After great anticipation, the Cheltenham Festival is finally upon us but not as we know it. This year, the mighty ‘Cheltenham roar’ will not echo through Cheltenham Racecourse as the Festival remains behind closed doors due to continued COVID-19 concerns.
Whilst watching ‘the greatest show on turf’ via a screen is never the same as feasting on the racing action in person, Champion Day still contained some glorious moments for horseracing fans across the country.
From surprise victories to close calls, take a look as we break down the best moments across all seven races from day one of this years’ Cheltenham Festival.
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race – 13.20
A fantastic opener to this years’ Cheltenham Festival, as the Willie Mullins trained Appreciate It confirmed his superiority with an impressive 24 length win. Ridden by jockey Paul Townend and timing his charge to perfection, the odds on shot never looked in doubt. Although For Pleasure set a frantic pace from the outset, Appreciate it stalked him the whole way around Prestbury Park and always looked to have his rival covered. Ballyadam finished in second after nearly unseating 2 from home, with For Pleasure eventually coming in at third. Blue Lord, also trained by Willie Mullins was destined to finish as the bridesmaid until falling at the last but is certainly one to keep an eye on for next time.
The Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase – 13.55
The second race of Champion Day saw the hot favourite & one of the most exciting horses in training, Shishkin take the crown, ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville and trained by Nicky Henderson. The race began with Allmankind & Captain Guinness setting an unattainable pace, Shishkin showed all his class and never panicked, eventually taking a 10-length lead approaching the final fence, with Eldorado Allen coming in at second place. Henderson noted that the Festival was strange without the roaring crowds but that the win remained special regardless.
The Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase – 14.30
One for the North! Vintage Clouds, returning for his fifth attempt in the race, finally got his nose in front. Trained by Sue Smith and ridden by Ryan Mania, Vintage Cloud’s took the lead from the outset, with Pym and Alnadam following close behind. Mania stated that he never thought he would become a Cheltenham Festival winner in his ‘wildest dreams’ especially after returning from retirement but that he couldn’t be happier.
The Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (feature race) – 15.05
A fantastic victory from Honeysuckle, as Rachael Blackmore becomes the first female jockey to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle, the feature race of Champion Day. The wonder mare Honeysuckle stormed to victory by 11-lengths and clocking in 3 seconds quicker than the Supreme earlier in the day. The gallant Sharjah followed behind to finish second for the second year running, with the former champion Epatante in third. Blackmore stated she was ‘speechless’ after the victory, hailing Honeysuckle as an ‘incredible’ horse.
The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Race – 15.40
It was an incredibly tight victory for Black Tears in the fifth race of Champion Day. Black Tears, ridden by jockey Jack Kennedy, provided trainer Denise Foster with her first-ever Cheltenham winner. Taking over from Gordon Elliott, Foster was not present to see the victory firsthand, unable to complete the necessary Covid checks in time. The Willie Mullins trained Concertista, ridden by Paul Townend and was the hot favourite. After three favourites had won earlier in the day, the bookmakers were on the run and were potentially the only watchers happy with the outcome of this race. The Dan Skelton trained Roksana finished third.
The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race – 16.15
Perhaps the biggest shock win at the Cheltenham Festival for some time, as Jeff Kidder claimed victory in the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race. The win was not a surprise to trainer, Noel Meade, noting his impressive performance at Leopardstown last December and believing he had a ‘fighting chance’. Jeff Kidder, ridden by Sean Flanagan, managed to beat favourite Saint Sam by two lengths, who came in at second place, whilst Elham Valley finished third. The win marked Flanagan’s first ever Cheltenham Festival victory, stating it is ‘a feeling you can’t explain’ and that the victory was brilliant despite the lack of crowds.
The Sam Vestey National Hunt Novices’ Chase – 16.50
The final race of day one of the Cheltenham Festival saw Galvin claim victory after a five-month absence, ridden by Jack Kennedy and trained by Ian Ferguson, who took over from Gordon Elliott proved that his course and distance win in October was rock solid. The favourite, Escaria Ten, finished in third place whilst Next Destination, who was switched to this race from Wednesday’s Novice Chase on Sunday, finished in second.
What a sensational start to The Cheltenham Festival, which is sure to be followed by some equally gripping moments on day two, Ladies Day.