It was cold, windy and wet on the opening day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. That didn’t stop the thousands of fans from flocking to the racecourse to enjoy a great day out. With the beer and champagne flowing it was time to get the today’s racing underway.
The starting tape went up, the Cheltenham roar rang out and first up was the Supreme Novices Hurdle 2020.
Supreme Novices Hurdle 2020 – Shishkin
There was only one non-runner on the day and that was Jabaar who had been around 200/1 in the odds. So 15 runners and riders headed to the starting line with Asterion Forlonge from trainer Willie Mullins going off as the race favourite.
After a false start, they circled back and started from a standing position. Race favourite Asterion Forlonge went out and led the rest of the field for most of the race. All jumped smoothly and ran well until the second from last fence when Asterion Forglonge jumped so far to his right that he crashed into Elixir D’ainay who fell. In the process, he brought down Rachael Blackmore on Captain Guinness.
The battle for the win began in earnest as they went over the 8th and final hurdle with Asterion Forlonge being outpaced by both Shishkin and the Gordon Elliott trained Abracadabras. The duo battled it out to the finish line and a photo finish determined that Shiskin was the winner by a nose. Shishkin is trained by Nicky Henderson and was ridden by Nico De Boinville. Starting price was 6/1.
There was one faller in Elixir D’ainay. Captain Guinness was brought down and Mario De Pail pulled-up.
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase – Put The Kettle On
The second race of the day saw 11 contenders battle it out for the winner’s prize of £102K. Notebook for trainer Henry De Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore went off as favourite on 5/2 with Fakir DOudairies close behind on odds of 7/2.
Similar to the first race, a false start promoted a standing start with Cash Back and Put The Kettle On leading the field for most of the race. However, four from home saw Maire Banrigh take a fall alongside Brewin’upastorm and suddenly the race was on. Two fences from home and Esprit Du Large was the next faller leaving eight runners to battle it out to the finish.
However, Notebook never really got going and it was left to Put The Kettle On to do all the running with Fakir D’oudairies making great strides to catch up. Trained by Henry De Bromhead, it was Put The Kettle On who held on to become the first mare in four decades to take the Arkle Chase. Starting price was 16/1.
Ultima Handicap Chase – The Conditional
A huge race on day one of the festival, the Ultima was hotly contested again in 2020 with 23 runners taking to the starting line. It was going well with all runners over the first three fences before Elwood fell, bringing down Quarenta. The race continued at a nice steady pace until No Comment fell at the 8th fence.
Vintage Clouds led for most of the race, trying to improve on his third-place finish from 2019. However, he was soon overtaken as Cepage and race favourite Vinndication went head-to-head three from home. As they romped up the home straight it was The Conditional who surprised them all with Kildisart coming on strongly.
In the end The Conditional won by a nose, ahead of Kildisart giving an emotional trainer, David Bridgwater, a much-deserved festival win. The starting price was 15/2.
Champion Hurdle – Epatante
The first favourite to actually win a race on Day one of the Festival, Epatante ran a cracker in the Champion Hurdle under jockey Barry Geraghty. With 17 runners, it was a race largely devoid of incidents. Petit Mouchoir that led from the start. Under the guidance of Rachael Blackmore, the grey led the rest of the field until one from home. With little left in the tank from going out so fast, Petit Mouchoir faded back as Epatante came charging through.
Though Sharjah and Darvar Star did well to finish in second and third place, there was absolutely no way that they could catch Geraghty. The win was trainer Nicky Henderson’s 66th at the Festival and a great birthday present for owner JP McManus.
No horses fell and only two pulled-up – Not So Sleepy and Cornerstone Lad.
Mares Hurdle – Honeysuckle
Nine runners and 10 hurdles to be jumped, the race attracted the big names including Irish Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle, 2018 Mares Hurdle winner Benie Des Dieux and the 2019 winner Roksana. While the odds changed back and forth all day it was clear that there were only two real contenders – Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle.
Stormy Ireland led from the off and it remained that way for the first mile of the race. At that point, Honeysuckle moved up to join Stormy Ireland, leading the rest of the field.
But it was still all to race for in the Mares Hurdle as the jockeys bided their time until two out when everybody kicked into gear. Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle battled it out right to the finish line but it was Rachael Blackmore who got there first giving her a third Cheltenham Festival winner and a second Grade 1.
Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase – Imperial Aura
The sixth and second last race of the day this race attracted 20 runners. Imperial Aura and Galvin went off as joint-favourites (4/1). Imperial Aura got off to a quick start and stayed on powerfully up the hill.
With two fences to go Imperial Aura and Precious Cargo were leading but the latter crashed at the penultimate fence, giving the Kim Bailey trained horse a clear path to the finish line.
National Hunt Challenge Cup – Ravenhill
Jamie Codd claimed a third win in the National Hunt Challenge Cup aboard the Gordon Elliott-trained Ravenhill in the final race of day one. There wasn’t much to choose between Lord Du Mesnil and Ravenhill jumping the last, but 12-1 shot Ravenhill had that bit more in the tank and was well on top at the finish, winning by over two lengths.