Pied Piper stole the show at Cheltenham’s Showcase Meeting as he avenged his Aintree defeat to old rival Knight Salute at the home of jump racing.
The Showcase is the annual curtain raiser of the Cheltenham race season as trainers from both sides of the Irish Sea plot their routes towards The Festival in March.
It was Irish domination with five winners from the seven-race card coming from the Emerald Isles.
The backstory to today’s big showdown in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle dates back to the 4YO Juvenile Hurdle at the Grand National meeting back in April. The two horses were neck and neck and could not be separated as the race was declared a dead heat.
But Milton Harris’ Knight Salute was awarded the victory in the stewards’ room as his foe was judged to have caused interference in the race to the line.
This time around, Gordon Elliott’s impressive four-year-old stormed clear after the final hurdle to justify the odds-on favouritism among the bookies. The horse, which came third in last season’s Triumph Hurdle, has now been slashed to 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle after a fine showing on Saturday afternoon.
"He won well and has got a lot stronger since last year,” reflected Elliott. "I loved the way he put his head down and galloped to the line. I'm very happy.
"He is a nice horse. We are going to dream for a while (of the Champion Hurdle), but it is a hot division and he is going to have to keep improving. He'll be trained like a Champion Hurdle horse, but it is a very, very hot division and he's going to have to improve, but if you're not in, you can't win.”
In the first race of the day, Paul Nicholls’ trained Shearer was on target again as the 10/3 shot, who won a minor event at Worcester last time out, prevailed in the Novices’ Hurdle.
Birthday boy Richie McLernon celebrated a welcome winner as he landed the Is Made To Play Handicap Chase in fine style for Neil Mulholland’s 15/2 shot Lord Accord.
Brian Hayes bagged his first Cheltenham winner on Willie Mullins’ Dads Lad (7/2). The seven-year-old was too strong as he shrugged off Effornock Fizz in the second handicap chase of the day in an Irish one-two. Mullins’ son Patrick, who was representing the stable in his father’s absence, revealed the Grand Annual will be on the radar for the horse.
Shoot First (9/4) landed a big gamble as he romped up the famous Cheltenham hill in the Handicap Hurdle as Philip Byrnes secured a nice winner on his first trip to the historical course.
And that banker Elliott-Davy Russell combination struck gold again as 4/1 shot Chemical Energy pipped Mahler Mission (15/8) and fav Life In The Park (10/11) in the Jim Wilson Memorial Novices’ Chase.
Favourite Encanto Bruno (2/1) completed a breathtaking afternoon for the Irish contingent as Tom Scudamore won the final race of the day in the 11-runner flat 2-miler.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change