Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Ireland opened the Cheltenham Festival in perfect style as Rudy Walsh recorded his 35th winner at the showpiece of the National Hunt calendar with a game victory on Champagne Fever in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Willie Mullins’ 5/1 shot held off favourite My Tent Or Yours down the home straight to win by half a length and looks likely to be vying for Champion Hurdle honours next season.
Mullins told Racing UK: "Ruby was very good, I didn't give him any instructions. He controlled it beautifully from the front."
Last year's Champion Bumper made all in the high-class curtain raiser, producing a game performance to defeat Nicky Henderson’s My Tent Or Yours – the 15/8 favourite.
Walsh said: "He jumped like a stag and travelled really well."
Owner JP McManus had to settle for second and third as Jezki (5/1) finished a further two-and-a-quarter lengths behind the front two.
Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase
Odds-on favourite Simonsig did not produce the expected fluent display but did enough to land the Arkle Challenge Trophy - the leading minimum-distance chase for novices in the National Hunt calendar.
Nicky Henderson’s grey prevailed by two and a quarter lengths from surprise package, 33/1 shot Baily Green.
Donald McCain’s front runner Overturn had won all three starts over fences this season by an average of more than 20 lengths but had drifted in the market due to the soft going. However he led before making a bad error three out.
That saw the 8/15 market leader hit the front and he was expected to romp home but Baily Green ran a cracker and winning jockey Barry Geraghty admitted: "That was harder than I thought!"
After winning this race for a record-equalling fifth time, Henderson said: "I think he was just too fresh. He's done very well to win running with the choke out all the way.
"He's not short of pace but he's got to learn to drop it a bit. He wasn't really concentrating on what was going on. He's only had three runs this year and there's another race in him. He's a two-miler."
Overturn, a brave second in last year's Champion Hurdle, finished fourth under Jason Maguire behind 80/1 rank outsider His Excellency.
JLT Speciality Handicap Chase
Bottom-weight Golden Chieftain landed the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase at 28/1.
Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old hit the front going around the turn and romped home by 10 lengths from favourite Our Mick.
Pete The Feat made all as the first handicap of the Festival saw a frenetic pace.
Our Mick ending his novice campaign with a fine third in this race last year and the 13/2 market leader took over the lead three out under Jason Maguire.
But there have been only two winning favourites in this race since 1977 and Brendan Powell guided home the first big price winner of the Festival.
Powell, just 17, said: "Throughout the race everything that could go right did. When I looked at the screen on the run in I thought it can't be true - I probably won too easily.
"It is an amazing feeling. He is a classy horse and he made the job very easy for me. It is a dream come true. I came here today grateful for a ride - I never thought I'd ride a winner."
White Star Line (12/1) and Tullamore Dew (33/1) completed the places.
Hurricane Fly made history by winning the Champion Hurdle, the feature race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The 2011 winner regained the most prestigious hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar, becoming just the second horse to do so after Comedy of Errors in 1975.
Although Ruby Walsh’s mount niggled at halfway, he made his move on the outside going around the final turn before powering over the last to win by two and a half lengths from Rock on Ruby.
It was a 15th win at the highest level for the 13/8 favourite who took his career earnings over £1.3 million and usurped Moscow Flyer as the highest earning Irish-trained jumps horse in history
Overturn made it an end-to-end gallop last season and defending champion Rock On Ruby set a strong pace this year.
Fledgling trainer Harry Fry dropped something of a bombshell last weekend when he announced Rock on Ruby would wear headgear for the first time and the 11/2 set the pace before being challenged two out by Zarkandar and Hurricane Fly.
Paul Nicholls' gelding looked stronger than when fifth last year but faded out of contention as Willie Mullins' Hurricane Fly surged away from the game Rock On Ruby.
Walsh said: "I can't say I was overly confident - from the word 'go' he didn't travel as well as he can. He's an unbelievably big heart for a small horse.
"He showed another side to him today and that was guts... he deserves to be a dual winner in the Champion Hurdle because horses like him are hard to find."
Countrywide Flame took third at 16/1, a further length and three quarters back.
David Nicholson Mares Hurdle
Quevega won the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle for fifth consecutive year to complete a day one hat-trick for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
She became the first horse since Golden Miller in 1936 to win the same Cheltenham race five times.
She was head and shoulders above the others on ratings but had to dig herself out of trouble after getting checked at a crucial stage.
However she stormed up the hill to win by a length and a half from fellow French raider
Walsh was patient in mid-division but lost ground in the back straight as Sirene D'ainay (33/1) and Swincombe Flame were at the head of proceedings with two to go.
She still had a lot of distance to make up but roared home to become the third winning favourite of day one and also the fourth winner of the afternoon to have scored at the festival before.
Swincombe Flame (40/1) kept on well for third under Daryl Jacob, a further two lengths back.
Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase
Nicky Henderson saddled his second winner of the day via 16/1 chance Rajdhani Express in the Centenary Novice Chase.
It was the closest finish of the opening day as Ackertac produced a strong finish and the 66/1 shot was just a neck behind in second.
Rajdhani Express hit the front going over the last for amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen and held off Nigel Twiston-Davies' strong finishing charge.
Ohio Gold (16/1) took third, nine lengths back, with Venetia Williams’s heavily backed Shangani (6/1) fading after looking well in contention around the turn to finish fourth.
- Sports & Recreation
- Willie Mullins
- Nicky Henderson
- Champion Hurdle