TIARA IS CROWNED KING IN SPECIAL QUEEN MOTHER CORONATION
Special Tiara (11/1) delivered the finest performance of his career to be crowned a shock winner of the 2017 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase with a superb front-running performance in the two-mile chasing championship, the feature race on day two, Ladies Day, of the Cheltenham Festival.
Ridden by Noel Fehily, the 10-year-old son of Kayf Tara led throughout and jumped superbly. Still clear after jumping the last, Henry de Bromhead's charge responded well to Fehily's urgings up the punishing Cheltenham hill and fend off the late challenge of Colin Tizzard's 7/1 chance Fox Norton, who stayed on stoutly to finish just a head behind the winner, in a thrilling finish.
Tom George's Sir Valentino (33/1) was six lengths back in third.
Special Tiara is a regular at the Festival and has finished sixth, third and third again in the 2014-2016 renewals of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. However, today was the gelding's crowning glory as he caused a seismic shock in a race many believed would be a mere procession for 2/9 favourite Douvan.
De Bromhead, gaining his fourth Cheltenham Festival winner, said: "It's a horse race and anything can happen but this is very hard to believe at the moment. No horse deserves it any more than this lad and Sally [Rowley-Williams, owner] loves her horses and no-one deserves this more than her.
"Noel gave Special Tiara a super ride. The horse is just a legend and I just thought he jumped really quick today over his fences. Noel is an amazing rider and I am absolutely delighted for him.
"I am so pleased for everyone involved. He seemed in great form coming into this - I nearly said to our head lad Davy Roche at home that this fellow seems better than ever and I said: 'No, no, I will stop'.
"Special Tiara seemed in great form but it is hard to believe with Douvan and everything else. For our lad, it's amazing. He just tries his heart out and no horse deserves it more.
"I thought that he jumped the slickest that he has ever jumped. Often, he jumps a bit high but he was so slick today, it's incredible.
"Any day that you win a Grade One at Cheltenham is an amazing day and one of the feature races. My uncle and aunt bred this horse and for Sally, it's just brilliant."
"Douvan is a super horse. I don't know what happened today but our horse has benefitted from it. I was surprised we had such a nice lead at the top of the hill and the finish was very nerve-wracking.
"He loves that better ground and he gives his all every time. He is a great horse."
FEHILY REALLY SPECIAL ON RESURGENT TIARA
Noel Fehily won another championship race at The Festival 2017 when riding Special Tiara to victory in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The win topped up his success yesterday in the Stan James Champion Hurdle on Buveur D'Air, and tomorrow he could make it a hat-trick of wins in the meeting's top races when riding hot favourite Unowhatimeanharry in the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle. At present he has no ride in Friday's Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Special Tiara (11/1) scored by a head from Fox Norton (7/1) with Sir Valentino (33/1) six lengths back in third. The shock in that list is the absence of 2/9 favourite Douvan, who lost his unbeaten record when finishing seventh.
Fehily, who made all on the winner, said: "I've just won the race I always wanted to win - the Champion Chase is the best speed race over fences and it's a great one to have on the CV.
"I was wondering where Ruby was and thought he would be stalking me, but I got into a great rhythm down the back straight and my horse jumped better than he has ever done. He's a wonderful horse and deserved that, because he's been knocking on the door a few times [third in this twice].
"It's difficult to make all in the Champion Chase, especially going at that speed, and you're worried you're a sitting target for something else. When I jumped the ditch at the top of the hill I thought Douvan might come past me, but I didn't think anything else would.
"Henry [De Bromhead, trainer] does a great job, and the better ground helped. He won at Kempton and showed he was in good form this season, but he's been bogged down in other races. If you said to me at the start of the week 'you can win the Champion Hurdle and Chase' I'd have taken that."
A SPECIAL DAY FOR DE BROMHEAD AND FEHILY
Henry de Bromhead admitted that Special Tiara's Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase victory by a head from Fox Norton hadn't quite sunk in yet.
The Co Waterford trainer said: "It was super; I am delighted with him. I thought he jumped the best I have ever seen him - lower and much slicker. Sometimes he can get a bit high in the air. He was five or six lengths in front on the top of the hill and then got a nice run down. Obviously we were waiting for Douvan to come out of the pack, among others, and when I saw him [Douvan, the 2/9 favourite, who finished seventh] back-pedal after the third-last I thought we were in with a chance, and then it was whether we could get home or not - he was amazing.
"Noel [Fehily] rides him so well - he's won two Grade Ones on him now."
Asked about his expectations coming into the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, de Bromhead answered: "I thought our season was going pretty well when he won the Grade Two [Desert Orchid Chase] at Kempton, and if we could get placed here today it would have been a fantastic run. It's incredible."
Jockey Noel Fehily, who also won Tuesday's Stan James Champion Hurdle on Buveur D'Air, said: "It went pretty smooth, really. I got out of the gate fast, as normally he does do. I got into a great rhythm, and he felt great down the back - he pinged fences.
"I was able to get a breather into him round the top of the hill, and down the hill I had a little look to see whether Douvan was stalking me, but I couldn't see him so thought he was hid behind a wall of horses or something. I was expecting to be challenged sooner than I was; I heard horses coming to me jumping the last, and once I was over the last I thought he would take a fair bit of passing as I knew he wouldn't stop going up the hill.
"He's always been a fantastic jumper, but today he settled lovely and got into a really good rhythm."
De Bromhead interjected: "Glad you didn't go for the Ryanair now?"
Fehily replied: "I'm glad you didn't listen to me on that one!"
He continued: "The Queen Mother Champion Chase is a fantastic race to win. Fair play to Henry for getting this horse back; he had a couple of runs here in the winter on soft ground and you could almost be disappointed with him. Then he had that good run at Kempton on better ground that showed he was still in good form."
De Bromhead said: "In fairness, Noel said, when he ran so badly here the last time, that he felt amazing going to the start and it was just the ground and that was it, so he was sticking by him as well. In the past few weeks Special Tiara has been in incredible form and has looked the best he has ever looked. It just came together today."
He praised owner Sally Rowley-Williams, saying: "Sally is brilliant - very enthusiastic, loves her horses and I am delighted for her. She was telling me this was her sixth runner in the Queen Mother Champion Chase - four times with Special Tiara and twice with River City [who finished third in 2007 and unseated his jockey in 2006, trained by Noel Chance], so she has finally won it."
De Bromhead was asked about future plans for Special Tiara, and he laughed, saying: "We are asked all year about Cheltenham, then we win here and you are asking us what's next! We'll enjoy today."
Sally Rowley-Williams owns the 11/1 winner of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, Special Tiara, trained by Henry de Bromhead in Ireland.
The American former banker, who lived for much of her life in England, said: "He really totally deserves this race.
"It is the first time since he won his G1 at Aintree as a novice that he has had his ground. He has just shown us what he can do on the ground.
"Noel Fehily is a beautiful horseman and there is no one like him in terms of sensitivity - he calmed down Special Tara going to the start - and gave the horse such a lovely ride. I could not be more thankful to him.
"My only fear was coming up the hill, but Special Tiara kept on and it was great. I was shouting hang on, hang on and lots of four-letter words! There we are - I am a very enthusiastic owner.
"I have never lost faith in Special Tiara because I know exactly what he can do and all he needed was this sort of ground. I had complete faith in the jockey, the trainer and the stable staff and where he goes on holiday. The person who looks after him does an amazing job.
"This is an incredible feeling to be in the winner's enclosure - this was my sixth attempt at winning the Champion Chase.
"Two miles is about all my nerves can take and even that is stretching it!"
FOX JUST FAILS IN QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
The Colin Tizzard-trained Fox Norton (7/1) finished an agonising head second in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, after just failing to reel in Henry De Bromhead's 11/1 winner Special Tiara in the feature race on day two, Ladies Day, of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
Always travelling well, Fox Norton stayed on stoutly up the Cheltenham hill under Aidan Coleman but was unable to quite get to the leader who led throughout.
Dorset handler Tizzard said: "It was a fantastic run. Halfway up the run, we thought we were going to get there but to be fair to the winner he stayed on didn't he and kept going. It was a lovely run and we couldn't wish for anything else."
Fox Norton's rider, Aidan Coleman, said: "I could not be happier with him. He jumped brilliantly and, from the back of the last, I thought we might get there, but fair play to Special Tiara for keeping going. He is a very brave horse and there was nothing else I could do.
"I haven't a negative word to say against my horse or my passage through the race. It would have been nice to win, but I'm happy."
Paddy Brennan was delighted with the run of eight-year-old Sir Valentino (33/1), who was as further six lengths behind Fox Norton in third.
Brennan said: "Unbelievable run and it was a great training performance and I was just thrilled to be a part of it.
"There is no reason to say he cannot improve again after running in this race. It was his first proper run in Grade One company where he looked good, unlike in the Tingle Creek, and wherever he goes next, he'll be interesting."
MULLINS MULLS ON DOUVAN
Willie Mullins, trainer of the previously unbeaten superstar Douvan, felt there must be a physical problem after his charges out of sorts seventh when sent off the 2/9 favourite to retain his unbeaten record in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Mullins said: "He never did that before, I imagine we will find something physical wrong with him. Ruby was gobsmacked by that. Douvan didn't jump as well as he expected. Usually we would find something wrong when something like this happens.
"When they jump like that they can injure themselves, it is a huge strain they exert upon themselves and he is a big horse. He put in two or three odd jumps and I would say he must have done something. It takes a lot out of a horse to make a mistake like that in a championship race.
"I think he probably pulled something, maybe a muscle or a ligament. Hopefully, it is only something that will come right straight away. When I saw him jump the first couple of fences, I thought he would have to be a superhorse to win this. You don't get away with that sort of jumping and win a (Betway Queen Mother) Champion Chase, you might win a beginners' chase but not a champion class of race.
"I am hoping that he could be one of the best horses I have ever trained, but today was clearly not his run. We will have to get him back on track, if we can, but that is the way it is. We are all disappointed that this has happened. Now my main job is to find out what is wrong and how long it will take to fix.
"Ruby didn't say Douvan had come back lame, all he said was that the horse wasn't moving well behind. I don't know whether that was after he jumped during the race or as he was pulling up. He didn't say there was something wrong behind but that he felt that he wasn't moving well behind.
"I am well used to dealing with the frustration of racing, if not quite at this level with this type of hore, but that is the way it is.
Ruby Walsh, rider of Douvan, added: "We were beaten a long way out, he didn't jump well. He didn't feel right and he never got going."
3.30pm £365,760 Betway Queen Mother
Champion Chase (Grade 1) - Result
1 SPECIAL TIARA (Sally Rowley-Williams) Henry de Bromhead, Ireland 11st 10lb Noel Fehily 11/1
2 Fox Norton (FR) (Ann & Alan Potts) Colin Tizzard 11st 10lb Aidan Coleman 7/1
3 Sir Valentino (FR) (Doone Hulse Susie Saunders & Lady Cobham) Tom George 11st 10lb Paddy Brennan 33/1
4 Top Gamble (IRE) (Walters Plant Hire & James & Jean Potter) Kerry Lee 11st 10lb Davy Russell 20/1
5 God's Own (Crossed Fingers Partnership) Tom George 11st 10lb Adrian Heskin 6/1
6 Traffic Fluide (Galloping On The South Downs Partnership) Gary Moore 11st 10lb Joshua Moore 50/1
7 Douvan (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Ruby Walsh 2/9 Fav
8 Garde La Victoire (Diana Whateley) Philip Hobbs 11st 10lb Richard Johnson 14/1
9 Simply Ned (David & Nicky Robinson) Nicky Richards 11st 10lb Brian Harding 33/1
PU Sizing Granite (Ann & Alan Potts) Colin Tizzard 11st 10lb Tom O'Brien 50/1
Distances: hd, 6, hd, 1, nk, 4, 17, 13
Tote Win: £17.50 Places: £3.10; £2.20; £6.20 Exacta: £201.60
Henry de Bromhead - 4th winner at The Festival
Noel Fehily - 5th winner at The Festival
BetBright Cup - standings after 11 races
Great Britain 5
WALSH TO HOSPITAL
Mark Walsh has been taken to Gloucestershire Hospital with suspected concussion after his fall in the first race at Cheltenham today.
The Irish jockey was replaced in the third race, the Coral Cup, on Hargam by Nico de Boinville, while in the same race Robinshill was ridden by 3lb-claimer Jamie Bargary following Willy Twiston-Davies' back injury in the last race yesterday.
Mark Walsh was also due to partner the anticipated favourite Cantlow in the fifth race today, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. Adrian Heskin now takes the ride, after switching from another Enda-Bolger-trained and J P McManus-owned runner, Auvergnat, who will be partnered by Robbie Power.