Though nobody could be at all surprised to see several Cheltenham Festival winners emerge from a weekend that properly raised the temperature of the jumps season, it would be deplorably parochial not to acknowledge first the winner of a Flat race staged on the other side of the world. For the fact is that Snow Fairy's oriental depredations, crowned by a breathtaking exhibition in Hong Kong early yesterday, have belatedly qualified her as one of the defining performers of 2010.
The dual Oaks winner seemed to have discovered her limitations when beaten by Midday at York in August, and then by the extra distance in the St Leger. But she has since reached unimagined heights in the Far East. Her enterprising trainer, Ed Dunlop, first targeted a huge bonus in Japan last month, and then decided to clarify options for next season by restoring her to 10 furlongs in the Hong Kong Cup. And the man who gained precious experience of a tough, globe-trotting filly with Ouija Board was rewarded with arguably the most striking winner of his entire career.
Though the pace had not been excessive, Ryan Moore still only had one behind him approaching the far turn. Angled wide, however, his mount launched an inexorable charge up the straight. With several lengths to find even over the last 300 yards, Snow Fairy only got up by a neck, but somehow the result never seemed in doubt. "On the top of the bend I thought I had no chance," Moore admitted. "She's an absolute machine to do what she did."
It is sometimes hard to gauge international opposition but the crack French colt, Vision d'Etat, gave the form familiar lustre in fourth. Happily, her owners have already committed to keeping Snow Fairy in training. "I thought it was too close between races, after Japan, and she didn't gallop for seven weeks," Dunlop said. "To do it against the colts for the first time puts her down as an exceptional horse."
Mastery, last year's Leger winner, had earlier achieved a new peak for Saeed Bin Suroor with a comfortable success in the Vase. Again the pace was steady enough, but Frankie kept Mastery prudently within reach before making a decisive move in the straight. This was a 200th global winner of 2010 for Godolphin, but there was no such climax for the top yard in Britain this year when Paco Boy, making his final start for Richard Hannon before retiring to stud, trailed in last in the Mile.
It is quite a sport that can shift the scenery from Sha Tin to Plumpton for consecutive instalments, but there is a worthwhile jumps card in Sussex today – not least with Medermit bidding to put his recent Huntingdon debacle behind him in the novice chase.
Sadly an instructive assignment for Riverside Theatre was lost when frost claimed Huntingdon yesterday, but at least the Irish were finally able to get the show back on the road at Cork. Bishopsfurze made a persuasive start to his hurdling career and Willie Mullins hopes to get some of his other big names on the track this week – notably in the rescheduled meeting at Fairyhouse on Wednesday.
Saturday will probably prove the last public sighting of Menorah before the Stan James Champion Hurdle and Colin Tizzard has already vowed that Cue Card, beaten for the first time, will not run before the Festival – where he will presumably now revert to novice company. Paul Nicholls will also be keeping Poquelin fresh for the Ryanair Chase after his success in the big handicap. With so many horses nowadays being put away for the Festival, the appearance of Master Minded in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot next month is going to prove one of the very few to relieve a mid-season torpor over jumps.
Ballarina (4.20 Wolverhampton)
Has bundles of speed and demanding surface on her last two starts will not have played to her strengths. Did well to chase home an improved rival last time even so, and should relish this sharper test.
Rey Nacarado (2.35 Plumpton)
Half-brother to Florida Pearl fast-tracked to handicap company for his debut over fences at Wetherby last month and the way he shaped against an in-form rival suggests him to be feasibly treated.
One to watch
Somersby (Henrietta Knight) could not live with the speed of Master Minded at Cheltenham on Saturday, but the way he rallied up the hill for third confirmed that he could yet make the grade stepped up in trip.
Where the money's going
Two of Paul Nicholls' Saturday winners in demand: Poquelin 6-1 from 8-1 with Paddy Power for the Ryanair Chase, and Woolcombe Folly 12-1 from 16-1 with William Hill for the QM Champion Chase.