2.00pm £20,000 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 2m 5f
County Meath handler Dermot McLoughlin is already eyeing a return to Cheltenham in March 2019 with Canardier.
He cruised up under Barry Geraghty to collar long-time leader and chief market rival Go Another One (John McConnell IRE/Sean Bowen) after the final flight before going clear to score by two and a quarter lengths.
Make My Heart Fly (Gordon Elliott IRE/Richard Johnson) finished third, a further six lengths in arrears, as Irish handlers claimed a clean sweep in the opening race of Cheltenham’s season.
Dermot McLoughlin commented: “Today was a fact-finding mission to see whether Canardier was good enough to come back here in March and how he would cope with the travelling over as he has never travelled overseas before.
“He was third over three miles at Down Royal the last day, so he seems to be versatile enough in terms of trip. Barry was happy – he said that the ground was on the slow side for Canardier, who seems to like it when he can rattle off it.
“The lads who own him would definitely like to be back here in March. He won’t go on real winter ground back home and it depends on what we do now. We could head to Leopardstown for Christmas or we might pull the plug on him until the spring.”
Barry Geraghty added: “Canardier is a half-brother to [Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase winner] Oiseau De Nuit by Crillon, the sire of Buveur D’Air, so he has plenty of pace but stays well. Dermot has done a good job and it was a good, solid performance.
“The ground is on the slow side of good, but it’s not deep. They have done a great job with it – everywhere else is like concrete, so they have done really well. It’s beautiful jumping ground but it is quick underneath.”
Havana Beat was humanely put down after sustaining a shoulder injury after falling at the fifth flight of hurdles.
2.35pm £25,000 squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase 1m 7f 199y
Diakali maintained his unbeaten record over fences for Sussex-based trainer Gary Moore with an all-the-way success in an action-packed race.
After two wide-margin wins at Fontwell and Newton Abbot, the nine-year-old grey produced an assured round of jumping for Joshua Moore and was left in front at the penultimate fence following the fall of the strong-travelling Dear Sire (Donald McCain/Brian Hughes) who was challenging.
One For Billy (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton) was in the process of laying down a strong challenge up the run-in, but went through the tapes on the inside where the courses intersect and ran out, leaving Diakali to come home nine lengths clear of the never nearer Sister Sybil (Hughie Morrison/Tom O’Brien).
Gary Moore commented: “Ruby Walsh told me not to be scared of trying Diakali over fences and, the first time we did it, he frightened the life out of me and I nearly didn’t do it again. Coming up the second time, he was dynamite – he just loves to jump and really enjoys it.
“It is his jumping that takes other horses out of their comfort zone. He’s not a fast horse but, because he jumps so quickly, he gains ground at his fences.
“He was probably a bit of a lucky winner, but you need a bit of luck in this game.
“Josh is a good horseman and gets on well with the horse. It’s a whole team effort and the way we train him – he lives outside most days.
“He could come back here for the two-mile novices’ chase at The November Meeting, and he could also go to Sandown Park later on.”
Joshua Moore said: “Once Diakali warms into his stride, he is a very intelligent horse and you are able to leave it to him. He has had a break since his last win and hasn’t been over-trained for today as he is an older horse. Hopefully, he can improve from here.
“I could hear what was happening with the rails but I couldn’t see as I was a length ahead at the time. The second horse followed the path off and I would imagine that there isn’t much time to correct them in a tight finish. I’m not sure if my horse interfered.
“Diakali has proven himself as a younger horse, being a Grade One winner. He is probably not at the same heights but, if you can keep his mind on the jump, he can probably still mix it with that company.
“Fences are a new thing for him and he seems to enjoying it, so there might be a nice race in him somewhere.”
The Cheltenham stewards reported that an enquiry was held into the circumstances surrounding One For Billy running out after jumping the final fence. Harry Skelton, the rider of One For Billy, and Joshua Moore, the rider of the winner, Diakali, were interviewed and shown recordings of the incident. Having heard their evidence and viewed recordings of the incident, the stewards found that no interference had taken place and One For Billy had followed the running rail and then ran out through the tape.
3.10pm £15,400 Brandon Hill Capital Handicap Hurdle 2m 5f
First Assignment (10st 13lb) signed off a progressive first season over hurdles with a good third in a handicap hurdle at Sandown in March and the Ian Williams-trained five-year-old continued his upward curve with a last-gasp victory on his return to action to land a gamble.
Vive Le Roi (Tony Carroll/Harry Bannister, 10st 12lb) made a bold bid for home at the top of the hill and looked to have seen off all challengers with half a furlong to race, only for strongly-backed 9/2 favourite First Assignment to swoop late and get up on the line for a short-head verdict.
Ian Williams, based south of Birmingham, said: “I was worried that First Assignment wasn’t quite sharp enough today. Turning out from down the back, he was travelling so well and got a great position two out.
“I thought he had a squeak jumping the last, but he had come to the end of his fitness, but he has battled on very gamely. It was a tough performance by the horse and he did very well today.
“I am not sure what we will do now and we will take him home. He is going to take this race hard because he has had a much tougher race than I would have anticipated.
“He has had very little racing and Tom (Scudamore – jockey) said that he is learning as he goes – he will have learnt an enormous amount today and is sure to progress with the coming season.
“We didn’t know whether to keep him over hurdles or sent him chasing, but I think he has just secured a hurdles campaign this season, so we will work on from today.”
Tom Scudamore added: “It was never in doubt, was it! He is tough, jumped superbly and it was a good jump at the last, which gave us enough momentum to get by.
“He was in top gear more or less the whole way through, but he is a good horse, who is improving all the time.”
3.45pm £25,000 ‘Matchbook Time To Move Over’ Novices’ Chase 3m 80y
Lil Rockerfeller was runner-up in the 2017 Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle and the seven-year-old followed up a debut chase victory at Uttoxeter earlier this month with a comfortable win under Wayne Hutchinson.
He overcame several errors under Wayne Hutchinson to take up the running at the top of the straight before staying on gamely up the hill to beat Treackle Tart (Charlie Longsdon/Jonny Burke) by four lengths.
Winning trainer Neil King said: “Lil Rockefeller is just so lazy. We decided to leave the headgear off him this season and we can always fall back on that when it is more important later on, but he is a lazy horse at home and was bone idle out there today.
“I thought that, when he nudged a fence, it would wake him up and buck his ideas up, but he elbowed another one later on. He is a class horse and class has showed.
“He will have learnt a lot – the best thing is that he has made those two mistakes and it hasn’t put him off at all. A lot of horses could have wimped out on their second start over fences and gone backwards. I thought his best three jumps were the last three, when it really matters.
“He has won at Glorious Goodwood on the Flat and then we took him to Uttoxeter, when he looked slow over two and a half miles. We brought him here to run over three miles and he still looks slow!
“He is just a very lazy horse, but he has won his race and got a little bit of Cheltenham experience under the belt.
“We will go home, have a look and a think. I’ll also have a chat with Wayne to see what he thinks.”
Wayne Hutchinson commented: “Lil Rockerfeller wasn’t as smooth as he was at Uttoxeter, but he has had a lot of time to dream on me today. He has been hard work all the way round and I would imagine that we will be reaching for the headgear again after today.
“He had every chance to lose his bottle, but has kept his nerve. He jumped impeccably round a flat track at Uttoxeter and he has learned something again today on an undulating course.”
4.20pm £15,000 Foundation Developments Ltd Maiden Hurdle 2m 87y
Up and coming trainer Olly Murphy gained a first Cheltenham victory as Huntingdon bumper winner Thomas Darby made a winning debut over hurdles with a striking display under Richard Johnson.
The Diana Whateley-owned five-year-old looked held in third jumping the final fligh,t but quickened smartly up the hill to overhaul Elixir Du Nutz (Colin Tizzard/Harry Cobden) and Bang On Frankie (5/1, Nicky Martin/Matt Griffiths) to win going away by three and a quarter lengths.
Olly Murphy said: “Thomas Darby is a big green baby, who won at Huntingdon in May, and I am delighted. Two hurdles out, I thought he would run a nice race and finish in the four, but he has taken off from the back of the last and taken off again 50 yards from the line.
“We want to mix it with the big boys and it’s nice to get my first Cheltenham winner. He is certainly a horse who might take us a few places – he won’t want the ground too soft but we might look at coming back here next month. He is a nice horse with a good engine.”
Richard Johnson remarked: “It’s lovely when they are able to win a novice hurdle around here when they still look quite immature and I am sure that he is bound to improve for the experience.
“All the way the round, he was a bit clumsy when he didn’t meet his hurdles spot on. It was his first time hurdling in public and, because the weather has been so dry, it has been hard to get as much schooling as you would like.
“I schooled him yesterday morning and he was very good, but it is never quite the same as the race.
“We went an honest gallop and it’s always nice when you have a true run race. It’s always nice to see a horse gallop up the hill – lots of horse come down the hill looking great but don’t get up it. A horse that finishes well is always a great thing.
“Olly is a young trainer with a big future and the Whateleys have some nice horses with him.”
4.55pm £15,000 Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase 3m 1f
Trainer Dan Skelton enjoyed his 100th success of the 2018/19 campaign when Sam Red (Mr William Marshall (7), 10st 12lb) won the Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase.
Sam Red looked booked for a place at best approaching the last as Oighear Dubh (Eugene O’Sullivan IRE/ Mr M J M O’Sullivan (7), 10st 10lb) looked to hold a commanding advantage on the run-in.
However, Oighear Dubh ran out left through the tape halfway up the run-in and that left Presenting Julio (Gordon Elliott IRE/Me Jamie Codd, 11st 3lb) in the lead. Presenting Julio tired and was passed by both Sam Red and the second Fifty Shades (Christian Williams/Mr Jack Tudor (7), 9st 10lb) before the line. There was three-quarters of a length between the first two, with Presenting Julio another two and a half lengths back in third.
An emotional Dan Skelton commented: “There is a lot of work that goes into this. It has been brilliant.
“It is great to get to 100 so quickly. It is only a number though and we have just got to keep going.
“It has been an unbelievable day. I was so mad earlier [when One For Billy ran out in the squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase] and I let myself and everybody down by the way I acted.
“What happened in this race was exactly the same as what happened with One For Billy.
“To get to 100 winners is great for all the team – Phil Hayward who does all the travelling and Tom Messenger, who goes everywhere with Harry. Harry has ridden all the horses.
“We set out to have a great summer, but it is just incredible. I never thought it was possible to get to 100 winners by the end of October. Someone has to be the first to get to 100 winners in the season and we wanted to try and do it this time. There has been a lot involved to get to 100 winners with all the miles that are travelled – I just sit at home and declare them!
“Today has shown what racing is like – it’s bloody hard! It’s weird how it goes – you win some and you lose some.”
5.30pm £15,000 ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’ Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 2m 87y
By far the easiest winner of the day came in the concluding ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’ Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle courtesy of Storm Rising (Dr Richard Newland/Charlie Hammond (3), 10st 13lb).
The winner was making his first start for trainer Dr Richard Newland, having previously been with Denis Hogan in Ireland. He was sold for £20,000 at Goffs last month.
Always travelling well, the five-year-old went clear of his field rounding the turn for home and won, heavily eased down by four lengths under Charlie Hammond from Magic Dancer (Kerry Lee/Richard Patrick (3), 11st 4lb).
Dr Richard Newland said: “Storm Rising has been working great at home and I would have been very disappointed if he didn’t run very, very well. We fancied him a bit today.
“He is a Galway winner, albeit in one of the lower level handicaps, but even so you have got to be pretty good to win those races.
“He has had his issues – I think he had a tie-forward operation for his breathing – but it is very exciting for the guys who have come in on him. I only bought him six weeks ago, so we are thrilled to bits.
“He has an entry next week and will probably look to go again quite quickly I would think as he will have no penalty.
“Longer term, it is just great to see the improvement. I see him as a good ground horse so I don’t think we will be having too many more runs, maybe one or two more, and then he will have a break in preparation for the summer. I suppose races like Summer Hurdle at Market Rasen could be one of the options.”
Charlie Hammond, riding his first Cheltenham winner, added: “It is a bit special riding a winner here and you don’t get many easier than that anywhere.
“I have had 10 winners for Dr Richard Newland this season and he has been very supportive.
“I rode a winner for him yesterday and have a nice ride for him tomorrow and again on Sunday. Hopefully, we can go well again.”