Jockey Lizzie Kelly was the star of Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day fixture, riding a double for her stepfather Nick Williams, headlined by the victory of Agrapart in the G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle.
12.15pm £20,000 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Listed), 2m 4f 56y
The going at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day changed to Good to Soft, Good in places before racing after four millimetres of rain and the runners in the first race finished strung out apart from the first four past the post.
They were led home by five-year-old Coo Star Sivola, trained by Nick Williams and ridden by his step-daughter Lizzie Kelly, who stayed on strongly up the hill to win, for the first time, by four and half lengths from the front-running Report To Base (Evan Williams/Paul Moloney).
Coo Star Sivola ran well when third in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at The Festival in March and raced prominently among the 10 runners (Dashing Oscar was a non-runner) and went second four out.
Coo Star Sivola challenged the leader between the last two hurdles and was in the lead by the final flight, staying on strongly up the hill. Poetic Rhythm finished a further two and a quarter lengths back in third.
Kelly, who had not partnered a winner since November, was relieved to be back in the winner’s enclosure.
She said: “I am really happy, that is a brilliant start to what should be a good day. I have four rides today.
“He is lovely and I could not have asked for a nicer ride. He had good form and was my second winner at Cheltenham today.
“It is hard when you are not riding winners – you become bit desperate. You have to tell yourself, just chill and keep calm.
“He has done everything I have asked him to do. He stays well, which is his forte, and the soft ground suited him. He is a very good horse and I think he will have more big days hopefully.”
The official going was changed to Soft before the second race.
12.50pm £20,000 Watch Live Racing On BetBright.com Handicap Chase 3m 2f 70y
There was a shock result in the second, with Tour Des Champs holding on by short-head in a thrilling finish from the David Pipe-trained (Tom Scudamore), with Arpege D’Alene (Paul Nicholls/Sean Bowen) third.
Tour Des Champs is handled by a newcomer to the training ranks, Samuel Drinkwater, a former amateur rider who gained his experience with local trainers Nigel Twiston-Davies, who used to be responsible for Tour Des Champs, and then Fergal O’Brien.
Drinkwater received his training licence on December 1 and had his first runner and winner with Working Title at Sedgefield on Boxing Day.
10-year-old Tour Des Champs, who had not raced for 260 days, was just Drinkwater’s fourth runner and first at Cheltenham. The horse did his new owners, Prestbury Racing Club, proud.
The chaser, who used to be owned by the late Raymond Mould, chased the leaders before going second three out. He led two out and just held on in a driving finish.
Drinkwater, who is based at Strensham in Worcestershire, said: “I got my licence at the beginning of December and my brother Joe gave Working Title a great ride to win at Sedgefield. Yes, it is going OK.
“I started off with Nigel Twiston-Davies and he was great to me. I rode my first winner for him, then moved to Fergal O’Brien and rode all his point-to-pointers and learnt a lot there.
“I have about 10 horses at the moment and obviously would like to expand and have plenty more winners.
“Katie Mould, after Mr Mould sadly passed away, asked whether I would be interested in any of the horses and this horse was one of them I was interested in and could afford.
“I was getting a bit worried on the run-in as Tour Des Champs hadn’t a run under his belt but the horse toughed it out.”
The winning rider Robert Dunne added: “That is two winners within a week for Sam.
“I was travelling too well which is why I went for home when I did. All Tour Des Champs does is stay and stay and probably wants further. I did not want to be done for toe and thankfully it worked out.
“It is proper soft ground out there. Sam and I are good mates. He got me the ride on Wayward Prince when the horse won the Scottish National so I owe him a lot.”
There were 16 runners, with Trioka Steppes not taking part because of the ground.
1.25pm £32,000 BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase (Grade Two) 2m 4f 166y
Whisper (Nicky Henderson/Davy Russell) won his second race over fences at Cheltenham when taking the Grade 2 BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase. He was previously successful over the same distance at The International on December 10.
O O Seven was a non-runner because of the soft ground which left four to go to post.
In another thrilling finish, it was nine-year-old Whisper who prevailed by a half-length after a ding-dong battle.
This was the horse’s fourth course victory, with the most notable being success in the 2014 Coral Cup at The Festival.
Russell, who was making it two winners in two days for Henderson after success on William Henry at Newbury, said: “He jumped the last couple of fences really well and stayed on well to the line.
“All credit must go to Nicky Henderson. That was Whisper’s second win over fences at Cheltenham.
“The horse has grown in confidence and has even got stronger underneath me. He stayed really well today.
“It’s soft ground out there but it is the first of January – what do you expect?”
Nicky Henderson added: “He’s won two Aintree Hurdles and all sorts of races, he’s just tough and genuine and is a real friend.
“When these old ones come back it is great. It feels like he has been around a long time, but he is only a novice chaser.
“He’ll have to come into the JLT picture, I think, although he does get three miles. He’ll go on any ground and it never worried me running him on the ground today.
“He’s a brave little fellow and very genuine. The key question now is whether he has a run before the Festival. He doesn’t need to have one.”
Noel Hayes, Director of Sportsbook, BetBright said: “We’ve had a great day’s racing at Cheltenham today, the highlight was Whisper’s winning of the BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase and we’ve made him 12/1 for the JLT Novices Chase for the Festival.”
2.00pm £60,000 BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (Grade Three) 2m 4f 166y
The richest race of the day, the £60,000 BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase went the way of Shantou Flyer (Rebecca Curtis/Aidan Coleman). The seven-year-old was making his first start for Curtis, having previously been trained by Colin Bowe in Ireland.
Despite not enjoying the clearest of runs, the seven-year-old took the lead two fences from home and kept on resolutely to see off Village Vic by three lengths. Top-weight Top Gamble (Kerry Lee/Davy Russell) was a further half-length back in third.
Rebecca Curtis said: “It is so nice for his owner Carl Hinchy to have a winner at Cheltenham. He has put a lot of money into racing and to have a winner here is amazing.
“We were told when he joined us that he wanted better ground but I think the soft ground today has suited him.”
Aidan Coleman added: “I thought it wasn’t going to be my day but this is a very clever horse and is an exceptional jumper. He sidestepped the fallers very well.
“I spoke to Davy Russell and Adrian Heskin who have both ridden him before and they told me all about him. He is a very, very good jumper. He is a genuine horse this – if you get him to the wings of the fence, he will do the rest.”
2.35pm £20,000 BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle 2m 7f 213y
The victory of the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Cogry was notable for the gameness of the winner and the comeback to Jump racing of his rider William Twiston-Davies who had started out in Jump racing before switching to the Flat.
His tally of 189 successes in Britain on the level dwarfs the nine Jump racing. His previous Jump victory was back in May, 2012.
William Twiston-Davies, after his third ride back over jumps, said: “It is an unbelievable feeling to have a Cheltenham winner, five, six years on. Thanks to Dad and Sam for letting me have the ride.
“I really, really pleased though I am thinking of Ryan Hatch. This horse deserved to get a good win. It was a team effort.
“I just want to have a nice time riding over jumps. It’s nice to ride a nice horse for dad.
“I have had a great time riding on Flat and just want to enjoy riding in National Hunt racing.”
His brother Sam Twiston-Davies, stable jockey to champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls, watched the race in the weighing room.
Sam said: “William gave Cogry a great ride and I am delighted for him – he has put a lot of work into getting his weight back.
“If you schooled Cogry at home, you would not think he could fall as he is a brilliant jumper. I was happy for Willy to ride him today. The horse is a real trier.”
The horse led until Rocklander (Tom George/Adrian Heskin) went on after the last but rallied under an inspired ride by Twiston-Davies.
Cogry fell on his previous start in the Unicoin Group Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on December 9 and rider Ryan Hatch sustained neck and back injuries and remains in hospital.
3.10pm £40,000 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle 2m 4f 56y
Jockey Lizzie Kelly and her stepfather Nick Williams enjoyed a double on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham when Agrapart took the Grade 2 Dornan Engineering Hurdle.
The 2015 Stayers’ Hurdle winner Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex/Richard Johnson) led the field along until Agrapart took the lead approaching the last. Agrapart was then headed shortly after the last by L’Ami Serge (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob) but battled back gamely to score by a head.
Kelly said: “Agrapart is a legend. I knew today we had a great shout.
“The way he won the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last season, I always thought he would stay a bit further. It has rained all day which suited him.
“I have no idea where he will go now. I would like to think he would stay three miles.
“It’s been a tough season but is amazing to come here and have two winners. It’s a credit to all the team at home.
Nick Williams said: “It is fantastic because we haven’t been winning many races lately.
“It was a brilliant ride from Lizzie. She is a very, very strong in a finish, there is no question about that.
“She has won a lot of photos against some very strong jockeys. She is particularly good in a finish.”
3.40pm £20,000 EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Standard Open NHF Race (Listed)1m 5f 209y
Cap Soleil (Fergal O’Brien/Paddy Brennan) survived a stewards’ enquiry to take the concluding EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Standard Open NHF Race.