Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Douvan managed to make it three wins in three years in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle for the trio of Rich Ricci, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. The 2/1 favourite looked keen in the opening exchanges but managed to pull it together to hit the front over the last and put clear water between himself and Shaneshill (9/1) and Sizing John (25/1) who finished in second and third respectively. A second Festival runners-up position for Shaneshill followed his Champion Bumper second last year and meant it was a one, two for Mullins in the opener.
The first two home were both nibbled at in the markets in a race full of lively contenders. Barry Geraghty considered L’Ami Serge (7/2), who was able to pick up fourth despite being hampered by one of our tips Seedling (16/1) unseating at the fifth, his best chance of the Festival. Most of the beaten connections had no complaints, stating that their runners just couldn’t keep up with the pace.
Our other tip – Jollyallan (9/1) – who failed to ignite for AP McCoy in his first race of his final Festival – was unable to get a clear round of jumping, finishing back in eighth.
Winning jockey Walsh, who told of Douvan taking hold for the entire trip, entered the winners enclosure to chants of ‘Ruby!’
Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase
Mullins and Walsh made it two from two as Un De Sceaux (4/6) continued the trend of odds-on successes in the Arkle by beating 33/1 chance God’s Own by six lengths. The victory gave Mullins his first win in the race and Walsh only his second following his ride on Azertyuiop back in 2003. The British Horse Racing Authority has provisionally rated this Arkle run at 167, the second highest 2m novice chase ranking of the century.
The winning rider was always confident in his mount, stating that the O’Connell family horse was similar to that of his previous Arkle winner and Master Minded, the two-time Queen Mother Champion Chase victor. God’s Own, who had previously beaten Balder Succes, leaped right back into form to be in with a chance over the last. Josses Hill (12/1), also fancied by Geraghty, grabbed his second Festival place in successive years by finishing in third.
Festival Trophy Handicap Chase
Great Britain recorded their first win with The Druid’s Nephew (8/1) in the third. Neither Ruby Walsh nor Willie Mullins had a runner in this large handicap and so allowed Barry Geraghty and Neil Mullholland to get on the board. This success was Geraghty’s 32nd at the Festival but only the young trainer’s first.
The race was almost anyone’s until the Aintree Grand National hopeful took the front over the second-last. The winning jockey was, however, the first to concede that the horse didn’t do much in front. Grand Jesture (25/1) took second whilst AP McCoy’s Pendra (9/1), the retiring jockey still yet to get off the mark, wobbled to relinquish third in the closing stages to Gallant Oscar (9/1). The McManus mount was eventually relegated to fifth behind Indian Castle (16/1).
Neither of our tips landed, progressive-looking Ned Stark (6/1) aiming to become only the third winning favourite since 1977. The Alan King entrant took hold in mid-field though failed to recover after making a jumping error halfway through.
Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
Not only did Willie Mullins continue his unbeaten record at this season’s Cheltenham Festival in the main event, he picked up a one, two, three; the first trainer ever to do so. Bookmakers were forced to close eventual winner Faugheen (4/5) up to odds-on but handed out money hand over fist when he returned in front. Such a success also saw Ruby Walsh scoop an early hat-trick with owner Ricci collecting his second victor.
Faugheen was quick to establish a lead, hotly pursued by nearest market rivals The New One (10/3) and Jezki (6/1)- our tip. Hurricane Fly (8/1), who was hoping to pick up a third victory in the race and his 23rd Grade One, followed in fourth. The field went unchanged for almost the entirety of the race until Jezki was the first to show his hand in pursuit. The eventual winner found more than his rivals around the final turn despite making a mistake at the second-last and crossed the line a length-and-a-half in front. Arctic Fire (20/1) slalomed through the tiring bodies to take second whilst Hurricane Fly, aiming to become the first 11-year-old winner since Sea Pigeon, stayed on for third.
Jezki’s trainer, Jessica Harrington, who had previously praised the horse’s will to win and great tenacity blamed the horse’s failure to enter the places on a lacklustre jump at the final obstacle.
Willie Mullins completed an unlikely 62/1 opening day four-timer though not with the horse you may have expected. Annie Power, the Mullins 1/2 favourite, looked to have the race sewn up before missing the last when ‘going too well’ and parting company with jockey Ruby Walsh. This left last year’s runner-up and rival of six-time winner Quevega, Glens Melody (6/1), to pick her pocket, snatching the plaudits from Polly Peachum by a head.
The Mullins winner, ridden by Hurricane Fly’s jockey Paul Townend, got out of jail somewhat after failing to jump the penultimate obstacle as well as the then leader who was finishing off with ease under a still Ruby Walsh who needed not to move a muscle follow his run up the inside.
As well as bringing the bookmakers some solace, this Mares’ Hurdle should have also pleased those of you following our tips. Bitofapuzzle (16/1) fought back to claim third whilst we also tipped the second placed entrant who was backed into a starting price of 9/1 from 11s.
Toby Balding National Hunt Chase
Our luck did not last with Theatre Queen (33/1) in the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase. The temperamental character lived up to her reputation when setting off well behind her other 14 rivals. She had previously refused to race in a Taunton handicap chase. Indeed, any chance the horse did have was soon scuppered, Mark Wall’s mare fatally falling early on. This caused the last obstacle to be missed out on the final circuit as medics came to the aid of the injured horse. All thoughts and best wishes are with connections.
It was one for the hold-up horses, however, with the first two past the post, Cause Of Causes (8/1) and Broadway Buffalo (12/1), taking their time to settle into the race. A former Kim Muir runner-up, the seven-year-old winner gave Jamie Codd, Gordon Elliott and JP McManus their first winner of this year’s Festival, the owner celebrating his 61st birthday. This was Elliott’s second winner in the race (Chicago Grey, 2011) and Codd’s first.
The Job Is Right (10/1) completed five lengths back in third whilst Perfect Gentleman (10/1) put up a good showing for the Mullins team, ridden by Willie’s son Patrick, in fourth.
Favourite Very Wood (7/2) disappointed back in the field.
Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase
Irish Cavalier (11/1) rounded off a good day for Paul Townend, giving the Irishman his second winner on the opening day of the Festival. The success of the 137 rated mount opened Rebecca Curtis’ account in Gloucestershire and provided a winner for the McIver family.
The six-year-old managed to reverse the form on Generous Ransom (8/1), who completed in third, the charge of Nick Gifford having beaten the former in the Timeform Handicap at Cheltenham on their last outing. Favourite Thomas Crapper (6/1) squeezed himself between the pair to take second whilst the places were rounded off by front-runner Horizontal Speed (12/1).
Little Jon (10/1), our tip in the 20 strong field, was prominent throughout the early exchanges and had every chance coming over the last fence but slipped on landing and his chance was gone with that loss of momentum.
Take a look at all our Cheltenham Festival Day One betting tips today.