Festival heartache for brave Fruity

Fruity O'Rooney ridden by Jamie Moore
Fruity O'Rooney ridden by Jamie Moore
Markov and jockey Tom Bellamyon their way to victory. Picture: Fontwell Park

Honeyball hat-trick lights up Fontwell

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Gary Moore was ‘absolutely gutted’ to see Cheltenham Festival glory slip from Fruity O’Rooney’s grasp in the dying strides.

The nine-year-old son of Kahyasi turned in a brave, front-running performance in the three-mile JLT Specialty Handicap Chase yesterday.

But just as it looked like the West Sussex raider would stay on and snatch Grade 3 success, Alfie Sherrin got up to beat him on the line.

While still disappointed by the 16/1-shot’s near miss, Moore has already started plotting his next move with the progressive chaser.

And the Lower Beeding trainer admitted a visit to Merseyside for Aintree’s Grand National meeting could be on the agenda.

‘I’m absolutely gutted for all of us,’ he said.

‘Myself, Jamie (Moore, jockey) and the owners (Heart of the South Racing).

‘He’s done everything right and the last horse to challenge him has beaten him.

‘Maybe if he wasn’t pressed for the lead throughout, he would have held on.

‘He’s so much better left-handed so we might go to Aintree now.’

To add insult to injury, Jamie Moore was later hit with a seven-day suspension for excessive use of the whip on Fruity O’Rooney.

Day one of the Cheltenham Festival promised much and, as always, delivered in spades.

After Cinders And Ashes romped to victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Sprinter Sacre produced an awesome display in the Racing Post Arkle.

The stunning 8/11-favourite brushed aside his rivals to notch a record-equalling 40th Festival winner for trainer Nicky Henderson – matching the tally of the great Fulke Walwyn.

Fruity O’Rooney then had his moment in the spotlight before six-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls ended his long wait for victory in the feature race – the Champion Hurdle.

Reigning champion Hurricane Fly was sent off the 4/6-favourite but he could not land a blow as Rock On Ruby – handy throughout under Noel Fehily – powered home to win at 11/1.

Balthazar King then broke the Irish stranglehold on the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.

Fontwell’s leading rider Richard Johnson steered him to success at 11/2.

It was a triumph which ended a run of seven consecutive wins for the foreign trainers.

The Irish did not have to wait long before cheering home their first winner of the 2012 Festival, though.

The Willie Mullins-trained Quevega, as expected, confirmed herself as the leading mare in training by justifying 4/7-favouritsm in the Grade 2 David Nicholson Hurdle.

The final race on day one – the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase – was won by Kieran Burke’s 13/2 market-leader Hunt Ball.