Sir Gerhard delivers on all his promise in Ballymore
Sir Gerhard powered through the soft ground to justify favouritism in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The 8-11 favourite, trained by Willie Mullins, followed up his Grade One success over two miles at Leopardstown with another – handling the step up to two miles and five furlongs with aplomb under Paul Townend.
Ahead of racing, conditions changed to soft after heavy rain fell on watered ground, making conditions gruelling, and the early pace did not help the keen Stage Star, who emptied quickly after the third-last.
Rachael Blackmore increased the tempo on Journey With Me approaching the stands for the first time, but was always tracked by Sir Gerhard, who was also very keen in the early stages, and the writing was on the wall turning in.
Townend swept to the front and held off the staying-on Three Stripe Life (8-1) to score by three and a half lengths. A tired Journey With Me fell at the last, leaving Whatdeawant (18-1) to fill the minor honours.
Townend said: “He showed his class, as keen as he was, to stay going. I was afraid going around that we were in the wrong race, but he showed his true ability to stay going.
“He jumped the best he has ever jumped on the course. His jumping the last day wasn’t great, but he jumped well there.”
Mullins can now look forward to a huge future with the winner.
“I’m absolutely delighted with that. He did everything we thought he might do,” he said.
“He was a little bit more free than I thought he would be, but then there was probably very little pace. Anyway, Paul kept a lot in reserve and he won as he liked.
“He jumped like a professional the first day, wasn’t so good the second day and then jumped like a professional today. There is obviously a little quirk in him, but he was fantastic today.
“You’d think he’s a chaser, but could he be a Champion Hurdle horse? He could be.”
He added: “I think the rain is good for our horses. We felt the ground was good yesterday, maybe a little too good for us. It’s proper National Hunt weather today, anyway.
“On yesterday’s ground, if we were at home maybe we mightn’t have run. I’m much happier with this.
“I wasn’t disappointed with the ground yesterday. It just walked a little bit slower than maybe it rode on some of our horses.
“When you’re breaking records it means the ground is fast, so there we are.”
Richard Thompson, director of owners Cheveley Park Stud, did not mind welcoming his winner back, despite being drenched by the rain.
He said: “My three sons went to watch it outside so I thought I’d better go watch it with them. What better way to see a winner, who cares about the rain when you’ve won a race like that? Fantastic.
“It’s great to have all the options and we’ll be discussing it in time, my instinct will go with what Willie says, as far as I’m concerned.”