Sport Cheltenham

Thursday 22 February 2018

Five-star Quevega is star of the opening day

Quevega, with Ruby Walsh up, is led into the parade ring after winning the OLBG Mares' Hurdle.
Quevega, with Ruby Walsh up, is led into the parade ring after winning the OLBG Mares' Hurdle.

Nick Robson

QUEVEGA rewrote jumping history when winning the same race for the fifth successive year at the Cheltenham Festival.

The nine-year-old mare completed a nap-hand of victories in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle in dramatic fashion to make it a treble on the day for jockey Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins.


In doing so she equalled the feat of Golden Miller, who won the Gold Cup from 1932 to 1936.


Her caused looked hopeless, though, when she almost came down after clipping heels at the top of the hill.


Walsh kept his cool and let her regain her rhythm before asking her to pick up ground.


She had lots to do as French raider Sirene D'Ainay made the best of her way home, but Quevega (8-11 favourite) picked her off up the hill to win by a length and a half.


Swincombe Flame was another two lengths away in third.


Walsh said: "We were very, very lucky.


"I'm not sure if she stood on herself or clipped heels with something else, but she was on the floor at the top of the hill - she nodded and I nearly fell over her ears.


"When she stood back up then, the boys were gone, and I had to sit and suffer down the hill, but she has a tremendous little engine.


"She has a wonderful attitude and you'd have to say she's trained by a genius.


"In fairness to her, she jumped the last and, my God, did she battle.


"I would have won very easily but for what happened at the top of the hill - when your luck is in, your luck is in."


Mullins said: "She is a fantastic mare. She's just so good and changes gear when she wants to.


"Ruby rode her with a lot of confidence. I thought he was five or six lengths out of his ground but when he slipped her wide, she found another gear.


"Once the last hurdle opened up for her you could see her putting her head down and you knew if she jumped the last she was going to make it.


"She's very good - very precious.


"To be associated with a horse that wins five times at the Festival, you don't dream of those things.


"I used to read about horses like Golden Miller in those racing books when I was young, but those horses are once in a lifetime - once in a century.


"I'm privileged to be part of it."


Sam Waley-Cohen punched out Rajdhani Express (16-1) to claim a thrilling triumph in the Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase.


The amateur, who partnered Long Run to win 2011 Gold Cup and will be back on board the same horse on Friday, appeared confident coming down the hill.


He began to assert on the run down to the final fence and held off Ackertac by a neck to strike in the colours of the rider's father, Robert Waley-Cohen, the Cheltenham chairman.


Although the Gold Cup is still to come, it has also been a memorable few days for the rider following the recent birth of his first child.


He said: "They say good things come in threes, so fingers crossed.


"I'm so pleased for Rajdhani, we bred him at home and his sister, Shatabdi, gave me enough wins to ride in the Grand National, so we know the family well.


"He jumped so beautifully - he just goes orbital and it's just the most incredible feeling.


"You come to Cheltenham and you don't dream you're going to win these races - it's magical."


It was a double on the day for trainer Nicky Henderson after the success of Simonsig in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy.


"He has jumped great," said the Seven Barrows trainer.


"It was very soft here last time and that wasn't his true form.


"I'd love to go for the Topham (at Aintree)."


Jockey Brendan Powell jnr enjoyed his first winner at the meeting when storming to victory on Golden Chieftain in the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase.


The 3lb claimer, who is the son of former top jumps jockey Brendan Powell snr, got a good tune out of the bottom weight, trained by Colin Tizzard.


Golden Chieftain (28-1) came through to tackle Our Mick, and shrugged him aside before galloping on strongly to score by 10 lengths.


"It all went to plan," said Tizzard.


"We were half-worried he wouldn't get the trip - we didn't even know he was good enough to win a handicap at Cheltenham like this."


Powell said: "It's unbelievable - it hasn't sunk in.


"Everything that could have gone right did.


"Things haven't gone right for him in the past, but he travelled superb and jumped brilliant and everything just clicked."

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