BINOCULAR completed a fairytale turnaround in fortunes to win the Champion Hurdle, the big race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Just last month the Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old was on the brink of being withdrawn from the race after a string of disappointing performances.
But, following some encouraging last-minute preparations last week, jockey Tony McCoy led the 9-1 shot home in emphatic fashion, finishing three-and-a-half lengths clear of Khyber Kim.
“It hasn’t been an easy passage this year,” said Henderson, who saw his stablemate Zaynar finish third. “When he was beaten last year, we said he’d come back and AP [McCoy] said he would win it.
“We were actually nine-tenths taking him out and we said he wouldn’t run. We did a lot of work. We’ve got a fantastic team and we ironed out a few things. His jumping was the difference and Zaynar ran a great race. Binocular deserved to win it one day.”
McCoy, who celebrated his 22nd winner at the festival, added: “When I schooled him last week it was the first time he has hurdled like we know Binocular can, like a champion hurdler.
“He didn’t have a good build-up this year. He has not been hurdling all year, he’s just done something funny every time. This is better than any feeling I have had from the horse. It’s hard to win here and this is everything.”
Elsewhere at the festival hot favourite Dunguib was beaten into third place as 12-1 shot Menorah won a dramatic Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The Philip Fenton-trained seven-year-old was 4-5 to continue to his unbeaten record over fences, having impressed in winning the Bumper here last year. But jockey Brian O’Connell proved unable to catch Philip Hobbs’ Menorah, as Richard Johnson held off totesport Trophy winner Get Me Out Of Here by a head.
Earlier Henry de Bromhead’s Sizing Europe (6-1) romped to victory in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, while Jimmy Moffatt’s Chief Dan George held off a late charge from The Package to land the William Hill Trophy.