Tuesday 22 October 2019

Michael Verney's Day 1 race reads

Paul Townend and Duc Des Genievres jump the last on their way to victory in yesterday’s Racing Post Arkle. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Paul Townend and Duc Des Genievres jump the last on their way to victory in yesterday’s Racing Post Arkle. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney


As Murphy's Law goes, the Festival opener had a false start - caused by the eager Klassical Dream - before the 16 runners took off three minutes late.

Bryony Frost hit the front on Neil King's Brandon Castle with Fakir D'oudairies and Klassical Dream in close pursuit as Angels Breath took a keen hold in behind and was one of the first beaten.

Klassical Dream cruised into contention hurdling very slickly under Ruby Walsh and moved ahead at the top of the hill before pulling out plenty to run out an impressive winner by four-and-a-half lengths.

The Olly Murphy pair of Thomas Darby (Richard Johnson) and Itchy Feet (Gavin Sheehan) ran crackers in second and third respectively but it was all about Willie Mullins and Walsh as they kicked off the Festival in style.


It looked like the home team held most of the aces but the leading British challengers quickly fell by the wayside with Jonathan Burke parting company with Glen Forsa at the fourth.

Rachael Blackmore blazed a trail in front aboard Ornua before coming to grief at the sixth and hampering Kalashnikov, which threw Jack Quinlan to the floor and things would get worse with Lalor pulled up after the ninth.

All the while Paul Townend oozed confidence on Duc Des Genievres but Gordon Elliott's Hardline (100/30 favourite) never looked like landing a blow and laboured home seventh of the eight finishers.

Townend led three out before drawing clear and staying on impressively to come home 13 lengths in front of Joseph O'Brien's Us And Them with Terence O'Brien's Articulum back in third in an Irish 1-2-3.


Boos rang out after another false start and Tom Scudamore took it up on Activial when things got under way in an eventful affair.

Eleven of the 24 runners didn't complete including last year's winner Coo Star Sivola (8/1 co-favourite), Mister Whitaker (8/1 co-fav) and the well-fancied Give Me A Copper while the chances of Up For Review (8/1 co-fav) were compromised with a jumping error at the third last.

Nico de Boinville would soon take over at the front on O O Seven as Big River made a series of small mistakes but Jeremiah McGrath was tracking the leaders on the patiently-ridden Beware The Bear and looming large.

He hit the front between last two fences and despite drifting left on the run-in, he stayed on well in demanding conditions to his liking to deny the Trevor Hemmings-owned pair of Vintage Clouds (second) and Lake View Lad (third)


Few would have predicted that a 16/1 shot would be chased home by a 20/1 chance and 80/1 no-hoper but that unfolded in one of the most eventful Champion Hurdles in recent memory.

Melon took it up from the off under Townend in a change of tactics from the Mullins camp and he was tracked by favourite Apple's Jade, which made a mistake at the second.

Jack Kennedy never looked comfortable as Apple's Jade would labour home in sixth and there was a lot of drama behind her early on with defending champion Buveur D'Air hitting the deck at the third and bringing down Patrick Mullins and Sharjah.

Laurina cruised into contention four out and had every chance coming around the home bend but never picked up under Walsh as Gavin Cromwell's five-year-old cruised into contention.

Mark Walsh pushed the button between the last two hurdles and drew clear approaching the last before staying on impressively and scoring by 15 lengths from Melon and Evan Williams' outsider to prove himself at Grade One level in stunning fashion. He became the first five-year-old since Katchit to land the two-mile hurdling showpiece since 2008.


All eyes were on Mullins' hot favourite Benie Des Dieux - many people's banker of the meeting - and she got a beautiful toe into the race in the slipstream of Closutton stablemates Stormy Ireland and Good Thyne Tara.

Townend set a decent gallop on Stormy Ireland but the race fell perfectly for Benie Des Dieux as Walsh cruised into contention to lead two out and open up a three-length advantage heading to the last.

All the mare needed to do was get over the last but the groans rang out when she clipped the top of the last and hit the deck leaving Harry Skelton in front on Roksana for his brother Dan.

The fortunate seven-year-old drifted right on the run-in but was galvanised by Skelton and her extra stamina was a difference-maker late on as she came home over two lengths in front of Stormy Ireland with Good Thyne Tara in third.


There was another false start before the penultimate contest but the well-fancied A Plus Tard was always in the box seat under Blackmore when things eventually kicked off.

Plenty of his rivals made jumping errors and only 11 of the 20 runners made it home safely - Tom Taaffe's Riders Onthe Storm fell at the sixth - but A Plus Tard enjoyed a smooth passage on his handicap chase debut.

Blackmore had him jumping superbly and eased to the front on the home turn before quickening away in the fashion of a well-handicapped horse which thrives in big fields.

The Tipperary jockey was taking no chances as they powered up the 'Hill' by 16 lengths with Tower Bridge (second) and Ben Dundee (third) making it a clean sweep for the Irish.


The final race of the day was carnage from start to finish and didn't make for nice viewing with just four finishers from 18 runners.

There were a staggering eight fallers - including the fatal injury for Mullins' Ballyward - with the Ben Pauling-trained Le Breuil (first) and Discorama (second) finishing 47 lengths clear.

A searing pace was set by various leaders despite the gruelling trip and conditions and the winner galloped and jumped superbly with the assistance of brilliant amateur Jamie Codd seeing him home by half a length.

Try as Barry O'Neill might on Discorama, Codd's mount had a little bit extra in a pulsating finish to the finale on day one.

A reminder that you can get all the behind-the-scenes action from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival  with Michael Verney over on the Independent Sport Instagram page.

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