Inch faller is now the Champion Chaser
Wed, 14th Mar, 2012
Finian's Rainbow fell at Inch when with Adrian Maguire
(Healy Racing Photos)
The two-mile championship was an incident-packed heat with Wishfull Thinking's second-fence departure ultimately impacting on a thrilling two-way finish.
Kauto Stone, half-brother to the great Kauto Star, crashed out at the very first obstacle while Wishfull Thinking rocketed to the front under Richard Johnson.
He was pulling strongly before clattering the fence in front of the stands and suffering a nasty fall which saw him tumble through the rails and into a crowd of bystanders.
That left 4-5 favourite Sizing Europe in front and Andrew Lynch was obliged to make the running with Barry Geraghty hunting him round on Finian's Rainbow while the other runners just fell away.
Former champion Big Zeb just could not go with them and it had turned into a clear match race some way from home and the pair were neck and neck at the top of the hill.
With the last fence dolled off due to Wishfull Thinking's fall, Geraghty held the best position on the outside and he utilised that to the full as the pair had to steer past the last.
Sizing Europe's momentum was checked after Lynch struggled to switch him past the obstacle and could not find the extra gear required to peg back the 4-1 winner.
Finian's Rainbow had a length and a quarter to spare at the line with Big Zeb plugging on for a 15-length third.
Winning trainer Nicky Henderson was teaming up for his third Grade One win of the day and he was delighted to bring up the hat-trick.
He said: "It was a great race and it was a pity they didn't jump the last fence. It was a tremendous race between two very good two-mile chasers.
"I'm thrilled for (owner) Michael (Buckley) because he's put a lot into this game, he adores it and it's a special day."
Sizing Europe's trainer Henry de Bromhead felt the race had not really worked his his charge's favour and that the dolling off of the final obstacle may have proved a crucial factor.
He said: "We were beaten which is about all I can say on the matter.
"It was an incident-packed race. We lost Wishfull Thinking at the second and we could have done with a lead for longer.
"Andrew tried to hug the rails all the way just like last year and he didn't know he was going to have to miss the last.
"We haven't really discussed it but he just said 'the last cost me the race'.
"We could have done with jumping another fence as he always likes something to aim at.
"These things happen and I wouldn't like to say much more."
Despite some confusion during the race over the dolling off of the last fence, head of stewarding William Nunneley felt there was no need for an inquiry.
He told Channel 4 Racing: "Richard Linley, the inspector of courses, was down there (near the last fence).
"I know there was some confusion about where the chevrons were and the reason they were on the inside was to protect Richard Johnson on the other side of the fence.
"The jockeys might move round the fence, but if you get a loose horse it could easily jump it.
"The idea is, if the chevrons are there, hopefully if it (loose horse) jumped it, it would jump it away from where the casualty is.
"The procedures are agreed with the racing department. You can't have a man with the flag on the track as you are putting him in danger.
"I'm sure like anything there are lessons to be learnt from this if needs be, but of paramount safety in a very short space of time was Richard Johnson and the medics treating him."
It was later confirmed that Johnson had been stood down for the rest of the day after being stretchered back to the weighing room.
Andy Clifton, Cheltenham's communication manager, said: "He has a soft tissue injury on his left thigh and has been stood down for the day, but it's not a serious injury."
He also confirmed that freelance photographer Jean-Charles Briens had been taken to hospital for further treatment.
Clifton added: "He's got a badly cut lip and he's been taken to A and E for stitches."
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