RACING

Cheltenham Festival: Did it all go to script on Champion Day?

Day one of the showpiece event in the horse racing calendar has now been and gone, with thousands of punters either heading home happy or with their pockets feeling considerably lighter.

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Park Life Sport takes a look at whether it was a day for the favourites or one to remember for the outsiders.

Supreme Novices Hurdle -1.30

The opening race of the festival saw a victory for Summerville Boy who started the race at 9/1 and was widely backed by many heading into it. Having said that, he was probably still a surprise victor, with Getabird and Kalashnikov at 5/1 thought to be the shoe-ins. Many might of thought they had it with Kalashnikov coming down the home straight, but Summerville Boy, who has won two races previously on wet ground this season, powered past him to take the first race.

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Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase – 2.10

The Arkle Challenge was certainly one for the favourites as the highly fancied Footpad, the 5/6 favourite powered to victory. Being ridden by jockey Ruby Walsh, he may have had a few hearts fluttering with eight fences to go when he made a slight mistake but regained his composure and never really looked in trouble. Mr Cheltenham himself Nicky Henderson’s horse Brain Power tried to challenge late on but couldn’t chase Footpad down as he finished second ahead of 4/1 shot Petit Mouchoir.

Talking to The Telegraph Tony McCoy said it was: “A tactically brilliant race” by Ruby Walsh on board Footpad.

Ultima Handicap Chase – 2.50

There was no clear favourite heading into this one with perhaps the eventual winner Coo Star Sivola heading the betting market and it did go to script as he took the victory. Vintage Clouds held the lead for most of race after taking an early lead following the first fence. This essentially left it open for Lizzie Kelly and Coo Star Sivola to bide their time and strike when it mattered which is what they did. Vintage Clouds had clearly burned himself out but did well none the less to hold onto third place, with outside shot Shantou Flyer also running him down near the end to take second.

Champion Hurdle – 3.30

Now this one for sure went to script as the long term favourite for the biggest event of the day Buveur D’Air took the victory. Although it was probably the closest race of the day as him and Melon jumped the last fence neck and neck. The bookmakers would have certainly been willing Melon down the final stretch, given he was certainly an outside shot for the race, but Buveur D’Air showed his class and took the win on the line. He now becomes the first horse to retain the Champion Hurdle crown since Hardy Eustace in 2005, making many of the punters happy on day one.

Perhaps the surprise was the disappointing performance of Faugheen, rode by Ruby Walsh, who was expected to push Buveur D’Air all the way for the victory. Walsh had earlier that day guided Footpad to victory in the Arkle but on board Faugheen he never really got into it, coming off the latter fences badly.

Mares Hurdle – 4.10 

For the Mares hurdle, Apples Jade was far and away the favourite with many hotly tipping her to comfortably take victory but that certainly didn’t happen. It was instead a victory for Benie Des Dieux, a Willie Mullins trained horse wasn’t really thought to challenge for this at all. Mullins, however, will be overjoyed, given he’s expecting a number of wins this week as it is, let alone picking a few surprising winners like this along the way. Walsh again piloted this horse, bouncing back from his difficult defeat on board Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle, putting the others to the sword. It was a missed opportunity for Gordon Elliot though, to gain ground on Mullins, who is already pulling clear in the race for the Champion trainer crown this week.

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National Hunt Challenge – 4.50

Mullins then added another one to his collection through Rathvinden at odds of 9/2 to put more distance between him and other big trainers Henderson and Elliot. He finished ahead of the highly fancied Ms Parfois and means Mullins has had a much better opening day than he had last year. It was a good return for anybody who had an each-way bet on Sizing Tennessee who placed third at odds of 8/1 as it turned out to be mixed fortunes for both the punters and bookmakers.

Sad news coming out of that race however, was the death of horse Mossback, trained by Gordon Elliot after he suffered a fatal fall during the race.

Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase – 5.30

This was a race set-up for Any Second Now but for what ever reason the performance didn’t materialise as Mr Whittaker took the victory. It was a tight race towards the end as Rocklander took the last fence in the lead but he was first run down by Rather Be who thought he was going to take it for trainer Henderson, but Mr Whittaker put pay to that idea as he stole the victory for Brian Hughes.

What to make of the first day?

Overall it was a mixed day for both the punters and the bookmakers as there were a few surprise results but at the same time many strong favourites came through in the form of Footpad and Buveur D’Air.

It was definitely a Willie Mullins day as he took an opening day treble, whilst also giving the Irish the bragging rights over the English alongside Gordon Elliot on a day to remember at Prestbury Park.

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