A six-year-old dominated the reporting of day two of The Festival™ presented by Magners, just as on day one, but 24 hours after Epatante's stylish success in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle it was young Archie McCoy hogging the headlines, not the impressive Ballymore Novices' Hurdle winner Envoi Allen of the same age.
Young Archie, taking a day off school to cheer on the horse named in honour of his father Sir AP McCoy, featured prominently across the board in terrific shots with his mother Chanelle, Zara Tindall, and her mother the Princess Royal as they watched, literally open-mouthed, as Champ lived up to his name by snatching victory from near certain defeat in the most dramatic of G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chases.
A huge photo of Archie and Zara dominated the front page of the local Gloucestershire Echo, and similar shots were sprinkled prominently in the non-racing pages of the nationals, including on page three of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror.
An equally striking Cheltenham photo dominated the front page of the Daily Telegraph, but this one set a very different tone. Milliner Anna Gilder was photographed sporting an extraordinary bejewelled mask of her own creation.
The O'Leary brothers' concerns about next month's Randox Health Grand National not going ahead led Paul Hayward's report in the same paper of Tiger Roll's defeat in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
Hayward wrote: "Tiger Roll's connections have called for the Grand National to be run behind closed doors if necessary, describing racing as a "business" that must go on. Hard nosed to the end, they left the sentimentality to racegoers on a day when the double Aintree winner actually lost a race at the Cheltenham Festival."
For the time being, as Peter Scargill reports in the Racing Post, the BHA insist it is "business as usual".
Over the page in the Racing Post it's as if Alastair Down has never been away.
He wrote: "On an afternoon when odds-on Champion Chase banker Defi Du Seuil ran flatter than the Russian steppe and universal hopes of a rampant Tiger Roll were hammered into submission on the anvil of the cross-country, it is to Champ's surge to snatch the RSA that we must turn."
It couldn't have been anyone else could it? Welcome back Alastair.
Faugheen backed for spectacular Marsh success
Day two ofThe Festival™ presented by Magners 2020 was an afternoon of contrasting fortunes for punters. The "Irish Banker" of the meeting, the Gordon Elliott-trained Envoi Allen produced a sparkling performance to justify 4/7 favouritism in the opening G1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
However, punters were dealt a number of cruel blows, firstly with Defi Du Seuil's shock defeat in the feature G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. The 2/5 favourite could only finish fourth behind runaway 6/1 winner Politologue whilst dual Randox Health Grand National winner Tiger Roll was second at odds of 8/11 behind French raider Easysland in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. Punters and bookmakers do battle once again on day three in which one of the supposed bankers of The Festival features.
Paisley Park is aiming to become the first horse since Big Buck's to win multiple renewals of the £325,000 G1 Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle (3.30pm). Trained by Emma Lavelle and sporting the colours of blind-from-birth owner Andrew Gemmell, the eight-year-old son of Oscar is unbeaten in his last seven starts and is a warm order heading the market at 4/6 with the sponsor. Apple's Jade is an 11-time G1 winner and trainer Gordon Elliott has suggested this race could be her swansong. The 2017 G1 Mares' Hurdle winner is a 16/1 chance from 22/1 with Paddy Power as she wears blinkers for the first time.
In the opening, £150,000 G1 Marsh Novices' Chase (1.30pm), one of the sport's most recognisable stars Faugheen targets a 12th G1 victory in the contest. Trained by Willie Mullins, the 12-year-old,winner of the G1 Champion Hurdle in 2015 is unbeaten in three starts over fences and chases an 18th career victory this afternoon. He is the best-backed horse of the day, heading the market at 7/2 from 5/1 with Paddy Power.
The £100,000 Pertemps Network Final (2.10pm) features a number of well-handicapped types headed by the progressive Welsh Saint. Trained by Nicky Henderson, the six-year-old made a successful handicap debut at Haydock last time out and is the 5/1 favourite from 13/2 with Paddy Power.
Rachael Blackmore is chasing a fourth winner overall at The Festival and her second this week aboard hot favourite A Plus Tard in the £350,000 G1 Ryanair Chase (2.50pm). Successful at last year's meeting, Henry de Bromhead's charge was a smooth winner in G1 company at Leopardstown last time out and is a solid 7/4 favourite with Paddy Power.
In the ultra-competitive £110,000 G3 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (4.10pm), Simply The Betts is a strong favourite for Harry Whittington. Successful at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, the form of that race has already been franked this week following runner-up Imperial Aura's victory in the Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase and he is the 3/1 market leader from 7/2 with Paddy Power.
The Willie Mullins-trained Colreevy has been strongly supported in the £90,000 G2 Daylesford Mares' Novices' Hurdle (4.50pm) for Willie Mullins. A winner of two of her four starts this season, she is a 100/30 chance from 9/2 with Paddy Power.
In the concluding £70,000 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase (5.30pm), Fitzhenry, who represents Irish trainer Paul Nolan and owner JP McManus is an 8/1 shot from 12/1 with Paddy Power.
Elliott favourite to finish The Festival as top trainer
We're at the halfway stage of the The Festival™ presented by Magners 2020 and the betting markets for the meeting's trainer and jockey awards have seen seismic changes over the course of the first two days.
County Meath trainer Gordon Elliott is Paddy Power's Even-money favourite to take home the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award, an accolade he won in 2018 and 2017. Elliott has enjoyed three victories so far this week, taking his tally to 28 career wins at The Festival. They have come courtesy of Ravenhill (G2 National Hunt Chase), Envoi Allen (G1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle) and Aramax (G3 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle). He has a number of live chances over the next two days headed by favourite Samcro in today's G1 Marsh Novices' Chase and Delta Work in tomorrow's Blue Riband, the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Nicky Henderson is a 5/4 shot with Paddy Power to scoop the award which he has won on nine occasions, most recently in 2012. The Seven Barrows maestro has enjoyed a tremendous week thus far at Prestbury Park with four winners, making him the winning-most trainer in The Festival's history with 68 successes. Shishkin (G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle), Epatante (G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle), Champ (G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase) and Dame De Compagnie (G3 Coral Cup). His leading chances for the rest of the week include Santini in tomorrow's Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Willie Mullins, who recorded his first winner of the week and 66th success at The Festival in yesterday's G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper courtesy of Ferny Hollow, is a 9/2 chance with Paddy Power.
Barry Geraghty is the Even-money favourite with Paddy Power for the Holland Cooper Leading Jockey Award for the Ruby Walsh Trophy. Geraghty has enjoyed three victories so far this week courtesy of Epatante (G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle), Champ (G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase) and Dame De Compagnie (G3 Coral Cup) for his retained owner JP McManus. Geraghty, the leading current jockey at The Festival with 41 wins, has four remaining chances at the meeting, headed by Sire Du Berlais in today's G3 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.
Paul Townend registered his first victory of the meeting aboard the aforementioned Ferny Hollow yesterday and is an 11/4 chance with Paddy Power, whilst Rachael Blackmore, successful aboard Honeysuckle in the G1 Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle on day one is a 4/1 shot to take home the award with Paddy Power
In the Paddy Power Prestbury Cup, Great Britain currently have seven victories, Ireland have six and France has one. Great Britain are 4/9 and Ireland are 13/8 to lift the Cup with the sponsor. The tie is 80/1.
Claisse before racing
Simon Claisse, Cheltenham's Clerk of the Course, has just walked the track again and is leaving the going description unchanged.
He said: "I've just been round the course again - we had a little shower of rain this morning, but I'm still very happy with the ground, which is currently Soft, Good to Soft in Places on both the Chase and Hurdle tracks.
"The outlook remains mostly dry; there may be the odd shower. Tonight is expected to be dry, as is tomorrow, when we open up another fresh chase track.
"We're very happy with the way the tracks look, and we are expecting another fantastic afternoon's racing."
Racing today moves on to the New Course, which will also be used for the fourth and final day of The Festival tomorrow.
The action on Tuesday and Wednesday took place on the Old Course.
Al Boum Photo & Santini head Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup dozen
Al Boum Photo (Willie Mullins IRE/Paul Townend) and Santini (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) head a field of 12 in Friday's £625,000 G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, from which there were no defections at yesterday's 48-hour declaration stage.
Mullins saddled no fewer than six Gold Cup seconds before last year's long-awaited first win, when Al Boum Photo was the betting market's third choice in a quartet headed by Kemboy, who unseated at the first. This time, Al Boum Photo is disputing favouritism with Santini following the smoothest of wins on his return in a G3 at Tramore on New Year's Day.
Santini had a troubled preparation before his half-length second to Topofthegame in last year's G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase at The Festival, when Delta Work (Gordon Elliott IRE/Mark Walsh) was third. He made hard work of winning in Listed company on his reappearance at Sandown Park but was far more convincing when beating last year's Gold Cup third Bristol de Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Daryl Jacob) in the G2 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day in January. Nicky Henderson, who fits Santini with cheekpieces for the first time, has previously won the Gold Cup with Long Run in 2011 and Bobs Worth in 2013. De Boinville won it on Coneygree in 2015.
Kemboy (Willie Mullins IRE/Patrick Mullins) beat Al Boum Photo in the G1 Coral Irish Gold Cup when the pair met again at Punchestown in May. His rider, second on Sharjah in Tuesday's G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle, bids to be the fourth amateur winner in the post-war period, following Richard Black on Fortina in 1947, Jim Wilson on Little Owl in 1981 and Sam Waley-Cohen on Long Run in 2011. Kemboy has since been beaten in two G1 Leopardstown chases (the Savills Chase in December and the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup in February) won by in-form second-season chaser Delta Work, who will be bidding to give Gordon Elliott a second win in the race following Don Cossack in 2016.
Colin Tizzard's Gold Cup hopes were dealt a blow when his 2018 winner Native River met with a setback last month, but he still has a strong candidate in Lostintranslation (Robbie Power) and an each-way chance with Elegant Escape (Jonjo O'Neill Jr). O'Neill Jr has his first ride in chasing's Blue Riband, with his father having taken the honours in the race on Alverton (1979) and Dawn Run (1986).
Lostintranslation was second to Defi du Seuil in the race now known as the G1 Marsh Novices' Chase 12 months ago and won his next three chases, including G1s at Aintree and Haydock, denying Bristol de Mai a third successive win in the G1 Betfair Chase in the latter race. He reportedly had a breathing issue when pulled up behind Clan des Obeaux in the G1 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Clan des Obeaux (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden) was winning his second King George but has been beaten on all five starts at Cheltenham, including when fifth in last year's Gold Cup. Trainer Paul Nicholls is chasing a record-equalling fifth win in the race following See More Business (1999), Kauto Star (2007 & 2009) and Denman (2008).
The field is completed by Presenting Percy (Pat Kelly IRE/Davy Russell), who reportedly finished lame when favourite last year, Chris's Dream (Henry De Bromhead IRE/Aidan Coleman), Monalee (Henry De Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore) and Real Steel (Willie Mullins/Brian Hughes).