Paul Nicholls nails down 10th trainer’s title at Sandown
Willie Mullins withdraws Vroum Vroum Mag and targets Punchestown
Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls share a joke as they pose for a photo in the parade ring ahead of the first race at Sandown. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Paul Nicholls cemented his 10th trainers’ title by saddling a one-two in the Bet365 Select Hurdle at Sandown with Ptit Zig and Silsol.
However, the race completely changed in complexion when at the 11th hour Willie Mullins decided not to run Vroum Vroum Mag, who will now go to Punchestown on Thursday.
Sent off the 7-4 favourite, Ptit Zig looked to face a stiff ask as Vaniteux, back over hurdles after falling in the Arkle, streaked clear, but it appeared his stamina gave way and at the final flight things had a dramitcally different feel.
The two Nicholls horses battled it out with Sam Twiston-Davies coming out on top of Jack Sherwood on Silsol.
Nicholls said: “We never planned to come here today, but he’s better going right-handed on better ground and he galloped well at Wincanton with Calipto earlier in the week.
“It was a bit of an afterthought but he will got for a race at Auteuil in May and then back there for the French Champion Hurdle.
“I fancied him a lot and he’s done the job nicely for us.”
Mullins said: “We came over here to win the championship and we have had a fantastic reception. In the light of the Bet365 Gold Cup we can’t win the championship and we are taking Vroum Vroum Mag home and she has a valuable couple of races to run in at Punchestown.
“She was only here for the championship and Mr (Rich) Ricci very kindly let me bring her over to run in a race of much less value. Now we will do what we were aiming to do all winter. I will probably get fined – there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
“We have had a fantastic year. I’m just sorry for punters who came to see Vroum Vroum Mag. But the championship was over and we had to take a different view.”
Ricci said: “The title is over. We thought with Thistlecrack coming out (of Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown after a setback), there would be no impact on punters because she was declared.There was no impact on ante-post punters who would get their money back. It seems the right decision given where we are with Punchestown.
“The whole day is brilliant, but that is the best interests of the horse. She is entered in the three-miler and she has options. That is one of them. I’m sure we will be fined. But it is mathematically over now. We did our best and supported the day.”
The Young Master just held off last year’s winner Just A Par to provide Neil Mulholland with the biggest victory of his career in the Bet365 Gold Cup.
Despite just failing to land back-to-back renewals for Nicholls, the run of Just A Par and the fact Mullins’s runners were unplaced meant the Ditcheat handler was crowned champion trainer.
The Young Master sprang to prominence as a five-year-old when winning the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton but it later transpired he was not qualified to run in the race.
He ended that season running in the RSA Chase and was subsequently bought by prominent owner Robert Waley-Cohen to be ridden by his amateur son, Sam.
Always prominent, there were plenty in with a chance at the Pond fence, including Southfield Theatre, Dynaste and Theatre Guide, but The Young Master pulled out more.
The 8-1 winner held Just A Par by a short head with top weight Sausalito Sunrise third and Southfield Theatre fourth.
Sprinter Sacre’s rehabilitation took on another level with a display of brilliance in the Celebration Chase.
When he could finish only second in the corresponding race 12 months ago there were calls for his retirement, but in what has been one of the greatest training performances of Nicky Henderson’s career he has been brought back to something approaching his incredible best of three years ago.
Sent off the 11-10 favourite to confirm his superiority over Champion Chase runner-up Un De Sceaux, his task was made easier by the several jolting errors his main market rival made.
As Sire De Grugy looked to hassle Un De Sceaux all the way, the latter’s jumping fell apart, but all the while Nico de Boinville crept closer on Sprinter Sacre.
Yet another blunder at the Pond fence by Un De Sceaux handed Sprinter Sacre the initiative and he just pulled further clear up the hill to win by 15 lengths from Mullins’s Un De Sceaux with Dodging Bullets third for Nicholls.
Menorah won the Oaksey Chase for the third successive year under an inspired ride from newly-crowned champion jockey Richard Johnson.
The Mullins-trained Valseur Lido was sent off an odds-on favourite to go one better than he did at Cheltenham behind Vautour, and everything looked to be going to plan for Bryan Cooper as he tracked Menorah into the straight.
It looked a matter of time before the seven-year-old would sprint past his 11-year-old rival, trained by Philip Hobbs, but Valseur Lido just got in a bit tight to the last fence.
Menorah landed with more momentum and despite Valseur Lido edging closer up the hill, Menorah was able to cling on by a length to win at 5-1.
Johnson, close to tears, said: “It’s the best day of my career, being crowned champion jockey and having a horse like this to ride.
“It’s the third year in a row he’s won this race, the owners have been so good to me, it’s fantastic.
“To have my family here today is the best thing ever, I’ve waited 20 years for today.
“The support I’ve had all season has been amazing, it’s hard to describe it.”
Wolf Of Windlesham was the party pooper as the Stuart Edmunds-trained winner held off the late thrusts of Mullins’s Voix Du Reve and Nicholls’s Tommy Silver in the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
With the narrative of the day concentrating on the battle between Nicholls and Mullins, the Josh Moore-ridden winner had obviously not read the script.
Moore had him on the outside of Tommy Silver throughout while David Mullins dropped Voix Du Reve out in the rear.
Wolf Of Windlesham jumped the last two flights well and stole two lengths and while Tommy Silver and the fast-finishing Mullins favourite made him battle, the 7-1 winner had half a length in hand at the line.