Bear necessity in Ultima triumph for Henderson

First one on the board for Seven Barrows

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Beware The Bear claimed top honours in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.

Trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Jerry McGrath, the nine-year-old was a 10-1 shot for the first handicap of the Festival in a fiercely-competitive field of 24 runners.

For much of the way it looked like Up For Review might give Willie Mullins his third winner of the afternoon as he travelled powerfully on the heels of the leaders running down the hill.

However, he made a mistake three fences from the finish and his effort soon petered out.

Beware The Bear – a winner at Cheltenham in January – was in the lead at the top of the home straight and while Sue Smith’s Vintage Clouds finished strongly, Henderson’s inmate had just enough in reserve to hold him at bay.

Nick Alexander’s top-weight and Grand National contender Lake View Lad ran a fine race to finish third ahead of Lucinda Russell’s Big River – another Scottish challenger – in fourth.

Henderson said: “That was lovely. Jeremiah McGrath gave him a lovely ride and he had a lovely time. It is nice to get one on the board as that settles everything down.

“We put them on (blinkers) on New Year’s Day. We’ve always made the running with him, or tried to do that. There was only six runners that day (New Year’s Day) and he got a soft lead.

“He normally goes up there, drops himself out and comes home with a rattle. We thought ‘let’s start where he normally puts himself’, so we started at the back and passed horses. He stayed well and he enjoyed that.

“He is not in the Grand National and you might wish you had put him in there now, but I would imagine we will have a look at something like the Scottish National or the bet365 at Sandown.”

There was a thrilling climax to the concluding National Hunt Challenge Cup, with Ben Pauling’s Le Breuil (14-1) narrowly outpointing Paul Nolan’s Irish challenger Discorama.

Both horses and jockeys gave their all at the end of a demanding four miles and it was Le Breuil and Jamie Codd who won the argument by half a length from Discorama and Barry O’Neill.

Pauling said: “It was such a long race, it never ended! I had to ask my assistant Tom how many laps were left.

“He jumped, he travelled, it was amazing. We’ve had a winner here before (Willoughby Court), but this is just as good.

“Jamie is very special, he gave him a superb ride. He wanted to be handier, I think, but they went so quick.

“With a circuit to go I knew we had a chance as he was jumping and travelling so well.

“I knew he’d stay, but I didn’t think he’d stay that well. When Discorama jumped upsides I thought ‘what’s going to happen here’, but he was really gutsy.

“We’ve got one thing in mind for this horse and that is next year’s National, so let’s hope he gets there in one piece.”

Bear necessity in Ultima triumph for Henderson
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