- Cheltenham Festival
More Of That shocks Annie Power and Big Bucks
More Of That rallied under jockey Barry Geraghty to shock hotly-backed favourite Annie Power and four-time champion Big Bucks in the World Hurdle on day three of the Cheltenham Festival.
Previously unbeaten Annie Power, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden astutely throughout by Ruby Walsh, struggled to keep up with the motoring More Of That up the famous Cleeve Hill and had to relinquish her record. However, any previous doubts over her stamina to run at three miles appear to have been banished.
Big Bucks, aiming for a fifth consecutive title, was never in it in approaching the final furlong and the effects of a 14-month injury lay off plus his ageing frame struggled to keep up with the new blood. He finished fifth before it was confirmed by trainer Paul Nicholls that he had run his last race.
At Fisher's Cross, another McManus-owned mount, ran a superb race under AP McCoy to claim third for trainer Rebecca Curtis. Twice this Festival McCoy has opted for the wrong stablemate, having to watch Geraghty enjoy the splendour of crossing the line first; in Tuesday's Champion Hurdle, Jezki edged victory ahead of My Tent Or Yours.
"He is still a bit of a baby but he jumped and travelled well," winning jockey Geraghty told BBC Radio 5Live. "He still is a little bit innocent but he's got an engine. When we turned in for the finish I wasn't sure how well Annie Power was going, but as he [Ruby Walsh] gave his mare a squeeze I always felt I had the finish."
Mullins, who despite defeat is having a fantastic week at the Festival, conceded defeat and insisted Power was beaten by a "better horse on the day."
"It was a good, fair race," Mullins said. "I thought we jumped fantastically the whole way, but we were just beaten by a better horse on the day. I was hoping my mare would pull away but More of That was going well. Annie Power has lost nothing in defeat. I'm a little disappointed not to have won but we ran a good race - no excuses."
Post-race, Nicholls confirmed that Big Bucks would be retired with immediate effect. "It's the obvious thing to do," Nicholls said. "I wouldn't ask him to run again - he's been a wonderful horse. Half way round I could see he wasn't jumping so fluently and his legs weren't what they were. It's not an emotional decision - I'm delighted he's finished in one piece. It's the right decision at the right time and I'm thrilled, to be honest. He's just been wonderful."
Earlier on Thursday's card, McCoy bagged his first winner of the Festival in the opening race, finishing strongly on the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Taquin du Seuil ahead of the JP McManus -owned Uxizandre. McCoy, whose six-month old son recently underwent cardiac surgery, stated he was pleased to win the race for O'Neill but felt a "bit gutted to beat the boss's horse." Double Ross finished third for the Twiston-Davis partnership.
Fingal Bay stayed on well under pressure from Southfield Theatre in the Pertemps Network Final, winning by a nose for trainer Philip Hobbs. Pineau de Re finished third on the neck.
Well-backed favourite Dynaste did not disappoint for David Pipe and jockey Tome Scudamore in the Ryanair Chase, running clear of Hidden Cyclone and Rajdhani Express to claim the £156,612 first prize.
The Pipe-Scudamore partnership completed a day-three double with victory in the Byrne Group Plate as Ballynagour stormed to the line some eight lengths clear of the green and yellow silks of Colour Squadron. McCoy and McManus had to settle for second again, while 33/1-shot Tatenen ran a blinder to finish third.
Robbie McNamara scored his second winner of the week on board Spring Heeled in the day's final race, as the Jim Culloty-trained seven-year-old led from pillar to post and held off second-favourite Cause of Causes in the final half furlong of the Kim Muir Challenge Cup. It gave the Irish contingent its first winner on St Patrick's Thursday and also provided McNamara with an emotional victory; his cousin JT McNamara suffered a career-ending injury when he was paralysed in a fall during the 2013 running of the same race.