It was a cold, wet and very windy day at Cheltenham but that didn’t stop the thousands of fans from flocking to the racecourse. With the beer and champagne flowing it was time to get the today’s racing underway. And up first was the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Supreme Novices Hurdle 2019 – Klassical Dream
Two non-runners on the day, Elixir De Nutz and Tokay Dokey meant 16 runners headed to the starting line. After a false start, the circled back and started from a standing position. Brandon Castle with jockey Bryony Frost went out in front and at one point had an eight-length lead. But unable to keep up with the pace, she soon faded back.
With eight hurdles to jump and ground getting softer, it was ultimately the 6/1 shot Klassical Dream that romped home for trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh. Thomas Darby (28/1) finished in second place with Itchy Feet (25/1) in third place.
Three runners pulled up but there were no fallers.
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase – Duc Des Genievres
The second race of the day saw 12 contenders battle it out for the winner’s prize of £102K. Hardline for trainer Gordon Elliott and Glen Forsa for trainer Mick Channon went off as joint-favourites on 9/2.
All went over the first three hurdles fine but race favourite Glen Forsa blundered at the 4th and unseated his rider. Next out of contention was Kalashnikov as he unseated after being hampered by faller Ornua. Lalor never got going and pulled-up. And so it went down to about six runners to really see out the race. Duc Des Genievres (5/1) took off from two out and jockey Paul Townend romped home to bring trainer Willie Mullins his second win of the day. Us And Them (14/1) was second with Articulum (25/1) in third place.
Ultima Handicap Chase – Beware The Bear
A huge race on day one, the Ultima originally had over 100 entries. They eventually got whittled down to the maximum allowed of 24. 13 of them also hold entries into the 2019 Grand National. With the sun now shining, Vintage Clouds and O O Seven battle it out in the front from the get-go. As the entire field easily and safely cleared all of the fences, Minella Rocco was the first to get pulled up.
The race was hotly contested with quite a lot still in contention right up until the final run. Beware The Bear (10/1), for trainer Nicky Henderson, just edged out Vintage Clouds (16/1) for trainer Sue Smith, to win the Ultima. Lake View Lad (25/1), also a Trevor Hemmings runner (and Vintage Clouds) was in 3rd place.
Give Me A Copper fell, and nine more pulled up.
Champion Hurdle – Espoir D’Allen
This Grade 1 race was the biggest of the day with over £253K up for grabs for the winner. 10 runners, including the much fancied Apple’s Jade, Laurina and Buveur D’Air took to the starting line for the 3.30pm start time. One punter actually put £80K on Buveur D’Air to win at 3/1.
But in one of the biggest shocks of the day, none of them even contended. Buveur D’Air was the first to go when he fell halfway around the course. He brought down Sharjah with him. Apple’s Jade was outrun and finished in 6th place and Laurina simply couldn’t keep up with Melon who led from the start.
But it was the Gavin Cromwell trained Espoir D’Allen who broke through and stormed ahead to take the 2019 Champion Hurdle. Ridden by jockey Mark Walsh and owned by JP McManus, the 16/1 shot was a worthy winner. Melon (20/1) was in second place with the 80/1 outsider, Silver Streak, finishing in third place. If you had a placed a Tricast on that finishing order, it would have netted you a whopping £22,067.60.
Mares Hurdle – Roksana
15 runners and 10 hurdles to be jumped, the race attracted the big names including Benie Des Dieux, Limini and the well-fancied Lady Buttons. Benie Des Dieux went off as the firm race favourite at odds on of 5/6. Next best priced was Stormy Ireland at 7/1. But in a very dramatic finish, Ruby Walsh, leading on Benie Des Dieux clipped the top of the fence and fell at the last. Memories of Annie Power came rushing back!
Capitalising on that was Roksana, ridden by Harry Skelton for Dan Skelton who battled on to win the Mare’s Hurdle at odds of 10/1. Stormy Ireland was second at 7/1 for Paul Townend with Good Thyne Tara coming in third on odds of 25/1 for jockey Rachael Blackmore and trainer Willie Mullins.
Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase – A Plus Tard
The sixth and second last race of the day this race attracted 20 runners. A Plus Tard went off as the favourite (5/1) and for very good reason. Two out he went into the lead under jockey Rachael Blackmore and never looked back.
Tower Bridge (6/1) for Joseph O’Brien and jockey JJ Slevin finished in second place. Ben Dundee (33/1) for trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Keith Donoghue finished in the third spot.
National Hunt Challenge Cup – Le Breuil
The last race on the opening day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival and the longest at 3m7f. 18 runners lined up with Ballyward for Willie Mullins the race favourite. But in a race absolutely packed with fallers, the distance proved too much for some and only four horses actually finished the race.
Le Breuil (14/1) won for trainer Ben Paul and jockey Jamie Codd. Discorama (9/2) was second, with Jerrysback in third place and Clondaw Cian in fourth.
There were eight fallers, five more pulled-up and Skipthecuddles unseated.