THE big smile on Paul Townend’s face told its own story after the victory of Ferny Hollow in the bumper on Wednesday.
Riding winners around Cheltenham isn’t easy and after a frustrating opening couple of days there was an expression of sheer joy and relief. His great friend and rival Davy Russell had a similar feeling a few hours earlier following the brilliant victory of Envoi Allen in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle.
Russell received the biggest reception in the opening days as national hunt fans greeted a new superstar. For Townend the pressure was on after a number of placed efforts and a very disappointing defeat on Bennie Des Dieux.
"Getting my first winner is brilliant and is such a relief. It really is so hard to get winners around here. Patrick (Mullins) had opted to ride Appreciate It and knows all the bumper horses so well.
"My lad got into a bit of bother coming down the hill but when the gaps opened he quickened away well. It’s our first winner of the week for the Mullins team so it’s great.
“Obviously the opening couple of days were a bit frustrating with all the placed finishes. But the horses are running really well so patience is the name of the game. You just got to dust yourself down and go again. I’m in a very privileged position to riding for owners like Cheveley Park.
"Willie and all the team have done a wonderful job. They buy a lovely horse and it’s great to see them get their rewards. We just take every race as it comes along. This place has a habit of bringing people down to earth very quickly but it really is magic riding a winner here.”
For Davy Russell there was also a massive sense of relief after the Irish festival banker Envoi Allen crossed the line in front. This horse had such a lofty reputation and was unbeaten in seven races. He has always looked a bit special and proved it on the biggest stage of all.
Russell said: “This is a very good horse and he proved it there today. His attitude is fantastic. Its great to get a win on the board because I’m after a couple of second places.
"That’s not the place you want to be over here. Everything is geared towards this meeting from the start of the winter.”
After being narrowly defeated in the opening race on Abacadrabas Russell was bound to have been very disappointed. He had travelled into the home straight better than anything but just got outstayed by Shiskin. The official distance was a head.
Similarly Townend got into all sorts of problems on Bennie Des Dieux and Rachael Blackmore stole a couple of lengths on Honeysuckle which proved decisive in the end.
Surprisingly, Willie Mullins had a go over the airwaves at Robbie Power over his ride on Stormy Island for the champion trainer. There is no doubt that tactically the Mullins team got it wrong on the day and Blackmore took full advantage. But in the case of Russell and Townend they both bounced back from major disappointment to achieve greatness on day two of the festival.
Barry Geraghty must also have been pinching himself following his brilliant double aboard Champ and Dame De Compagnie for his governor JP McManus.
There have been plenty of keyboard warriors writing off Geraghty in recent seasons but once again he proved he’s still able to deliver when it matters most. The way he nursed Champ around before storming late was an absolute masterclass.
This winner meant the world to connections after being named after the legendary AP McCoy who was seen fist pumping and jumping for joy. Geraghty has always been brilliant at the major festivals and once again he proved his class with a most memorable RSA Chase victory.
Cork man Joe Donnelly seems to have hit the jackpot with his equine purchases. The former bookmaker resisted all attempts for a few words by the media after his horse Shiskin won the opening Supreme Novice Hurdle in a photo finish.
Donnelly is an extremely private individual who has a number of beautiful young horses including The Big Getaway who finished third in the Ballymore and will make a gorgeous chaser next season. There was no disgrace in finishing behind Envoi Allen and it was something Willie Mullins eluded to after the race.
Mullins said: “Our fellow ran great and was beaten by a proper horse. We’re happy. He looks a real chasing type, with his style of jumping. I imagine he’ll be an RSA horse this time next year, but we might meet the winner there as well!”
While some of the bookmaking firms were keen to offer prices on Shiskin going down the Champion Hurdle route, trainer Nicky Henderon hinted that a career over fences beckons.
Henderson said: “I couldn’t see what was happening to Shishkin coming down the hill, he got slightly hampered and Barry (Geraghty) looked in the right place on Chantry House, but Shishkin has got those gears — and he needed them. Nico was cool-headed, we know he’s cool round here.”