Florida Pearl, Teeton Mill and Double Thriller, the supposed new monarchs of steeplechasing, were scorched in National Hunt's fiercest of arenas. Victory went instead to a horse who has already been burned in this contest and it was a result that showed there are betting shops in the heavens.
See More Business was second favourite for the Blue Riband when he was pushed off the track by another horse 12 months ago. Vindication does not usually come as true as this.
"You're never owed anything in this game, but winning this certainly makes up for everything," Paul Nicholls, the winning trainer, said. "We've cracked it."
While See More Business was outstanding in the athletic battle, he was not omnipotent in the catwalk of the parade ring. The languid Florida Pearl, Escartefigue and the frightening dimensions of Double Thriller stood out. If these three had been strapped to a rival chariot then Ben Hur would have finished runner-up in the coliseum.
Go Ballistic and See More Business were dwarfed and the loose, black material around the latter's face looked like something you might see flapping on grandma's washing line. Blinkers, though, have been the making of See More Business.
Just two weeks ago he began schooling in the headgear and the impact was staggering. Previous vaulting clumsiness was immediately eradicated. "It was like riding a completely different horse," Mick Fitzgerald, the jockey, reported.
This was a newly polished skill that stood the nine-year-old in good stead in the opening exchanges yesterday as Senor El Betrutti and Dorans Pride blasted away from the front.
The first victim was a hugely significant one. Teeton Mill, the grey who has swept through all ranks this season, slipped a tendon off a hock and was pulled up before the ninth fence. He is unlikely to race again.
The pounding tempo continued with Double Thriller as the conductor. See More Business scooted along pleasingly, close to the pace, while the most ominous of shadows belonged to Florida Pearl. At the high point of the course he looked the winner. "Richard [Dunwoody] said the horse came alive at the top of the hill, but then he used what he had in the tank to get to the other two," Willie Mullins, the trainer, said. By now, the other two comprised See More Business and Go Ballistic, 16-1 and 66-1 shots spoiling the dreams of punters and purists. The negotiation of the final fence decided it. "I needed a long one at the last and I thought to myself: `You're either coming up or going down, it's one or the other'," Fitzgerald said. "He got it right." At the line, a length was the division.
It was a day of three victories for Fitzgerald, three spurts of the high pleasure a Festival winner injects. "If anybody had seen me driving home after the County Hurdle two years ago, when I chose the wrong horse and Barna Boy won, they would know what the Festival does for me," he said. "I broke every speed record there was that night. I was not a happy man. I was in such a temper that I had to take my wedding ring off as it was cutting into my finger. That's what Cheltenham means to me. And when I got beaten on Rough Quest in the 1996 Gold Cup [behind Imperial Call] I was gutted. I wanted to feel what Conor O'Dwyer felt. But I felt it today and it's something that won't go away for a long, long time."
Paul Nicholls, too, has had bad days in the Cotswolds and his victories at this year's meeting have been long overdue: "I supposed I did begin to wonder if I would ever have a winner here. But that's behind me."
And Paul Barber, joint owner of See More Business, will now have to set different goals. It is his ambition to establish a 1,000-strong dairy herd in the West country and win a Cheltenham Gold Cup. Milking cows and milking applause, he's now done it all.
1 SEE MORE BUSINESS
nnnM A Fitzgerald 16-1
2 GO BALLISTIC
nnnA Dobbin 66-1
3 FLORIDA PEARL
nnnR Dunwoody 5-2 favReuse content