For the second day running, the feature event here on Thursday was in the balance until its final moment as Unowhatimeanharry, the beaten favourite behind Nichols Canyon in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, turned around the form under a bold ride by Noel Fehily and held off his old rival by a head.
Ruby Walsh threw everything into his finish on Nichols Canyon after the last but the horse named after the boxer Frank Bruno’s famous catchphrase faced up to the onslaught and refused to give an inch.
Unowhatimeanharry lined up at Cheltenham last month with an eight-race winning sequence to his name and set off as the 5-6 favourite for one of the festival meeting’s feature events. He finished four-and-a-quarter lengths behind Nichols Canyon in third place, and a more aggressive ride by Fehily here was enough to bridge that gap but with very little to spare.
Fehily judged his moment to strike to perfection as he sent Unowhatimeanharry for home on the run to the final flight and a quick jump there ensured Nichols Canyon had more than a length to make up on the short run to the line. He was eating into Fehily’s lead all the way to the post but Unowhatimeanharry did not falter and held on bravely to secure the third Grade 1 win of his career.
“I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the race at Cheltenham again because I was so disappointed,” Harry Fry, the trainer of Unowhatimeanharry, said. “It just wasn’t his day but this win means so much and what a fantastic race it was. Nichols Canyon pushed us all the way and they were two top jockeys at their very best and two brilliant horses. It was 18 lengths back to [Footpad in] third and neither horse deserved to lose.”
Fehily admitted he had to rethink after a slow early pace. “Everything, plan A, B and C, went out of the window. The last thing I wanted was to be in front two out. I just felt that because we had hacked early, I had to go forward and luckily Unowhatimeanharry is a very tough little horse. I fired him at the last. He was very long for a little horse but he has the heart of a lion and he doesn’t give up on you.”
Walsh’s defeat on Nichols Canyon meant he had finished second on a horse trained by Willie Mullins in all three of the week’s feature events so far. Gordon Elliott had been edging ever closer to winning the Irish trainers’ title for the first time as a result but Mullins kept his pursuit of a 13th championship alive when Great Field, the 9-10 favourite, led throughout to win the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase. As a result, he closed to just over €150,000 behind Elliott with two days of the campaign left.
Mullins is now quoted at 5-4 (from 9-4) by Paddy Power to snatch the title from Elliott’s grasp, while Elliott is 4-7 (from 3-10).
Mullins lost a significant chance to narrow the gap on Saturday, however, when Annie Power, the winner of the 2016 Champion Hurdle and 12 of her 14 starts in all, was not among the declarations for the Grade 1 Mares Champion Hurdle here.
Annie Power was confirmed to be in foal to Camelot, the 2012 Derby winner, a few days ago and may well have run her last race. “I thought she worked very well last week but she was just not showing any sparkle this week and I didn’t feel happy running her,” Mullins said on Thursday. “That is the reason we are not running.
“I don’t want to say anything about retirement yet as I need to have a discussion with the owner. We need to be respectful to the owner and we will be discussing it in the next day or so.”
Friday’s tips, by Greg Wood
1.40 Bush House 2.10 Lucky Louie 2.45 Luang Prabang 3.20 Desert Rain 3.55 Accidental Agent 4.30 Stake Acclaim 5.05 Spirit Of Rosanna 5.40 Ardamir
1.50 Atty Persse (nap) 2.20 Ulysses 2.55 Monarchs Glen 3.30 Sovereign Debt (nb) 4.05 Queen In Waiting 4.35 Serenada 5.10 Naseem
2.00 Miss Night Owl 2.35 Sandymount 3.10 Lord Ballim 3.45 Urban Kode 4.15 Optimistic Bias 4.50 Monsieur Jourdain 5.25 Whatswrongwithyou
4.45 Jameson 5.20 Dance In The Dust 5.55 Tempestatefloresco 6.30 Chevalgris 7.00 Watch The Birdie 7.35 Phangio 8.10 Nicely Indeed
4.40 Burning Heat 5.15 La Bague Au Roi 5.45 Tudors Treasure 6.20 Marracudja 6.50 How About It 7.25 Bulletproof 8.00 Troufion