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Donn McClean's Day 2 review: Wherever you start, you have to finish with Jamie Codd

Wednesday’s Cheltenham action was littered with more Irish fairytales, writes Donn McClean.

Sealed with a kiss: Jamie Codd celebrates with bumper winner Envoi Allen.
Sealed with a kiss: Jamie Codd celebrates with bumper winner Envoi Allen.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WHERE TO START with Wednesday? Start with Altior. No, start with Tiger Roll. You have to start with Tiger Roll. Or start with Gordon Elliott and Keith Donoghue. Or with Martin Brassil and Mark Walsh. Or with Joseph O’Brien and JJ Slevin. Wherever you start, you have to finish with Jamie Codd. We have raced for two days now at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, and both days have finished with Jamie Codd.

Altior won, but he wasn’t impressive. He made a bad mistake at the water jump, and he got in tight to the second last fence when he really needed to jump it and, for a fraction of a second, incredibly, it looked like either Sceau Royal or Politologue might have his measure.

But then Nico de Boinville got serious, and Altior’s turbo kicked in. He surged to the front up the run-in and grabbed the winning line and the prize.

That’s Nicky Henderson’s horse’s second Queen Mother Champion Chase. He is now five for five at Cheltenham and four for four at the Cheltenham Festival. A Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, an Arkle and two Champion Chases. And he is 18 for 18 over hurdles and fences.

There were lots of conversations and prices available, inevitably, about the King George afterwards, and Altior does race over two miles as if he will get further, as if he will probably improve for stepping up in trip. But he has never been beyond two and a quarter miles in his life. A step up to three miles is a big step into the unknown.

There would be an opportunity cost associated with going for the King George. There would be his unblemished record over fences of course, and there is a third Champion Chase potentially on the table. That said, you’d love to know. From a sporting perspective, you’d love to see him in a King George.

You’d also love to see Tiger Roll win another Grand National. He and Keith Donoghue were dynamite again together over Cheltenham’s hedges and banks and poles. They always looked comfortable, always looked in control, always looked likely to win. And they did, by 22 lengths from Josies Orders.

Keith Donoghue on Tiger Roll during the Glenfarclas Chase Tiger Roll and Keith Donoghue were sensational winners of the Cross Country Chase. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It was Gordon Elliott’s first winner of the week, and you could sense the relief. Some of his high-profile horses have come up short, but you can’t go assessing the strength or otherwise of a yard with a sample size of a day and a half. Ben Dundee ran well in defeat on Tuesday. Delta Work and Coko Beach ran well in defeat on Wednesday. Remember last year. He didn’t have a winner on Tuesday, but he had eight by the time Friday finished.

Next up for Tiger Roll is obviously the Grand National. He and Davy Russell has a date with history there. No horse since Red Rum in 1973 and 1974 has won back-to-back Grand Nationals. It is a wide chasm that the Gigginstown House horse has to bridge, almost half a century wide, and Red Rum was a special horse. But Tiger Roll is a special horse too, one who would be worthy of a place in the same sentence as Red Rum.

City Island was very good in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. He and Champ had it between them from the home turn, but City Island was the stronger horse up the hill. Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle hero Mark Walsh gave him a super ride, he got him jumping and the pair of them together were strong in holding their position on the run down the hill. Martin Brassil had the Mulryans’ horse primed, as you knew he would. The trainer bagged a Grand National in 2006 with Numbersixvalverde, but this was a first Cheltenham Festival win, and it was sweet.

Band Of Outlaws’ victory in the Fred Winter Hurdle was also sweet for trainer Joseph O’Brien and for rider JJ Slevin. It was a second Cheltenham Festival win for the rider, to go with his victory on Champagne Classic in the Martin Pipe Hurdle in 2017, and it was essentially a second Cheltenham Festival win for Joseph O’Brien, to go with Ivanovich Gorbatov’s Triumph Hurdle win. But this was his first in his own name. That must have been sweet too.

The RSA Chase was a thriller, with the big three coming to the four, and the Paul Nicholls-trained Topofthegame just proving too strong for Santini and Delta Work under Harry Cobden. All three are top notch staying novice chasers, however, and it would not be surprising at all to see one or two or three of them morphing into real live contenders for next year’s Gold Cup.

It was a similar story in the Champion Bumper, with the two horses who have dominated the market for weeks now, Envoi Allen and Blue Sari, dominating the finish.

It was some finish too, Gordon Elliott v Willie Mullins, Cheveley Park v JP McManus, Jamie Codd v Barry Geraghty. In the end, it was Gordon Elliott and Cheveley Park and Jamie Codd who prevailed, Envoi Allen just getting home from Blue Sari. That’s the second time in two days that Jamie Codd has got home in the finale in a thriller.

Then the referee blew his whistle. Half-time.

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Donn McClean

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