Jon Freeman: Brave Robson’s dreams crumble in sight of a famous win

Flavour of the Cheltenham Festival

They came in their thousands to salute Sprinter Sacre, probably the fastest chaser in the world, but Cheltenham has never been just about speed.

On the contrary, so many of the Festival heroes down the years have become heroes because of their ability to slog rather than sprint, especially before Prestbury had a proper drainage system, and none more so than in the longest race at the Festival, the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase.

This four-miler is very much an hors d’oeuvres to Wednesday’s main course, but has been just as special to the farmers, point-to-point trainers and amateur riders who have managed to win it since its inception back in 1860. For Cheltenham has never been just about the big players, either.

So Pauline Robson set off on Tuesday with Rival d’Estruval on the 550-mile round trip from her eight-horse Northumberland stable for a day of days. Wins on the northern circuit in owner Raymond Anderson Green’s familiar green and yellow last autumn were in minor company, but this stamina-laden eight-year-old had done enough to convince his shrewd trainer that he had the right substance for a Festival challenge.

Top Irish amateur Derek O’Connor, who demonstrated his cool nerve to such great effect with a classic hold-up ride on Chicago Grey in the same race two years ago, was snapped up. Rival d’Estruval was fresh for the battle, as he needs to be, after a three-month break. Everything was in place.

There can be few better feelings for anybody connected with a jumper than to see their pride and joy cruising down the hill at Cheltenham, tracking the leaders, ready to pounce, as Rival d’Estruval was. And there can be few worse feelings than seeing that same horse crumple to the ground with the winning post in sight after a one and only misjudgement.

David Parker, Robson’s partner and assistant, gave the moment a ‘that’s racing’ shrug and was at least consoled in the knowledge that the horse returned unscathed. “There will be other days, maybe even a go at the Grand National somewhere down the line,” he said.

“I don’t know what would have happened had he stayed on his feet, but I do know that coming down the hill I was thinking: ‘Hey, we’re actually going to win this.’ But you can’t get too down. A bad day is driving home an empty horsebox.”

Until quite recently, before race conditions were tightened for safety reasons, this four-miler was for maidens, but these days it attracts better quality chasers, often as a stepping stone to Grand National bids, and with them come jump racing’s biggest trainers and owners.

Robson and Green’s loss was yet another gain for Willie Mullins and Graham Wylie, whose Back In Focus rallied from the last to mug Tofino Bay. Another great moment for Mullins and his team and a popular victory for those who made him favourite, but from another viewpoint such a shame that it didn’t quite end up as the day of days it looked like being for so long for the small northern raiding party.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Sport
Harry Kane
premier leagueLive minute-by-minute coverage
News
The letter, purported to be from the 1970s, offered a message of gender equality to parents

When it comes to promoting equality of the sexes, we tend to think that we’ve come a long way in the past 40 years.

News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin