Yesterday Nicky Henderson equalled The Festival record of 40 winners which he briefly shared with Fulke Walwyn. However he totally eclipsed it with four more winners on a record-breaking Day 2 to take his record to 44 Festival winners.
He said after breaking the record: “You are talking about legends like Fulke Walwyn and I lived next door to Fred Winter for five wonderful years. We have been very lucky over the years and the team at home, the owners have sent me some lovely horses and people like Corky, who has been with me since the very beginning.
"It’s all about teamwork and I am just very grateful to all of them. It’s been fun all of the way.”
The first race, The Diamond Jubilee National Hunt Steeple Chase was won by Teaforthree which provided trainer Rebecca Curtis with her first Festival success when justifying 5/1 favouritism.
“We always fancied him but you have to have a lot of luck around here,” said Curtis, “All he does is stay and he jumps well, which is what you need.
"It wasn’t the plan to make the running with him but he was there. He probably is better on more testing round but you can get away with it a bit over four miles.
"AP (McCoy) had ridden him for his chase wins and always liked the horse. He wanted the best for the horse so helped to get JT (McNamara) to ride him.”
The Nicky Henderson bandwagon began to roll in The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle Race when 2/1 favourite Simonsig won easily by 7 lengths given a very confident ride by Barry Geraghty.
Henderson said “When you have horses like that (Simonsig), having winners here is not too difficult. In hindsight, it does look as though this was the sensible option but he does have so much natural talent that you could easily run him over two miles.
"Barry was quite keen to go for this race because he felt that it might give him more time to get his jumping together. He has got a little bit untidy there a couple of times there but he will learn – he’s going to go and jump fences in a minute and he has won point-to-points. I think actually the bigger the obstacle, the better he will jump.”
Jockey Denis O’Regan had a lucky escape when his mount Cotton Mill, who was well in contention at the time, tried to refuse at the second last and ended up ducking out to the left and throwing O’Regan into the wings of the fence while the horse landed among the spectators next to the fence. Fortunately both horse and rider were fine.
The RSA Steeple Chase completed the second leg of Henderson’s four timer when Bobs Worth outstayed First Lieutenant, a winner at The Festival last year. The two went head to head from two fences out and after they had slugged it out up the hill Bobs Worth stayed on well on the flat going away to win by 2 ½ lengths.
“It’s been a tough season for him and I never thought that he would make it here. Barry (Geraghty) has give him a wonderful ride – he has to do that because he sold the thing to me!”, said winning trainer Nicky Henderson.
"The horse looked awful six weeks ago and I didn’t really want to run him at Ascot last time but needed to get a run into him. Barry said he gave the horse two gentlemanly rides before today. He looked a different horse today from in the Reynoldstown, it was the first time that his coat was nearly there. He has been behind everything else in the yard."
Henderson brought up the hat-trick of wins with Finian’s Rainbow turning over last season’s winner Sizing Europe in The sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase. He closed in on Sizing Europe two out (usually three out) and was slightly bumped by Sizing Europe as the pair bypassed the omitted last fence. The pair battled up the hill until Finian’s Rainbow got the upper hand inside the last 50 yards going on to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
Henderson commented after the race: “After Ascot we started to think that he might want a bit further but I don’t think he does necessarily. I know he started point-to-pointing and the Ryanair crossed our minds but we thought we’d stick to this. When he’s really good like he is now he’s a proper two-miler. He was keen early on but he’s much more relaxed this year and you can just drop him in.”
The Coral Cup gave Donald McCain a second winner of The Festival and put him and jockey Jason McGuire into second place in the Trainers' and Jockeys' Championships respectively. Son Of Flicka, who was beaten by just a neck at last year’s Festival went second three out and led before the last staying on well on the flat to win by 3 ½ lengths.
Trainer Donald McCain said: “He’s a tough little horse and he always does his best. He was going up and up in the weights and never winning a race but he’s always deserved a big one.
"He’s been around for a long time – he’s lived with us since he was a three-year old and I was devastated for him last year when he got done on the line. Then he took a terrible fall at Aintree and it took a while to get his confidence back and he’s been running on bad ground which isn’t his thing. We aimed to come here and try to have him spot-on for the day.”
The Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle was Henderson’s fourth and most surprising winner on the day when Une Artiste won at odds of 40/1. No trainer in modern Festival history has had four winners on the same day. Une Artiste went fourth two hurdles out and stayed on well approaching the last running on well on the flat, winning by 1 ¾ lengths.
In the winner's enclosure Henderson revealed that he was wearing a suit owned by his late father Johnny. He had suspected that today would be a good day for the yard, so he wore the suit as a mark of respect for a man who he said “had been instrumental in the success of Cheltenham”. Johnny Henderson, who died in 2005, helped save Cheltenham Racecourse when a member of the Jockey Club in 1963. Together with other members of the Jockey Club, he raised £240,000 to purchase the course and established Racecourse Holdings Trust to run it.
The final race, The Weatherbys Champion Bumper gave some respite to the Irish who had won five races on Ladies' Day last year, but had to be content with just the one winner today.
Trainer Willie Mullins was winning the race for the seventh time when Champagne Fever took this year's contest under the trainer’s son Patrick.
Champagne Fever made all and stayed on bravely up the hill when challenged by both New Year’s Eve and Pique Sous. "I’m delighted because we’d got a little despondent about how some of the horses had been running,” said the winning trainer. “The horse just gallops and has a huge cruising speed. That’s where we went wrong with him first time out at Leopardstown, we should have made more use of him.”
Patrick said: “I wondered going round the home bend how much he had left but when the others came to me he just kept finding.”
There was some bad news for the young jockey after he was banned for two days for exceeding the number of times he was allowed to use the whip by one.
The crowd for the second day was 53,015, compared with 50,128 last year. “This was the biggest second-day crowd since St Patrick’s Day fell on a Wednesday in 2007,” said Edward Gillespie, the course’s Managing Director. “And those who were here saw history being made, with Nicky Henderson setting a new record number of winners for the meeting.”
So Day 2 closed with the UK beating Ireland 12–2.