Just as in life, timing on the racecourse is everything. For Tom O'Brien yesterday, the difference between glorious success and glorious failure was just three-tenths of a second, the temporal translation of a length and a quarter's distance at a gallop at the end of two miles. In the day's opener, the Triumph Hurdle, O'Brien decided on a do-or-die thunder round the track on the outsider Barizan, the most battle-hardened among 17 callow four-year-olds. And oh, how nearly boldness was his friend. Only one caught him, Soldatino, who was by contrast one of the greenest in the field.
Barizan's charge down the final hill, 20 lengths clear and still in full flight, provided a simply thrilling spectacle. And it was not only the watchers with binoculars who began to call him home; doubts began to surface in the chasing pack. "As we jumped the third last," said Barry Geraghty, Soldatino's rider, "Davy [Russell] called over to Andy [McNamara] that the thing in front had won five lengths. So I thought I'd better do something."
In pursuit, Geraghty had to gauge his fuel reserves with the finesse of a Formula One driver. "The leader went off that quick I thought he had to stop," he said, "but it was a long old gap to bridge and I didn't dare push too hard and use up everything getting to him. But going to the last I knew I had him." McNamara, on Alaivan, had to settle for third, seven lengths adrift, with Russell, on the favourite Carlo Brigante, fourth.
Soldatino, who races with earplugs to dampen any unsettling crowd noises, was having only his second outing in Britain since joining Nicky Henderson in January, and even the winning trainer's sympathies were with the gallant loser. "You have to feel sorry for him," he said, "he very nearly got away from them and he made it a fantastic race. But all credit to mine, he's such a baby still and it was a brave performance."
A beaten horse provided much of the emotion in the day's other top- level hurdle, too. For the trainer Robin Dickin, the closing stages of the Albert Bartlett Novices' contest provided a roller coaster to rival anything at Alton Towers.
He experienced the thrill of seeing Restless Harry, the pride of his small Warwickshire yard, shoot clear of his rivals after the penultimate flight; the excitement as he started to battle back after the ultimate winner and runner-up, Berties Dream and Naiaf, ranged alongside; the feeling of unfairness as he was chopped and unsighted by his rivals at the last obstacle, with a thoroughly undeserved fall the result; and then dread as the horse lay inert and the green screens, often precursors to a fatality, went up.
But the greatest endorphin surge of all – and one of the day's most heartfelt bursts of applause from the stands – came when Restless Harry, happily only winded, scrambled to his feet and was led away unscathed. "Any disappointment in losing the race," said Dickin, "was wiped out by the fact we didn't lose the horse."
In the finale Pigeon Island gave Nigel Twiston-Davies a treble on a magical afternoon, but Henderson ended the Festival as champion trainer, his three wins backed up by more places. Ruby Walsh, also with three successes, similarly pipped Geraghty for the jockeys' title; his sister Katie joined an elite group of riders, including Tony McCoy, on a pair after victory on Thousand Stars. And the week ended overwhelmingly in favour of the home side: GB 19, Ireland 7.Reuse content