FINIAN’S Rainbow capped a day to remember for record-breaking trainer Nicky Henderson by winning a dramatic and eventful renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase on day two of the Cheltenham Festival.
On the afternoon when Henderson became the most successful Cheltenham Festival trainer of all time after Simonsig won the Novices’ Hurdle, Finian’s Rainbow provided the day’s highlight by holding off Sizing Europe in a dramatic finish.
Wishfull Thinking crashed out early in the contest, falling into a group of spectators out in the middle of the track, which forced the two frontrunners to race around, rather than over, the final fence.
Finian’s Rainbow (right), under the guidance of jockey Barry Geraghty, stayed on the stronger to win by one-and-a-quarter lengths with Big Zeb a distant third.
Geraghty said: “It’s a brilliant day - you dream of days like this. “I’m genuinely so delighted for Michael Buckley (owner), he has a good team of horses and he’s been unfortunate with Spirit Son getting injured.”
“I’m speechless, to be truthful. I’m feeling remarkably emotional,” added Buckley. “It’s true to say I wouldn’t have any jumpers if it wasn’t for Nicky. We’ve been together as owner and trainer and friends since the early 1980s.
“I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else and this is just another notch in his long career. He (Henderson) has scooted past the all-time record as winning-most trainer at the Festival and I’m proud and pleased to be part of the day.”
Earlier in the day the impressive Simonsig justified his burgeoning reputation by providing Henderson with his record 41st Festival winner. After Cotton Mill, who was sitting in second, refused at the second-last obstacle Simonsig, partnered by Geraghty, cruised to the finish to win by seven lengths from Felix Yonger, with Monksland another 11 lengths away in third.
“It’s lovely, but you feel a bit overawed as you’re talking about the legendary Fulke Walwyn (former leading Festival trainer),” said Henderson. “We have been very lucky over the years and I have some lovely horses like this one. It’s all about teams and I’m grateful to them all.”
Of Simonsig, Henderson added: “He’s got so much talent, you could easily run him over two miles. He’s going to go and jump fences.”