Espoir D’Allen causes a shock in incident-packed Champion Hurdle
Big shock! JP McManus looked to have a huge chance in the Unibet Champion Hurdle with Buveur D’Air, but it was his second string Espoir D’Allen that came home in front in an incident-packed running of the day one feature.
Trained by Gavin Cromwell, Espoir D’Allen was overlooked in the market at odds of 16-1, but cruised through the contest and picked up the pieces as the three market leaders all failed to shine.
Buveur D’Air, seeking an eighth victory in the race for trainer Nicky Henderson and a personal hat-trick after successes the last two years, came down at third hurdle.
Apple’s Jade was taken on early for the lead by Melon and faded down the back straight as the pace increased, while Laurina failed to pick up once let down by Ruby Walsh and came home only in fourth.
Winning rider Mark Walsh said: “For a five-year-old to do that in one of the best Champion Hurdles run in the last few years was unbelievable.
“I was behind Barry [Geraghty] when he fell on Buveur D’Air and luckily wasn’t in his way. I was delighted when the rain came this morning as he goes so well in it. Gobsmacked.”
“I was hopeful and waiting for a place but I was in front plenty soon enough and heard a horse coming up the run-in – luckily it was a loose one!”
Cromwell added: “I’m lost for words. Just brilliant. Unbelievable. He’s French-bred and they mature a little bit earlier. We have 50 in training but not many Graded horses and it’s just brilliant.”
Melon finished second for the second consecutive year at 20-1, while Evan Williams’ Silver Streak ran a huge race to take third at a whopping 80-1.
Espoir D’Allen earned quotes of 5-1 to retain his crown in the 2020 Champion Hurdle.
Both riders of the two fancied mares reflected on a disappointing outcome for both afterwards.
Of Laurina, Ruby Walsh said: “Never raised a gallop and was never going. It was a false sense of security. I tried to con myself into thinking I was going well but I was never happy.”
Jack Kennedy was at a loss to explain Apple’s Jade’s performance.
“She seems fine but it’s disappointing,” he said. “I wasn’t happy early on but it’s the way it goes.”
Festival first for Blackmore as A Plus Tard wins Close Brothers in style
A late surge from A Plus Tard saw the five-year-old break from the pack to win the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase and provide jockey Rachael Blackmore with her first ever Cheltenham Festival winner.
Henry de Bromhead’s five-year-old went off at 5-1 and justified favouritism as he charged clear to best the Joseph O’Brien-trained Tower Bridge by a startling 16 lengths.
Ben Dundee finished in third for Gordon Elliott, while The Russian Doyen was in the mix throughout and secured fourth.
Beware The Bear claws out win in thrilling Ultima
Beware The Bear romped home to win the Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase in the most thrilling of circumstances under Jeremiah McGrath to give Nicky Henderson his first winner of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The nine-year-old took control on the back straight but had to hold off a late fightback from Vintage Clouds to follow up a victory here on New Year’s Day at odds of 10-1.
McGrath revealed that a change of tactics from Henderson at the last minute made the difference for his gelding.
He said: “The plan originally was to go and make the running, but that was then changed at the last minute to give him room. As it came so late there was no time to think about it, so I kept him out of the way, went wide and avoided any trouble.
“He jumped exceptionally well and gave his all out there.”
As Henderson celebrated his first win of the festival, it was McGrath’s first victory at the famous meeting since 2012, and the jockey was delighted to break the streak.
“It’s been seven years since I last won here, and I didn’t really appreciate it at the time,” said McGrath. “It’s hard to get rides here, let alone winners, and I’m grateful for the faith everyone has had in me.”
Henderson added: “He really enjoyed it out there. There was plenty of daylight and he had time to find himself. A win on day one makes an enormous difference and I’m delighted with him.”
Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad put in a valiant performance to finish third despite carrying top weight, while Big River ran on for fourth spot despite some early errors.
Benie Des Dieux falls at the last as Roksana scoops dramatic Mares’ Hurdle
Brothers Dan and Harry Skelton toasted a first Grade 1 success in the Mares’ Hurdle as Roksana was left clear at the last following a crashing fall from last year’s winner and hot favourite Benie Des Dieux.
Evoking memories of Annie Power, who did something remarkably similar when having the race at her mercy in 2015, Benie Des Dieux travelled smoothly into contention and traded at a low of 1.03 in running on Betfair before a dramatic error cost her the chance of retaining her title, as she and Ruby Walsh came down.
Dan Skelton said: “I have a lot of respect for Ruby. He’s the winningmost rider at the festival and will get up and dust himself down.
“Harry was super on her all the way. She wandered a bit approaching the finish but she’s a really tough mare.
“The plan was always to come here after one run and this was a massive team effort from the staff. I’m delighted for Sarah Faulks [owner], who is a stalwart National Hunt breeder.”
Stormy Ireland made most of the running and rallied before finishing second to Roksana, with the winner trading at a high of 36 in running.
Good Thyne Tara was also on the front end for most of the race and put in a fine display under Rachael Blackmore to take third spot.
‘He looks a real one’ – Mullins delighted as Klassical Dream bolts up in Supreme
There was no quiet before the storm. There never is at the Cheltenham Festival. Testing conditions, for racegoers and horses, did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm before the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and the sight of Ruby Walsh tanking down the hill on a well-fancied Willie Mullins raider served only to send a large contingent into frenzy.
A wide-open looking Supreme was simply torn apart by Klassical Dream, who had won both of his starts in Ireland without suggesting he possessed the superstar quality which was devastatingly exposed in this four-and-a-half-length triumph.
This was a sixth Supreme victory for Mullins and the Irish champion trainer revealed it had not come as a surprise.
He said: “We took a risk running him on quickish ground in Ireland but we knew he had a fair engine all along.
“He’s a very good horse. He worked last week at the Curragh and we came away thinking here’s one who’s going to take a lot of beating, no matter what he comes up against.”
Klassical Dream, racing keenly in a prominent position under Walsh, caught the eye with how strongly he was travelling and the only danger approaching the final flight was in front rather than behind.
“He was always travelling well,” Mullins said. “He looks a real one, especially in this type of ground, and we know he can go up in trip – no problem.
“I want to see what he can do over hurdles, but he’ll jump fences as well. He’s a brilliant jumper, I don’t think he missed a beat out there.”
The way Mullins – a man who has sent out stars such as Vautour and Douvan to win this race – enthused about Klassical Dream spoke volumes, as with Walsh, who said it felt as if he was “doing only a half-speed”.
The most successful rider in Cheltenham Festival history, who extended his tally to 59, said: “He’d improved a hell of a lot since Leopardstown. He was always travelling, jumped like a stag and stayed at it well.”
The winner was chased home by Thomas Darby and Itchy Feet, both trained by Olly Murphy, who was unsurprisingly proud of his representatives.
He said: “I’m never happy finishing second and third, but they both did me proud and are horses who should win loads of races.
“I thought they were two nice horses. They were big prices but I’ve always been bold about the pair of them and there was no fluke about their runs.
“They were my second and third festival runners. To be here in my first full season training with two runners in the Supreme, let alone finish second and third, is brilliant.”
Juvenile Fakir D’Oudairies, the 9-2 joint favourite with Al Dancer for the Sky Bet-backed race, stayed on to finish fourth having been outpaced.
fonte : RacingPost