Racing: Butterfly lands the gamble

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The Independent Online

It was a sunlit moment to take and keep frozen in time. The best jockeys in England and Ireland setting to for a duel up the hill on the first and second favourites in the opening race of the Festival. The roar of relief and delight from the 51,454 faithful, back in the fold, as the tapes went up on the Supreme Novices' Hurdle was a whisper to the sound that rolled off the stands to greet Like-A-Butterfly and Westender, Charlie Swan and Tony McCoy, a few minutes later. Their epic head-to-head was a sweet, heady reminder of what had been missed.

Like-A-Butterfly's size made a mockery of the 5lb mares' allowance without which she would not have gained her neck victory. A huge, nervy eight-year-old who has suffered muscular problems, she did not see a racecourse until last year, but has made up for lost time with a vengeance; yesterday's victory was her eighth from as many starts.

The mare, the 7-4 favourite and one of Ireland's bankers, has been put in next year's Champion Hurdle lists at a realistic 16-1. Many felt that had not Adamant Approach crashed at the last in contention the result would have been different, foremost among them the rider Ruby Walsh, who slammed his helmet into the turf in frustration and then kicked it across the course for good measure.

It was a second Festival win for Christy Roche, winner of a Derby on Secreto. "I was confident going into the race, but not going to the last. One thing I did know was that she'd battle. They wouldn't get by her easily."

McCoy had to settle for second again to an Irish raider in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy and, in the grimmest way, his day went downhill from there. Seebald, the favourite, ran well but found no answer to Moscow Flyer's speed up the climb to the finish. The eight-year-old had come to his date with destiny on the back of a fall but his trainer Jessica Harrington did not earn her place on Ireland's Olympic eventing team without knowing how to give a horse confidence. "He jumped absolutely like a stag," she said, "and that made the bits between easy for him."

Barry Geraghty, in the saddle, was scoring his first Festival victory, and perhaps inevitably, for he has a fine Cheltenham pedigree. His grandfather bred the five-time Gold Cup winner Golden Miller.

Nicky Henderson took his Festival score to 25 when The Bushkeeper beat stablemate Ceanannas Mor in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup, drawing level with Pipe's score among active trainers.

First blood though, to Hughie Morrison. Forty minutes after saddling his first runner, Marble Arch, to finish second in the Champion Hurdle, he saw his charge Frenchman's Creek take the National Hunt Handicap Chase and earn a Grand National quote of 16-1.

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