Cheltenham Festival 2020: Champion Day Review

The Cheltenham Festival 2020 is finally in motion! This year’s greatest show on turf has been eagerly anticipated and Champion Day certainly didn’t disappoint. Day one of the festival immediately got off to a flying start with the Novices’ Hurdle Race with plenty of special moments throughout the day. Read on for details of the successes and struggles during every Champion Day race. 

The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race

Talk about a gripping opener for The Cheltenham Festival! Asterion Forlonge was the favourite to win the Supreme Novices Hurdle, having been victorious in the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leapordstown last month. As expected, Asterion Forlonge took the lead from the outset and was on track to fulfil predictions. Things soon took a turn for the worst as Asterion Forlonge jumped to the right during the 7th hurdle, causing Captain Guinness and Elixir D’ainay to fall. From here, Shishkin and Abacadabras galloped ahead almost neck and neck but it was Shishkin who took the crown. The victory provides another handsome Cheltenham Festival win for jockey Nico de Boinville and is the 65th win for trainer Nicky Henderson. A fantastic feat for the duo after announcing that Altior will no longer be running in the Queen Mother Champion Hurdle on Ladies Day. Described as a potential star of the future, Shishkin is clearly one to look out for. 

The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase

Time for a potential Champion Day showdown! Having won the Grade 1 ERSG Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown last month, Notebook was the favourite to win the Arkle Challenge Trophy. But racegoers were eager to see how the race would play out given that rival, Cash Back, would also be running alongside him. As the race began it was Cash Back and Put The Kettle On who were the lead 2 for the majority. Eventually we saw Fakir D’oudairies manage to catch up to second place in a head to head with Put The Kettle On. Ultimately it was Put The Kettle On who became the Cheltenham champion alongside jockey Aiden Coleman, which marks the jockey’s 3rd Cheltenham win.  

The Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase

Yet another thrilling race with unpredictable results. The majority of the race saw Cepage take the lead with Vindication and Vintage Clouds not far behind in what looked to be the top trio. Cepage’s progress looked promising having won the 5 Sleeps to Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase during Festival Trials Day in January. In a sudden turn of events, Cepage was pipped at the final stretch by The Conditional with Kildisart and Discorama coming in second and third. The Conditional has experienced Cheltenham success previously, having won the Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap Chase in October last year. 

The Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy

It’s the race we’ve all been waiting for. It’s the jewel in the crown of Champion Day, The Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy. The results played out as many of us expected. Epatante, the favourite to win the Champion Hurdle Trophy, held a strong lead throughout the race and charged ahead to the finish line with Sharjar and Darver Star following behind in 2nd and 3rd place. Epatante has had a respectable run throughout her racing career, only losing 2 out of 9 races. The victory has provided Nicky Henderson with his 8th Champion Hurdle win. He is officially Cheltenham’s most successful trainer with 66 overall wins. 

The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Race

Girl power reigned supreme here! Benie Des Dieux was the favourite to take the crown for this year’s Mares Hurdle race. Surprisingly, it was Stormy Island who took the lead for the majority of the race with Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux following behind. Benie Des Dieux put up a fighting performance in comparison to Honeysuckle’s more effortless run. Clearly this paid off as the two of them battled in out towards the final stretch with Honeysuckle taking the win alongside jockey Rachel Blackmore. Honeysuckle has had an incredibly strong run over the past 2 years, winning every race she had run. The Mares Hurdle has given her another victory to add to her collection. 

The Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase

Imperial Aura was always in for a strong chance for the Novices’ Handicap Chase and was able to fend off rivals during Cheltenham’s penultimate race of the day. We saw Imperial Aura come 2nd during Festival Trials Day in January but thankfully he was able to put up a fighting performance and take the crown on the day that mattered the most. 

The National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Steeple Chase) 

We witnessed a fantastic display from Ravenhill in the final race of Champion Day as jockey Jamie Codd saluted the Cheltenham crowds after claiming the win. Ravehill was able to take an almost 2 length lead against runner up Lord Du Mesnil. What a brilliant way to end the opening day of Cheltenham. 

What a truly fantastic opening to The Cheltenham Festival. There were some surprise results and some expected successes. Champion Day is always full of excitement as racegoers revel in the exhilaration of the Festival opener. We can’t wait to see what Ladies Day has in store for us!

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