What an incredible opening day with each race creating major headline in its own right; the final race of the day even created a fairytale. The biggest of those headlines will concern the shock defeat of the Willie Mullins trained Hurricane Fly who could only finish third in the Champion Hurdle beaten by winner Rock On Ruby and 20/1 shot Overturn. Rock On Ruby’s win gave trainer, Paul Nichols a first win in the race.
There was no such shock in the Arkle Trophy Chase where Sprinter Sacre produced one of the great performances of all time at the Cheltenham Festival winning the Grade One by a huge seven lengths from the very game Cue Card.
It was also a fantastic day for the great Quevega who bolted up to win the Mares Hurdle for a record fourth year in a row. The win made up for the earlier disappointment of stablemate Hurricane Fly and was a win which took some of the smiles off the faces of the bookmakers.
The day also saw the very sad loss of both Scotsirish and Garde Champetre following the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.
1.30 Supreme Novice Hurdle
As it always is the Supreme Novices provided a seriously exciting race where the Donald McCain trained, Cinders And Ashes with odds of 10/1 came out on top holding off the strong challenges of Darlan and Trifolium. Galileo’s Choice went off as the 6/1 favourite but could only manage 7th place.
2.05 Arkle Trophy Chase
Nicky Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre who went off as the 8/13 odds on favourite, produced a performance never to be forgotten when winning the ‘Arkle’ by seven lengths. The performance already has everyone connected to National Hunt racing predicting that he will be a future Cheltenham Gold Cup Champion. The very game Cue Card from the Colin Tizzard yard finished second 22 lengths in front of the third horse Menorah.
2.40 JLT Speciality Handicap Chase
Alfie Sherrin from the Jonjo O’Neill stable came with just 50 yards left to deny all the way leader, Fruity O’Rooney victory in this cracking handicap chase, giving jockey, Richard McLernon a first Cheltenham Festival winner. Third horse home was Our Mick with The Package back in fourth.
3.20 Champion Hurdle
11/1 shot Rock On Ruby gave Paul Nicholls his first ever winner in the Champion Hurdle and in the process caused the biggest shock of the day. Hurricane Fly who went off as the 4/6 odds on favourite simply failed to travel and struggled when asked by jockey ruby Walsh for an effort two from home. The race was set up beautifully by the Donald McCain trained Overturn, who set a furious gallop which at one point had looked like setting up the win for him. However he found no extra coming up the hill and had to content himself with second place. Rock On Ruby was a horse clearly at the top of his game and was given a perfect ride by Noel Fehily. He was able to pull out all the stops at the finish and in the end ran out a 3¾ length winner, much to the delight of course to the bookmakers.
4.00 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
A race which will be remembered more for the loss of Garde Champetre and Scotsirish rather than a first ever win for an English trained horse. Balthazar King won the race for trainer, Philip Hobbs and jockey, Richard Johnson who just held off a tenacious challenge from 2010 winner New Story, with 33/1 outsider Wedger Pardy in third and 2011 winner, Sizing Australia fourth.
4.40 Mares Hurdle
This race was all about the brilliant Quevega and she did not let her fans down, winning easily for a fourth successive year by 4 lengths, from Kentford Grey Lady with 66/1 shot Golden Sunbird back in third. It is almost certain that she will be back for a fifth attempt in 2013.
5.15 Pulteney Land Investments Handicap Chase
Hunt Ball trained at the very small Kieran Burke stable and owned by the charismatic Anthony Knott continued his remarkable ‘rags to riches’ fairytale season which has seen him rise in the handicap by over 70 lbs, by winning this usually very competitive Handicap Chase with consummate ease with 12 stone on his back. The eight length win was a huge victory for connections over the handicapper who believed that the horse should have been raised even higher after his last win which would have given them greater ‘Festival’ opportunities. The win also has pundits suggesting that he is a potential ‘Gold Cup’ horse next season to which Knott responded by stating that they would have won it this year had the handicapper got it right!