John McCririck Taken to Hospital on First Day of Cheltenham Festival

There was an alarming end to the first day's racing here for John McCririck, the betting pundit familiar to millions for his decades of work with Channel 4, who was taken to hospital after falling ill.

The 72-year-old said he hoped to be back at the track for the Gold Cup on Friday but was undergoing tests at Cheltenham General hospital.

"I didn't collapse, as some people have said, but I felt all faint and woozy," McCririck said on Tuesday. "I couldn't stand and I started fainting, so they carted me in here and are doing all sorts of tests.

"I'm surviving, which is a damn nuisance. I feel absolutely fine. I feel like walking out now but it's not allowed, apparently. I'll be kept in at least overnight but the head doctor here seems to think I'll be all right to go racing on Friday, so it can't be that bad. Whether it's blood pressure or something else, I don't know. These sort of things happen."

McCririck is attending his first Festival since Channel 4 told him at the end of last year that his services would no longer be required. He has since launched a law suit alleging age discrimination by the broadcaster.

Simonsig is not yet the new Sprinter Sacre, judging by his unexpectedly laboured performance in landing the Arkle Trophy here on Tuesday. The grey was sent off as the 8-15 favourite but his backers were fretting from a long way out as a series of awkward leaps led to a shuddering blunder at the ninth, though it seemed to cost him no momentum.

"It wasn't, I suppose, as we thought it would be," said Barry Geraghty, his rider. "It was harder work. He missed one down the back, he missed the water jump and missed one or two after that. He had to dig deep, he battled well, but I wouldn't say it was his best performance this year."

Nicky Henderson, Simonsig's trainer, has made a habit of giving his main Festival contenders only one or two previous runs each season but accepted that "it nearly looked [as if] we'd underdone him".

"We haven't run him, purposely, since Christmas so he's just probably run a bit too fresh and keen and consequently he's not really concentrating terribly hard on what's going on. He'll learn to settle, he's got to."

The trainer was adamant that Simonsig must now be regarded as a two-miler, having shown so much pace here. That means Henderson will find it very difficult next season to avoid racing him against his other top-class chaser at the distance, Sprinter Sacre, who runs today.

"Let's cross all these bridges as we get to them, because there's a long way to go," Henderson said, when asked about a clash.

Henderson had a second winner with Rajdhani Express, providing a boost to the confidence of Sam Waley-Cohen, who rode him and will be aboard Long Run in Friday's Gold Cup. But Henderson's hotly fancied My Tent Or Yours came up short in the opening Supreme Novice Hurdle, being outbattled by Champagne Fever on the run-in.

The grey started a tremendous day for his trainer, Willie Mullins, who intends to send him over fences next year. "He did a fantastic school around Punchestown last May," Mullins said.

"He went around Punchestown as fast as he went around there, never missed a beat, over fences. It was a bit of a wrench to know whether to leave him at that or to go back over hurdles but I just thought he could do with learning more experience about racing over hurdles before he went chasing."

Brendan Powell Jr, the 18-year-old son of the Grand National-winning jockey, achieved his first Festival victory on Golden Chieftain in the three-mile handicap chase and his first thought was that the trainer, Colin Tizzard, might shout at him for winning by too far, ruining the horse's handicap mark for future races. He seemed relieved that Tizzard was only interested in celebration.

Powered by article was written by Chris Cook at Cheltenham, for The Guardian on Tuesday 12th March 2013 20.02 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


images: © Will Palmer, © Will Palmer