The 2019 Cheltenham Festival got underway on Tuesday – and as always there were plenty of thrills and spills across the first two days. Here, we review the action as the Champion Hurdler and 2-milers were crowned.
As the tape went up just after 1:30pm for the opening race, the usual roar from a record crowd (67,934) went up to signify the start of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival for the Supreme Novices Hurdle. It was no real surprise either to see the race go to the Mullins/Walsh combo, as Ruby sat motionless on Klassical Dream for a comfortable 4 length victory, with favourite Fakir D’Oudairies a well beaten fourth. This set the tone for a bad day for favourite backers, as only one jolly, A Plus Tard, this coming in the 4:50 Handicap Chase.
The big race of the day was the 3:30 – the Champion Hurdle – and the much anticipated clash of the big three – defending champion Buveur D’Air facing off against pretenders Apples Jade and Laurina, the former going off favourite. Mid way through the race, after not looking fluent, Buveur D’Air fell, meaning a new name would be inscribed on the trophy. Apples Jade soon fell away and Laurina started to struggle, giving way for Espoir D’Allen (pictured above) under Mark Walsh in the famous JP McManus colours to cruise to the front and pull away for a 15 length victory, over the luckless Melon who again found one too good for him. Silver Streak ran a great race at mighty odds for third. Although the ground was soft, no excuses here for the three main protagonists – the feeling being that Buveur D’Air would have struggled to see off the eventual winner even staying on his hooves.
Earlier, in the Arkle, Duc De Genievres had given Willie Mullins another winner, winning comfortably in what wasn’t the strongest renewal of the race. Nicky Henderson opened his Cheltenham account for 2019 before his disappointment in the Champion Hurdle when Beware the Bear held off Vintage Clouds and Lake View Lad in the Ultima Chase.
If Tuesday felt a little flat, Wednesday certainly made up for it, as two racing superstars gave exhilarating performances as they further etched their name into the equine history books. Firstly, the almighty Altior won his third Champion Chase and 18th consecutive race under orders. He didn’t have it all his own way though, with Sceau Royal and Politologue scaring Altior after the last by having the audacity to head him…but class showed up the Cheltenham hill and Altior prevailed by just under 2 lengths, with jockey Nico De Boinville acknowledging it wasn’t his best run – but he still won.
If that delighted the Cheltenham crowd, the next race went even further, as the diminutive Tiger Roll (above) won his second Cross Country race – but the manner in which he claimed victory couldn’t have been more impressive…the ‘Tiger’ crushing his rivals in a 22 length victory, and looking every inch the long distance jumping superstar – virtually, on this performance – unbeatable. Could he win his second Grand National? It will be fascinating to see.
In other races, Topofthegame took the RSA Novices Chase for trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Harry Cobden, seeing off hot favourite Delta Work who could only manage third. The Nico De Boinville/Nicky Henderson duo warmed up for Altior’s success by winning the Coral Cup – a huge handicap hurdle – just fending off Wicklow Brave by a short head to claim victory. The day concluded with two wins for favourite backers – Envoi Allen winning the Bumper just after Band of Outlaws had won under J J Slevin.
After two days, three jockeys had two winners each in the race for Festival top jockey – Mark Walsh, Nico De Boinville and amateur jockey Jamie Codd.