Cheltenham Festival: Nicky Henderson relieved after Simonsig's antics
Odds-on favourite is headstrong and jumps poorly before claiming Arkle Chase victory
Nicky Henderson will be imploring the favourite for the big race tomorrow to go rather easier on his blood pressure than the one he saddled over the same course on the opening day of the meeting. In the end, Simonsig duly landed the odds in the Racing Post Arkle Chase – but not without reminding his trainer that he remains a work in progress, and no masterpiece as yet.
Having been restricted by weather and health issues to just two novice chases, squeezed into a week around Christmas, the grey proved perilously fresh in the early stages. Though Overturn obliged him by setting the pace, Barry Geraghty was barely able to restrain Simonsig, never mind control his stride pattern on their approach to fences. Somehow they negotiated most without undue alarm – though he did give the ninth a proper thump – and Simonsig had preserved enough of this surfeit of energy to coast alongside as the leader hit the third last.
But if complacency now infected those brave enough to have taken the odds, with Overturn dropping away, they still had to reckon with the hill. And here was Baily Green, at 33-1 offering fresh testimony to the Festival artistry of Mouse Morris as he closed on the bridle. By the time they reached the post, the roars of acclaim had been thoroughly transfused with relief.
Driven out to win by just over two lengths, Simonsig did not yet look ready to challenge Sprinter Sacre, his stablemate, in open company. But he has won both his starts at the Festival, and must be some horse to win this event more or less inadvertently.
"He has done well to win as he ran with the choke out the whole way," Henderson said. "He probably ran a bit too fresh and keen. He wasn't concentrating terribly hard on what was going on. He made one bad mistake. The rest of it he was just going a bit too quick for his own good."
Perhaps Simonsig will show the benefits of this race at Aintree, where he is likely to proceed after such a light campaign. Having won over another five furlongs at Cheltenham last year, Simonsig had encouraged some to hope that he could yet step up in trip next season – perhaps even for a crack at the King George VI Chase. For now, however, Henderson views him as a two-miler. "But he'll learn to settle," he promised. "He's got to."
Henderson endured an especially tense start to the meeting, having already saddled a hot favourite for the William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle in My Tent Or Yours. The horse predictably travelled well but was not the first to have his challenge for this race narrowly stemmed on the hill, Ruby Walsh having kept something in reserve on Champagne Fever. It was a superb ride, in a vintage race, with Jezki also excelling in third. The winner, who took the bumper here last year, will be going chasing next season and his jumping already makes it feasible to envisage three Festival wins in a row.
The Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase was postponed after the overnight freeze and will now be added to Thursday's card.
Weather: Three-day forecast
Cold and dry with intermittent sunshine. Maximum temp: 5C.
Bright to start with, becoming overcast. Maximum temp: 6C.
Raining on and off all day, some sun after lunch. Max temp: 8C.
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