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Rivalry is still strong on the racecourse

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 13, 2014

  • Ladies had travelled from all over the world to show off their best hat. Mawuse Ayivi Alm, above, had come all the way from Oslo, Norway, to show off her blue hat for the occasion

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The long-running battle between the West Country and Ireland ended in a draw yesterday on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Well-fancied French horse Sire de Grugy won the big race of the day, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, prompting the biggest cheer of the day from the 50,000-plus crowd packed into the Prestbury racing Mecca.

And while it looked initially like the bookmakers might take something of a pasting when the first few races were won by the heavily backed favourites, a couple of outside victories in the later races made sure the old adage that the bookies never lose was probably proved right in the end.

It was an almost perfect day for racing: a low grey chilly mist that covered Cleeve Hill and the Cotswold scarp in a morning blanket evaporated by a warming sun just half an hour before the start of the first race, bathing the race fans in the "cheap seats" of the Best Mate enclosure in glorious rays.

"This is certainly the life," joked Andrew Histon, who had come with a coach-load of mates in the best suits from south London for the day. "It certainly beats working. There's enough of us so at least one of us will end up winning big, you just know it. Most of us will end up down, but we don't care – it's half the fun."

In the slightly more genteel and serious surroundings of the Parade Ring, anxious owners talked to nervous trainers as their hopes and certainties walked in circles in front of the crowds. The winners were spread around on this day, with Somerset trainer Philip Hobbs sending his ten-year-old horse Balthazar King back to Minehead with a second Cheltenham victory in three years.

Wife Sarah said Balthazar King's next journey would be abroad. "He jumped so well. He's a very brave horse and he was amazing," she said.

"He digs deep, he's as brave as a lion. He feels like that when you ride him. He can go to France now, where there is better prize money."

Trainer Nicky Henderson, whose horses gallop on the Downs of the Wiltshire-Berkshire border near Marlborough, triumphed again when one of them, Whisper, won the third race of the day. The two West winners were matched late on by two Irish winners, setting the rivalry up nicely for today's early "St Patrick's Day" celebrations around the course.

After the death of Our Conor on the first day, Festival organisers had hoped for an accident-free day, but Worcestershire-trained Akdam was put down on the course after breaking its leg in a fall.

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