Five talking points from Cheltenham’s Open meeting
Simonsig: death of dashing grey cast a shadow over Sunday's card
PICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos) Five talking points from the Open meeting By Andrew Dietz 2:00PM 14 NOV 2016
After three breathless days at jump racing's headquarters, we take stock of the action and look at what it means for the future.
1. Heartbreak for Henderson
They say bad news comes in threes but surely Nicky Henderson has had his fair share after Sunday.
A couple of hours after announcing the retirement of his horse of a lifetime Sprinter Sacre, he lost the services of another of his A-listers when Simonsig suffered a fatal leg injury in the Shloer Chase.
The pair were key contributors to the trainer's title-winning season in 2012-13 and their achievements on the track will be celebrated beyond the realms of Seven Barrows.
Yet while Sprinter Sacre will be remembered for exceeding even the lofty expectations connections and fans held for him, in Simonsig's case there will always be questions about what might have been.
The 2013 Arkle winner, dogged by injury, made just four starts in the three and a half years following that victory. According to Henderson, though, he had been showing that old ability in recent weeks.
"His work for the last few weeks has been so good I wouldn't have even worked Sprinter with him," Henderson said. "Sprinter wouldn't have been able to go along with Simonsig the way he's been going."
2. Write off Jonjo at your peril
Much of the fallout of Taquin Du Seuil's BetVictor Gold Cup strike centred on the end of a three-week wait for a winner for jockey Aidan Coleman – but trainer Jonjo O'Neill had endured a similar drought.
The trainer had gone 23 days and 58 runners without success and it was typical of the man to emerge from the doldrums in the meeting's feature race.
Apparent first string More Of That disappointed yet O'Neill still claimed a third victory in the £160,000 contest, and he has few peers when it comes to the big races.
3. Tizzard has an enviable array of talent
Colin Tizzard: plenty of reasons to smile
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
It might be stretching it to say Colin Tizzard has more high-class horses than cows but he is heading the right way.
An influx of talent from owners Alan and Ann Potts has boosted his armoury no end and he showed he will be a force to be reckon with again this season by winning the meeting's top trainer award at a canter.
Tizzard ended the three days with three wins, two seconds and two thirds and got more match practice into Thistlecrack. All in all, a good weekend's work.
4. Lesser lights shine brightly
Although all the top British trainers were on the mark over the three days, it was refreshing to see the spoils shared around with those at the opposite end of the scale getting in on the act.
Peter Fahey, Paul Henderson, Sophie Leech and Suzy Smith enjoyed either breakthrough or rare victories at the track, while Peter Atkinson, a pig farmer from North Yorkshire, won the Listed mares' bumper with one of the two horses in his care when Irish Roe dead-heated with My Khaleesi.
The 5-1 shot was ridden by Flat jockey Graham Lee, who is two from two in bumpers since revealing he will ride in them throughout the winter.
5. Festival clues aplenty
Four winners on the Sunday of last year's Open meeting alone went on to win back at the track in March, so as a festival guide the fixture demands close scrutiny.
Following some heart-in-mouth moments Thistlecrack might not have enhanced his Gold Cup credentials but O O Seven, Defi Du Seuil and Moon Racer, in particular, passed their festival auditions with flying colours.
Fox Norton, another winner trained by Colin Tizzard, took the jump up to graded level in his stride in the Shloer Chase and is now a general 7-1 for the Champion Chase in what looks a weak division.