Drinkwater the toast of New Year's festivities
The New Year's Day meeting may be Cheltenham's first of the year, but it does not pretend to be its best.
However, it often produces feel-good stories and yesterday was no exception; a 50/1 winner for rookie trainer Sam Drinkwater, a belated first winner here for jockey Willie Twiston-Davies and a double for Lizzie Kelly.
Drinkwater, 26, is a former amateur rider who is not only one of the youngest trainers in the country, but one who has held a licence for only a month.
He saddled his first winner, Working Title, at Sedgefield on St Stephen's Day, and Tour Des Champ, who held on by a short head from Doctor Harper in the Betbright Handicap Chase, was only his sixth runner.
The trainer, who is based beside Strensham services on the M5, had the race in mind for the 10-year-old since buying him from the family of the late Raymond Mould out of the yard of his former boss, Nigel Twiston-Davies.
"I quite wanted to run him in the Welsh National," Drinkwater said. "But I didn't have a licence or his syndicate registered in time. Things happen for a reason... there's no way he'd have beaten Native River."
Drinkwater rode three winners at Cheltenham for Fergal O'Brien, but his career was curtailed when he broke a foot badly and his switch in career, he pointed out, had been very much parent-funded.
"I bought him through Katie Mould. When she said they had a few horses for sale, he was one I could afford," he explained.
"He doesn't take his races that well - his first runs have always been his best, which is why I had to have him ready today."
The Betbright Casino Handicap Hurdle will be remembered long after some of the bigger Twiston-Davies winners have been forgotten because it was trainer's son Willie's first at the course and the switch back to hurdles from the Flat marked a turning point in Cogry's season.
Willie, 22, who has forged a successful Flat career, including riding Primitivo to win the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer, had the 2011 Cheltenham Festival's Foxhunter Chase at his mercy as a 16-year-old when unshipped from Baby Run at the second-last fence.
He put that right three weeks later by winning the Aintree equivalent but, as he ploughed his own furrow on the Flat, had to wait until yesterday for a winner at his local course.
Although he refused to "close any chapters", if he has a future as a jockey it would appear to be over jumps now, given his height and weight.
His more-than-willing partner had form figures of 'FBUF' over fences this season, his last fall putting Ryan Hatch in hospital with a broken back, but he was mustard over his hurdles and he fought back very willingly when headed up the run-in to win by a neck from the favourite, Rocklander.
Lizzie Kelly, who described the 2016 part of the 2016-17 season as "pants", at least got the 2017 part of it off to a flier when Coo Star Sivola won the Neptune Novice Hurdle and Agrapart got past L'Ami Serge on the line to win the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle.
"2017 is already looking a very good year," she said. "It's been a hard season until now, particularly for those who work at home.
"It's difficult to watch race after race without results. A lot of the horses have been exposed and we haven't had a lot of luck. Hopefully, that'll change now." (© Daily Telegraph, London)