Dream ending to Nicholls's nightmare week
Racing:It was to prove yet another glorious Cheltenham Saturday for Paul Nicholls as the champion British trainer’s four-timer included almost every race of consequence.
In a week which started with the acrimonious departure of retired jumping great Kauto Star, it ended with Nicholls’s 18-year-old nephew Harry Derham coming of age aboard the equally youthful Unioniste in the feature Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup.
Then, just over half an hour later his stablemate Zarkandar claimed top honours against title holder Grandouet and reigning champion hurdler Rock On Ruby in the stanjames.com International Hurdle.
Unioniste was the first four-year-old to land the established Grade Three handicap chase, and had only sneaked into the line-up as a first reserve.
As with Al Ferof, winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the last meeting, Unioniste (15 to 2) carried the familiar yellow silks of John Hales as he forged 11 lengths clear under a patient ride from the conditional.
Walkon, the 7 to 2 favourite, was forced to settle for the runner-up prize in the Paddy Power and once again here, despite Robert Thornton’s best intentions.
Derham said: “You’ve got Ruby (Walsh), Daryl (Jacob) and Ryan Mahon in the stable, so there’s a pecking order and I was absolutely delighted to get the chance in my second year as a conditional.
“The horse made my life very easy, he’s very strong for a four-year-old and I always knew I had a bit left.”
Nicholls, who had five winners on the day courtesy of Rocky Creek’s strike at Doncaster, said: “I thought he had to run here off a mark of 137 as he wouldn’t get another chance and he’s not like a normal four-year-old, he’s a real professional and he knows how to jump.
“I’m so pleased for Harry, he has had to be patient but we’ve preserved his claim for big races like this.”
Nicholls went on: “After the week we’ve had, I can assure you I’ve never had a more embarrassing or unenjoyable week like that in my life.
“I apologise for everything that has gone on and I’ve never been more embarrassed, so to end it with a win like this is great. It’s onwards and upwards.
“This horse will have a month off now. I’ve got novice chasing to go back to if I want and he’ll have an entry for the RSA in March.”
Unfortunately for Nicholls, his other runner Cristal Bonus suffered a fatal injury in the race.