Saturday 24 June 2017

Gordon Elliott finishes Cheltenham Day One with three winners as Willie Mullins goes winless

Cheltenham , United Kingdom - 14 March 2017; Trainer Gordon Elliott, left, with owner Michael O'Leary after winning the OLBG Mares' Hurdle with Apple's Jade during the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park, in Cheltenham, England. (Photo By Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Cheltenham , United Kingdom - 14 March 2017; Trainer Gordon Elliott, left, with owner Michael O'Leary after winning the OLBG Mares' Hurdle with Apple's Jade during the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park, in Cheltenham, England. (Photo By Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ireland got off to a flying start at the Cheltenham Festival as Labaik won the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by rising star Jack Kennedy, 17, the grey six-year-old belied odds of 25-1 to readily deny compatriot and 3-1 favourite Melon by two and a quarter lengths.

"Words can't describe what it's like," Kennedy told ITV Racing.

"I was probably a little bit far back but they went a good gallop.

"It couldn't have gone any better.

Labaik's career had been blighted by truculence as he has twice refused to race and was hardly a willing runner when sixth at Naas last month.

Labaik benefited from a stealthy Kennedy ride as he only burst into contention after the long-time leader Cilaos Emery faded after the last flight.

The much-vaunted Melon turned in a really accomplished display for one so inexperienced, but Ruby Walsh's partner could simply not live with the winner, who was providing Kennedy with a first Festival triumph.

River Wylde finished third but was another eight lengths in arrears.

Elliott said: "He could have gone to Naas on Sunday, I said to the lads it wouldn't be as embarrassing if he refuses there.

"It just all worked out today. I told Jack if he jumped off to just hunt around and ride him for a place.

"I've always said he's our best work horse in the yard.

"I don't care if he never jumps off again!"

Kennedy added: "I always enjoyed watching it (as a boy) and it's great to get a taste of it.

"Everyone wants more, but I'll be going home a very happy lad at the end of the week now, however things go.

"It's brilliant."

Altior did exactly what was expected of him by easily winning the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy.

It would have been interesting had Charbel not fallen two fences from home, but the brilliant 1-4 favourite readily batted away runner-up Cloudy Dream from there to score by six lengths.

Trainer Nicky Henderson said: "They went a good gallop and Charbel was still galloping away, but we jumped and travelled well.

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"We knew he'd come up the hill. He's very, very good and there's a lot to look forward to.

"We've gone down the chase route and we'll have to stick to that now."

On immediate plans, he added: "It's not the sort of thing we need to jump to straight after the race, but there's no reason why you shouldn't run again, Sandown would be the obvious way of going but he won't go to Aintree. If he's going to run again, I would have thought Sandown."

Charbel's jockey David Bass said: "I'm fine. It was a very tricky fence and it claims quite a few of us.

"He didn't jump it badly, he just knuckled on landing."

Henderson went on: "That was the one that had to win. It takes an awful lot of pressure off us.

"I feel sorry for Kim's (Bailey) horse (Charbel). I hope he's OK because he's run a great race. They were only upsides at the time.

"He's done it well and jumped very well from what I could see. On we go.

"This is only first season over fences. Hopefully Douvan will do his job (in the Champion Chase) and then maybe we will all meet up again next year.

"Altior has done nothing wrong and jumped really well."

A philosophical Kim Bailey said of Charbel: "David hadn't even asked him a question. That's life.

"He jumped the fence fine and just knuckled over, but he's fine. It's a difficult fence."

Charbel made most of the running until he miscalculated the penultimate fence.

Altior was in second place at that stage, and was left in the clear under Nico de Boinville.

Yorkshire challenger Cloudy Dream gave chase, but he was never going to catch Altior, who has now won his last 10 races.

Ordinary World was third, another nine lengths away.

De Boinville said: "You are aware of the expectation, so you just try to do it justice.

"They went a good gallop and it took me a while to get the gears, but after the last he has taken off.

"He travels and jumps, wherever you put him in the race."

Un Temps Pour Tout bravely won back-to-back renewals of the Ultima Handicap Chase.

David Pipe's inmate fought back like a seriously tough beast to get the measure of 5-1 favourite Singlefarmpayment after a pulse-chasing finish.

A photo-finish was called, but Tom Scudamore''s partner, who was saddled with top weight, had just enough in reserve when it mattered.

Pipe said of the 9-1 winner: "I'm absolutely thrilled and Tom has given him an amazing ride.

"It was a great performance from the horse under top weight and it was a tougher race than last year, I thought.

"He found a lot under pressure, he's not very big but he finds a lot and he's a good horse on a going day."

Scudamore said: "Pipe's a genius, nothing more needs to be said.

"He's a different horse in the spring and he loves the hill. I knew halfway up the run-in I'd win, he's so tough.

"I'm so pleased for everyone."

Apple's Jade showed laudable battling skills to keep the Willie Mullins battalion at bay in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle.

Gordon Elliott's mare (7-2) made all of the running, but looked like she had it to do once Vroum Vroum Mag edged ahead after the final flight, at which point the on-rushing Limini made a costly error when bang in the frame.

But Apple's Jade and Bryan Cooper were not having any of it and somehow clawed themselves back into the lead in the Gigginstown House Stud silks.

Vroum Vroum Mag was second, with Limini third.

Cooper said: "She's all heart. We were confident coming here.

"Gordon's a genius and I'm very lucky to ride for him."

ollowing on from the earlier victories of Labaik and Apple's Jade, Gordon Elliott completed a famous Cheltenham treble with Tiger Roll in the JT McNamara National Hunt Chase.

Winner of the Triumph Hurdle over two miles in 2014, the Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding was sent off at 16-1 for this four-mile test.

The seven-year-old was pulling rider Lisa O'Neill's arms out running down the hill and picked up from the home turn for a ready three-length success.

Missed Approach was second ahead of Haymount in third.

O'Neill said: "It's surreal, to be honest. It's an overwhelming feeling.

"I was just hoping up the hill that there was nothing there to pass me.

"It's a good team effort and it's absolutely brilliant."

Elliott said of the jockey: "She's decent and is an absolute star.

"She pre-trains our horses and does everything for us.

"She's an absolute star and I'm delighted for her."

Tully East was an 8-1 winner of the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.

Alan Fleming's charge was produced with a well-timed challenge by Denis O'Regan and galloped all the way to the line to beat Gold Present into second.

Two Taffs was third and Powersbomb was fourth.

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