Cheltenham: Annie Power and Big Buck's have no andwer while AP McCoy is wrong again
In the end, it was neither the champ nor the lady. Of the pair who were supposed to go head to head in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle the latter, the Irish mare Annie Power, fared best in a gallant second place.
The former, the now retired 11-year-old Big Buck's, finally had to give best to younger legs and hearts up the testing finish he made his own four times, galloping home in fifth place.
So, hail the new king of the marathon division, More Of That, who belied his lack of experience to take the crown on only his fifth appearance on a racecourse.
And salute his trainer Jonjo O'Neill, who is heading for the best season of his career and has not only More Of That's future to look forward to but also the emerging and potentially sublime talent over fences of Taquin Du Seuil, winner of the afternoon's opening JLT Novices' Chase.
Despite the opening-day victory of Holywell in a handicap, it had been something of a frustrating week for the engaging Irishman, with Get Me Out Of Here touched off by a whisker, and much-fancied Goodwood Mirage brought down. But two Grade 1 prizes were perfect compensation.
More Of That, a 15-2 shot, was the shorter-priced of JP McManus' two World Hurdle runners and carried the second colours.
For the second time this week Tony McCoy, who has the pick of those in the green, white and gold, made the wrong call in the feature contest; after second place to Jezki on My Tent Or Yours in the Champion Hurdle, he finished third yesterday on At Fishers' Cross. Such are the frustrations of riding for a string with such an embarrassment of riches.
The beneficiary on both occasions was Barry Geraghty, who produced More Of That to range alongside Annie Power, backed to 11-8 favourite, as the pair drew past At Fishers Cross going to the last. By then, the trailblazers Reve De Sivola and Celestial Halo had given way and Big Buck's, in contention but pushed along from two out, could do no more.
Three miles was an unknown distance for both the first two and although both saw it out well – they pulled five lengths clear of At Fishers Cross – it was More Of That who did so the better, by a length and a half. "To have jumped and travelled the way he did on only his fifth run was remarkable," said Geraghty. "He was a little bit innocent when he hit the front – a little unsure – but he kept going. I could see Ruby [Walsh, on Annie Power] coming but I was always confident my fellow would find more."
More Of That, a six-year-old by Beneficial, remains unbeaten and is a 2-1 favourite for a World Hurdle repeat next year. He first gave note that he might be something special here in December, when he cosily accounted for Salubrious, a winner at last year's Festival, and Glens Melody, who beat all bar super mare Quevega on Tuesday.
"After he won last time, the ground got heavy so we gave him a break," said O'Neill. "He's a big frame of a horse who is still coming to himself, and we thought we'd miss the bad weather and wait for this.
"He doesn't show a lot at home, he's a real placid horse who just goes about his business and doesn't do anything flash or anything like that, and he does his winning that way too."
It was a second World Hurdle for O'Neill, after Iris's Gift 10 years ago, who also beat a hotshot – Baracouda – and was also ridden by Geraghty.
"I was quietly confident that this fellow would show he is a proper horse," added O'Neill. "But if I'd been riding still I'd have stayed with the other horse, like AP did, as he was proven over the trip."
Annie Power's connections were gracious in defeat; the mare is not, after all, the second coming, at least not over hurdles. "No excuses," said trainer Willie Mullins, "It was a good race and we were beaten by a better horse."
After his crunching fall from Goodwood Mirage on Wednesday, McCoy was moving more than gingerly yesterday, but tends to regard pain and injury as more of an affront than an inconvenience and rode Taquin Du Seuil with his usual flair and power.
The seven-year-old has long been one of O'Neill's favourites and he justified that faith by responding to his rider's insistence to catch trailblazing outsider Uxizandre in the last few strides to prevail by less than a length.
"This is a really nice horse for the future," said O'Neill of the fluid-moving brown gelding, who carries the colours of Martin Broughton.
"After that, there's no reason not to hope he won't be a Gold Cup horse."
McCoy did pick right on this occasion; Uxizandre is owned by McManus, who released him to ride the better-fancied runner. "AP makes all the difference," said O'Neill.
"He knows this horse, knows how to give him confidence and I am so pleased to give him a winner this week. I love watching him ride; he's in pain today but he's a magic man who is always in the right place at the right time."
The double for O'Neill, and a pair for David Pipe with Dynaste in the Ryanair Chase and Ballynagour in the Byrne Group Plate, took them level with Mullins at the head of the trainers' leaderboard at three winners apiece here.
However, the Irish champion, favourite for the title, still shades it on places going into the final day.