Special Tiara's big day finally arrives as Douvan fails to deliver
An Irish winner. We knew there would be. A fabulous front-running display. We knew there would be. A flawless round of jumping. We knew there would be. We knew it all. We just got the name wrong.
Douvan did not deliver. Instead it was Special Tiara who spread-eagled the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase field, marching along merrily at the head of affairs and digging deeper than he's ever dug before to repel the late surge of Fox Norton by a head.
The fact the fast-finishing runner-up was owned by Alan and Ann Potts, who took 13 horses out of winning trainer Henry de Bromhead's stable last autumn, was just one of the umpteen subplots to this unpredictable tale. This was Cheltenham churning out one of its most compelling chapters.
“We came here for place money, but this is horseracing and anything can happen,” said a visibly shocked De Bromhead. You can say that again, Henry!
Douvan was foot-perfect over the first, fine over the second, reached for the third and far too high over the fourth. The tone had been set. This was not the best horse Willie Mullins had ever trained. This was not the beautiful beast we have salivated over for the last three years. There was evidently something badly amiss.
But you have got to take your chances when they present themselves and Special Tiara did not need to be asked twice. Noel Fehily, already with a Champion Hurdle in the bag following Buveur D'Air's victory on Tuesday, took a glance between his legs before the home turn. He was looking for you know who. He would have needed 20-20 vision to find him.
God's Own led the peloton into the home straight but he had a large serving of the second-last for dinner and that was the end of him. Next was Sir Valentino but he just lacked that extra bit of class required on the biggest stage. Aidan Coleman was last to show his hand on Fox Norton, but his two-pair could not match Special Tiara's flush and he lost out on the big pot by a head.
“He is ten now and I was convinced we had missed our chance,” De Bromhead said. “He had a few bad runs this season but that was my fault as I was running him on bad ground and he hated it. He's brilliant. What a horse he is to win this as a ten-year-old.
"He is just so genuine. I thought after he had jumped the first two fences that he was much lower and slicker than he ever has been. What a ride from Noel too.”
Fehily was as understated as ever afterwards. Nothing fazes him. Not even winning the Champion Hurdle and the Champion Chase within the space of 24 hours. You sense he would have the same smile on his face had he finished last in both of them. That's what you want on the big days.
He said: “It's unbelievable. I always wanted to win the Champion Chase. It's the speed race over fences. It is a great one to have on your CV.”
Did he know Douvan was having an off day? “I was wondering where Ruby was before I turned in. I was sure he would be stalking me. I just got into a great rhythm today and he jumped better today than he has ever done with me. He's a wonderful horse and he deserved that. He's been knocking on the door a good few times.”
Trainer Colin Tizzard said of Fox Norton: “Jumping the last I thought he was going to win. We thought we might have him, but when we got close he put his head down and kept going.
“He looked for all the world as if he would get two and a half miles and he's better on that ground, so I should think he'll go to Aintree for the Melling. He's a fresh horse too. He finished lame when he won the Shloer and was in his box for a month.”
Like Tizzard, Coleman also thought he was going to collar the winner on the run-in.
“He jumped brilliant. I thought I'd get there at the back of the last, but fair play, Special Tiara just kept going. I couldn't have any negative word to say about my passage or my horse. I'm delighted with the run, but it would have been nice to have won,” he said.
Coleman could not spoil a special day for De Bromhead and Fehily. Special Tiara has finally been crowned.