting ended in genuine heartbreak and tears with the death of the beautiful grey Simonsig. Excruciatingly, it came just two hours after his trainer Nicky Henderson had openly wept after announcing the retirement of the brilliant Sprinter Sacre due to a tendon injury. Has a trainer had a tougher day at the office?
Sprinter Sacre had paraded before the Shloer Chase to glassy-eyed applause from an adoring crowd and the script looked written for Simonsig, who had reportedly been in good form, to deliver for the Seven Barrows team. But, instead, just minutes later, Simonsig hit the deck at the third fence and it quickly became apparent that he had suffered a very serious injury from which there was no coming back.
Fox Norton’s victory barely registered and the sight of Henderson tearfully walking back from the spot where Simonsig had been put down in front of the stands was heartbreaking. It’s very difficult to put into words the sickening feeling when this happens in racing but Colin Tizzard summed things up in his typically perceptive and no-nonsense style: “We’re in racing, so we just have to deal with it and move on.”
Among that inconsolable low, the three-day Cheltenham Open Meeting did provide some undoubted highs and a variety of clues for the 2017 Cheltenham Festival. So what we did we learn…
THISTLECRACK is an absolute beast (we knew that already) but needs much more jumping experience against horses good enough to put it up to him. Myracing.com are backing the odds for his half-brother WEST APPROACH may not be as good as his illustrious sibling but he is definitely one to follow. He has tremendous scope.
DEFI DU SEUIL oozes potential. He won the Triumph Hurdle Trial pulling a cart and although his market rival Wealth Des Mottes ran no sort of race, this one could develop into a leading player for the real thing next March.
MOON RACER should win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle if David Pipe can get him there in one piece. It will take a very good horse to beat him after he disposed of Ballyandy (again) and in doing so showed he handled soft ground well. MIRSAALE ran a blinder against Moon Racer and clearly needs further when you consider he was mid division in the Ascot Stakes over 2m 4f. He came up the hill well and he could be a viable northern raider for the Neptune or Albert Bartlett.
SOME PLAN jumped and travelled well until falling two out behind Le Prezien. He could be deadly on good ground over 2m and he might be a long-term punt for the Grand Annual.
WINTER ESCAPE was disappointing but it’s too early to write him off, especially as he was looked after by Barry Geraghty once he realised he was not going to take a hand in the business end. He may not have handled the ground, or maybe it was the track but it was too bad to be true. He may simply need a flatter track and better ground.
SOLOMN GRUNDY pulled hard but still ran a cracker under a big weight and he looks to be a well handicapped horse. And TROIKA STEPPES was a shade unlucky in the amateur riders’ chase when making a bad error three out. Otherwise he jumped for fun and seems to love Cheltenham. Maybe the Kim Muir could be a long-term target.