Cheltenham Festival Day One Review: Espoir D'Allen Reigns In Champion, As Rachael Blackmore Claims First Festival Winner
Gavin Cromwell's Espoir D'Allen was the star of the show on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, as the JP McManus-owned raider stormed to an emphatic win in the Champion Hurdle, which saw former champion Buveur D'Air crash out in the early part of the race, while the well-backed Apple's Jade failed to fire on Tuesday afternoon and finished a distant sixth.
It had been billed as the race of the entire festival with Buveur D'Air, Apple's Jade and the Willie Mullins-trained Laurina set to serve up an absolute corker, but after Buveur D'Air fell, Apple's Jade drifted off the pace, it was left for Laurina to try and land the prize for backers of the fancied trio. However, she struggled in the closing stages and it was Espoir D'Allen who scooted clear in the closing stages to win by 15 lengths.
A first festival winner for Cromwell, it was the third year in a row that owner JP McManus had claimed the victory, but the 16/1 about Espoir D'Allen before the off just showed what a shock victory it was for the green and gold silks.
The action at Prestbury Park kicked off in relatively similar fashion to previous years with Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh teaming up for victory in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, as Klassical Dream lead pretty much all the way to claim the opener, while in the Arkle, Mullins was celebrating once again as he saddled Duc Des Genievres to victory in the two-mile novice event, but he was ridden by Paul Townend.
It appeared like Mullins would be grabbing a day one hat-trick in the Mares' Hurdle, as last year's heroine Benie Des Dieux tanked to the front before a final flight fall ignited memories of Annie Power's late tumble in the same race, and as Walsh departed the side door it was Dan Skelton's Roksana that was the beneficiary and she claimed the prize.
Nicky Henderson claimed another Cheltenham Festival winner on Tuesday as Beware The Bear outstayed his rivals to claim victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase, while there was a memorable victory for Rachael Blackmore, who piloted A Plus Tard to victory in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.
Blackmore, who has a superb book of rides throughout the four-day extravaganza cruised round on board the only winning favourite of the day, and she pulled well clear of the field to claim the penultimate race on the card and launch herself into contention for the top jockey crown.
The action concluded with an energy-sapping National Hunt Chase, which only saw a few finishers, but it was Ben Pauling's Le Breuil, who claimed the four-miler for top notch amateur Jamie Codd, who managed to fight off the brave effort of Discorama in the finale.
A sensational day's racing lit up Cheltenham, but it's now all systems go for Wednesday's action, but the meeting needs to pass an 8am inspection, as the threat of high winds could put the meeting in jeopardy.