Summerville Boy puts long-absent George back in festival winners' circle
Tom George had spent so long away from the Cheltenham Festival winners' spot that security would not let him in.
"I nearly had fisticuffs", said George before the trainer eventually got his way, showing the same determination Summerville Boy demonstrated in recovering from an error that nearly floored him to claim the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
When Kalashnikov moved upsides tiring favourite Getabird to take the lead at the second-last, Noel Fehily sat poised on their heels in third on Summerville Boy.
But they came away from the flight lucky to be still on their feet after a juddering blunder put them four places and several lengths further back, with Kalashnikov pulling clear.
A place in the frame appeared the best they could hope for but Fehily persisted, Summerville Boy responded and despite another mistake at the last they caught and overhauled Kalashnikov near the line to win by a neck.
"When he lost his back end at the second-last I thought he was nearly down," said Fehily. "It's unbelievable to come back from where he did. I must have lost four or five lengths at least. That was a massive comeback.
"He was clumsy at the last but did the same at Sandown, but luckily I didn't lose my irons. I'm getting the hang of this game."
George recorded his only other festival victory in 2002 when Galileo, a Polish-bred, took the Royal & Sun Alliance Hurdle.
It was a significant win for a local trainer who has rewarded the support of big spending owner Roger Brookhouse, who splashed out £130,000 for Summerville Boy in May last year.
"I thought if we get in the first four here we'll do well," said George recalling the race. "I know he's a real tough horse and would keep picking up again. Then when he got nearer to the last I thought if he jumped this okay we'd get it, and when he got that wrong I thought there goes our chance again. But he got there nicely.
"The hardest problem I had was getting back in here afterwards. They didn't want me to come in. I nearly had fisticuffs with the gateman. They probably didn't know who I was, that's probably understandable. It's taken a few years on festival day, I've been here on other days."
Summerville Boy was the only horse to have beaten Kalashnikov over hurdles, in the Tolworth Hurdle, but the Betfair Hurdle winner was shorter in the market.
"I had to keep my mouth shut about that," said George. "Inside I thought it was ridiculous but I said zero and it's always best to keep in that way.
"To give Noel Fehily his due, when he got beaten on him early on in the season round here, he said that day none of those would ever beat him again in a true-run race and he was correct.
"He's taken a lot of switching off at home. He's ridden at home by one of my best riders, Jalan Singh, and he has absolutely made that horse. He told me he'd win a Grade 1 but he didn't tell me he'd win two."
Getabird tanked along in front from the off and it wasn't until the field headed out into the country that Ruby Walsh had him settled. The effort eventually took its toll, leaving Kalashnikov to take Amy Murphy and jockey Jack Quinlan agonisingly close to a first festival winner with the trainer's first runner.
"He ran his heart out," said Murphy. "He travelled very sweetly and I'm delighted with him. He's always had a turn of foot and the Betfair Hurdle really made a man of him.
"I thought he might have just had it when Summerville Boy hit the second-last, but it was not to be. The hill stops plenty of them and maybe the combination of that and the ground may have just caught him out late on."
She added: "That will be him done for the season and he'll go novice chasing next season. He can hugely improve for fences. He's a huge horse and next season is very exciting.
"We'll pop him over fences at home next week – a day Jack has been waiting for all season – before he goes on his holidays."
Trainer Willie Mullins said of Getabird: "He was just too keen. He ran himself into the ground."
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