Grands Crus seals Pipe treble
IRISH eyes were smiling on the first day of Cheltenham's Open meeting but not as much as David Pipe, who landed a sparkling treble.
The young master of Nicholshayne took a leaf out of his father Martin's book by sending out three impressive winners -- including the scintillating chasing debut of the exciting Grands Crus, whose only defeats last season were at the hands of Big Buck's at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals.
In the Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase -- a race that has been won by the likes of Denman, Imperial Commander and Time For Rupert in recent years -- it once again attracted a potentially high-class field.
Former Cheltenham Bumper winner Cue Card was going well for Joe Tizzard when he unseated the rider at the ditch, which robbed the race of some of its lustre, but that shouldn't take from the performance of Grands Crus.
The imposing grey (6/4 favourite) pulled himself to the front after his main rival's departure, and though he hit the open ditch at the top of the hill hard, Tom Scudamore's mount was soon back on the bridle. At the line, Grands Crus had 10 lengths to spare from runner-up Champion Court.
"It was a relief to get the first one out the way," said Pipe afterwards. "It was disappointing for racegoers with Cue Card exiting, but it was not all about winning -- it was about getting some experience under our belt.
"If he's nearly as good over fences as he was over hurdles, we're in for a lot of fun. He will probably have another two or three runs (before the Festival)."
Asked about a speculative Gold Cup entry, Pipe said: "I'm not going to say no, but he has a long way to go before that."
Festival clues abounded, despite the meeting being some four months away, and there were two Irish winners, headlined by the progressive Steps To Freedom in the featured Grade Two Opus Energy Novices' Hurdle.
Jessica Harrington may not run the five-year-old again until March after the 11/8 favourite produced a fine finish under Robbie Power to beat Prospect Wells by a neck.
"He's had a long summer and we might put him away until Cheltenham now, maybe with just a prep-run on the all-weather," said Harrington.
The father and son team of Willie and Patrick Mullins combined to strike on Uncle Junior (9/2), which edged out the gallant Garde Champetre in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
Garde Champetre was looking for his sixth victory over the course and went off the 10/11 favourite but lost vital ground when slipping entering the straight. He managed to recover and get back into the race, but Uncle Junior had a little extra up his sleeve and won by two and a quarter lengths.
Barry Geraghty was also among the winners as he teamed up with Nicky Henderson to land the two-mile handicap chase aboard three-length winner Tanks For That (13/2). Paul Nicholls reported that fifth-placed Crack Away Jack had sustained a nasty cut.
Tom Bellamy, the 17-year-old son of former jockey Robert, looked a real find as he gave Pipe his first winner when guiding Swing Bill (9/1) to victory in the amateur riders' handicap chase. Bellamy was given a two-day ban for excessive use of the whip, while Steven Fox suffered a fractured shoulder after falling from Bescot Springs.
Conor O'Farrell gave Pipe his other winner with a front-running ride on Decoy (13/2) in the conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle. However, Jeremiah McGrath on runner-up Semi Colon was given a nine-day whip ban.