Trainer Howard Johnson and owner Graham Wylie were back in the number one spot at the Festival following Tidal Bay’s victory in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy. The seven-year-old skipped clear of his rivals on the home turn, giving Johnson every indication that a longer trip would suit Tidal Bay - it also heralded a turning point in his yard’s fortunes, following a lean spell when a number of runners performed poorly.
Johnson said: "They have been a little bit out of form, but some of the horses just weren’t good enough. When a horse isn’t good enough it can’t win - I’ve been getting a bit of stick in the media, but this horse has silenced the critics.
"It’s also good for Drever [Inglis Drever, his candidate for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle on Thursday]. He seems healthy enough and did his last piece of work this morning. It was just a little canter, but he seems great and will travel down tomorrow. When you’ve got two good horses you’ve got a chance."
Asked for the thoughts of jockey Denis O’Regan - his first Cheltenham Festival winner - following the victory, Johnson said: "He said it was great and the horse gave him a lovely feel. He said he could have gone round again."Tidal Bay was declared for tomorrow’s Royal & SunAlliance Chase, but Johnson said he was very doubtful to line up. He added: "He’s won a race and tomorrow was just a safety net in case he fell at the first..I’ve had some good horses. Direct Route fell in this race with Tony Dobbin, but he was an out-and-out two-miler, and this horse will stay three miles. I’ll keep him going for Aintree, but if I’m not happy he’ll go out in a field."
For Wylie it was a fifth Festival winner. He said: "People have been saying the horse can’t jump, the trip was wrong, the stable is under a cloud, but he’s silenced them today. I can’t believe we’ve had five Festival winners - it’s such a thrill.
"We bought this horse at Doncaster, after watching him come second in the Aintree bumper. He was trained near us at Stocksfield by Alistair Charlton, who will be as pleased as we are. It’s a great local story."
Tidal Bay was quoted at 10/1 for next year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase by Boylesports following his win.