DOUVAN’S aura of invincibility is no more after he was emphatically defeated by Special Tiara in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Most racegoers at the second day of the Cheltenham Festival had anticipated a routine success for the 2-9 favourite, who had won his last 14 races in the manner of an untouchable thoroughbred. But after having occasionally jumped curiously in places, Ruby Walsh’s partner was in hot water a long way from home and eventually wilted into seventh place.
Trainer Willie Mullins said: “I’m assuming something happened when he put in those huge jumps, which I’ve never seen him do before.
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“I imagine I’ll find a physical problem with him. I’d been hoping he’s my best ever and it’s my job to try and get him back if I can.”
Special Tiara, conversely, dazzled for trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey Noel Fehily, who also won the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday with Buveur D’Air. The 11-1 chance made most of the running and still had enough verve to keep the onrushing Fox Norton at arm’s length by a head.
De Bromhead said: “He seemed in great form coming into it, but it was hard to believe we could win with Douvan as he had looked so good. For our lad, he just tries his heart out and no-one deserves it more.”
Might Bite had earlier claimed the narrowest of triumphs after an extraordinary conclusion to the RSA Chase.
Nicky Henderson’s inmate looked to have gifted stablemate Whisper certain victory when hanging badly to his right after the last, but, with the aid of a loose horse, Nico de Boinville somehow managed to coax a late rally out of the 7-2 favourite and got back up by a nose.
“He’s not naughty, or anything like that, but the future is obviously enormous,” said Henderson, who is already thinking about running him in the King George at Kempton over Christmas. “What to make of it all? It just goes to show why you run two horses in a race.
“It was extraordinary. Might Bite is only a baby but he’s hugely talented. He just grinds it out and keeps going, but then he stops and has an ice cream!”
Davy Russell picked up a four-day ban for his use of the whip on Whisper.
Willoughby Court (14-1) showed great bravery to subdue Neon Wolf in the Neptune Investment Management Novice’ Hurdle - much to the joy of Ben Pauling, who was claiming a first Festival success.
Pauling said: “I must admit that when I saw Neon Wolf looming I was worried but I was just hoping we could get him off the bridle and we did.
“He won’t go to Aintree and I’d be surprised if he ran again this season as he’s had a hard race there.
“He’ll definitely be going chasing next season, as you saw there his jumping is excellent and I’m sure he’ll be electric over fences.”
Nick Williams also got off the mark at the fiesta of jumps racing when he saddled the Richard Johnson-ridden Flying Tiger to a 33-1 triumph in the Fred Winter.
Gordon Elliott has, quite extraordinarily, now nailed five Cheltenham winners after just two days.
The Jamie Codd-ridden Cause Of Causes (4-1) initiated the brace in the Glenfarclas Chase, with the same combination later on the scoresheet when Fayonagh won the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.