IT TOOK him 16 attempts but Knockara Beau eventually won a race at Cheltenham – and in lifting Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle he claimed the biggest scalp in jump racing along the way.
Big Buck’s, the undisputed top staying hurdler of his generation, was making his comeback to racing after 14 months off with a leg injury and all seemed in place for the 6-5 favourite to extend his winning run to 19 consecutive races as he led the field into the home straight.
But the long absence and the heavy ground eventually took its toll and he was overhauled on the run-in by both Knockara Beau and the runner-up At Fishers Cross.
Some pundits reckoned Naunton jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, riding the champion for the first time, was at fault for making too much use of the 11-year-old him in the testing conditions.
Sam should get the chance to answer those critics when Big Buck’s attempts to win the World Hurdle at the Festival for the fifth time come March.
Knockara Beau had finished in the first four at the previous three Festival Trials Days at Cheltenham but this was by far his biggest ever win.
Northumberland trainer George Charlton revealed that the horse had undergone a breathing operation only five weeks ago at vets in Stow.
Loc al towns also featured strongly in the story of Argento Chase winner The Giant Bolster.
Another course specialist, The Giant Bolster had twice finished placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. But his Stow trainer David Bridgwater admitted he was at a loss to explain the horse’s loss of form this season.
Fitted with both a hood and a visor, and returning to his favourite track, seemed to do the trick, although connections were quick to credit the schooling work down with the horse in the last month by Moreton-in-Marsh show jumper Angie Thompson.
Harry Topper, from the Andoversford yard of Kim Bailey, did not jump fluently enough to really contend although he stayed on so gamely up the hill that he would have been second in a matter of strides.
Condicote trainer Martin Keighley’s stable star, Champion Court, also ran in the Argento but fears that the extended 3m distance would sap his suspect stamina proved accurate in the final quarter mile.
Birdlip jockey Jason Maguire won the Timeform Novices’ Chase on Indian Castle in the style of a Grand National horse of the future.
Keighley’s Annacotty was far from disgraced in running a gallant race to finish second.
Double Ross and Sam Twiston-Davies’ attempt to win three big Cheltenham races at consecutive meetings almost came off. He was beaten less than two lengths by a back-to-form Wishfull Thinking in the 2m5f handicap chase.