Cheltenham Festival day one kicked off with flying colours on Tuesday 12th March. The first day of The Festival attracted a record breaking crowd of 67,934 spectators all wanting a taste of the Cheltenham action. Despite the rainy weather and high winds thousands of racing enthusiasts enjoyed a day at the races worth savouring. All seven races certainly provided a nail biting few minutes for those with bets on. It’s safe to say that day one was a bad day for punters! There were shocking falls and defeats that no one could have predicted. Surprise wins came from the likes of Beware The Bear, Roksana and Espoir D’Allen. Which was the biggest shock for you?
Champion Day 2019 Recap
With three more days of The Festival remaining let’s recap on all that went down at Cheltenham Racecourse on the opening day.
Race One: Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Although delayed by a false start the highly anticipated Cheltenham roar rippled through the racecourse as the first race got underway. Legendary Cheltenham trainer Willie Mullins started the day off well with a first race win. The Supreme Novices Hurdle saw Klassical Dream ran by jockey Ruby Walsh win at odds of 6-1. The four and a half length triumph showcased star quality that closely matched his previous winnings in Ireland.
The Festival’s most esteemed jockey Ruby Walsh led the horse to victory in a prominent position throughout. First race in, Walsh extended his winning tally to 59 wins at Cheltenham and following the race he said Klassical Dream ran like a true stag.
In second and third came Thomas Darby and Itchy Feet. The bookies favourites however didn’t have such a successful race. Al Dancer originally headed the 18 strong field and was expected by many to come out victorious. The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained horse however came in at tenth place. Therefore crushing the chance of extending his unbeaten season. Fakir D’oudairies was another favourite set to be victorious that fell short of a top three finish.
The first race was just a preview of the surprise wins that followed throughout the day. Overall, despite the fact bets may have been lost the first race certainly set the stage for an exhilarating race day.
Race Two: Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase
Willie Mullins celebrated another win in the second race of the Cheltenham opener. Duc Des Genievres stormed ahead and went on to win the Racing Post Arkle by a massive 13 lengths. The victorious horse spotted an opportunity to take the lead after front runner Ornua brought down Kalashnikov at the sixth fence. The race certainly was an intense watch.
Mullins spoke proudly after the race of the pairing with jockey Paul Townend. He said Duc Des Genievres showed excellent form and the ground changed him completely. He also stated how lucky he was to have two winners so early into The Festival, but knowing Cheltenham anything can happen.
Second and third place runners Us and Them and Articulum struggled to keep up with the dominant front runner. Hardline was bookies favourite and was expected to at least be in the top three. However, he came in seventh. This was the second race to highlight that unexpected wins were happening at Cheltenham.
Race Three: Ultima Handicap Chase
The third race of the day came just before 3pm and was certainly one of the most surprising of the day. The victory was awarded to Beware The Bear who manged to beat off the fiercely competitive lineup and finished first at odds of 10-1. Jerry Mcgrath led the Nicky Henderson trained horse to a sublime victory.
The race was an intense watch and for much of the race it looked as though Willie Mullins could bag his third consecutive win. Up For Review put on a strong performance that showed promise, right up until the third fence from the finish. A mistake which ultimately cost him the win and resulted in a seventh place finishing.
Beware the Bear was able to beat off strong competition from Sue Smith’s Vintage Clouds who finished in second place. A last minute change in tactics is said to be what lead jockey Jerry Mcgrath to put on such an impressive performance. Just before the race Nicky Henderson is said to have influenced Mcgrath to drop in, keep away and stay wide.
The last minute change of plan played massively in their favour and the win was thoroughly deserved.
Race Four: Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
Espoir D’Allen caused a seismic shock in the third race of champion day at Cheltenham Festival. The race many couldn’t believe as none of the three favourites came close to a victory. Despite the strong profile Espoir D’Allen came with, he was not expected to out perform the likes of Buveur D’Air, Laurina and Apple’s Jade. Buveur D’Air dominated the betting market and was set to make history by becoming the sixth horse to win two-mile blue riband three times. However, he fell at the halfway stage resulting in a shocking turn of events for punters.
Espoir D’Allen’s performance was quite extraordinary and he stormed to victory with a record breaking 15 length win. Trainer Gavin Cromwell struggled to put into words what the victory meant and couldn’t believe it.
An unbelievable win for this incredible horse and his connections. One that will stay as a highlight of The Festival for 2019.
Race Five: OLBG Mares’ Hurdle
Race five was another dramatic one. Favourite Benie Des Dieux fell at the final flight which sealed a difficult start for owner Rich Ricci. This fall was something else that sent shock waves throughout Cheltenham. The last minute fall opened the path for Roksana to take the lead and become victorious. This awarded Dan and Harry Skelton with their first Grade One success, an amazing achievement!
Roksana managed to beat Stormy Ireland and Good Thyne Tara by two and a quarter lengths in the dramatic finish. An injury in the Autumn meant that Roksana only had one race before the big event at Cheltenham. Skelton spoke of how this move had been inspired by Native River’s Gold Cup win. Victories could be done!
Race Six: Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase
A Plus Tard cantered home in true style in the penultimate race of the day awarding Rachael Blackmore with her first Cheltenham win. The pairing were an enviable duo on the field. Blackmore’s patient approach lead them to a victory 16 lengths ahead of second place runner Tower Bridge.
Despite Blackmore falling off Ornua in the Racing Post Arkle in the day the jockey brushed herself off and put on an impressive performance.
Ben Dundee and The Russian Doyen came in at third place in the exciting race. Overall it was a thrilling way to begin the conclusions for Champion Day.
Race Seven: National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase
The final race of Champion Day begun at 17:30pm and it was a race that shocked many fans. Unfortunately, it was a bitter sweet race that was tainted by the falling of favourite Ballyward at the 17th fence. The gruelling race certainly had its toll on many of the runners with only four of the 18 lineup finishing. Unfortunately, Ballyward had to be euthanized following the fatal fall and died. This was a devastating end to such a fantastic day at the Cheltenham Festival.
The bitter sweet victory was awarded to Le Breuil resulting in Jamie Codd’s eight success at the meeting.
The first day of Cheltenham Festival was full of shocks and surprises. Many couldn’t have predicted the events that occurred. Yesterday just highlights that anything can happen at Cheltenham Festival. The most exhilarating race meeting of the season continues this week with Ladies Day, St Patrick’s Thursday and the prestigious Gold Cup Day still to come.