latest festival news
BEST MATE HAT-TRICK
IN GOLD CUP
1515 Tote Cheltenham
Gold Cup (3m 2f)
1. Best Mate (Jim Culloty) 8-11f
2. Sir Rembrandt (A Thornton) 33-1
3. Harbour Pilot (P Carberry) 20-1
10 ran. Dist: 0.5, 1.25
Best Mate emulated the mighty Arkle with his third successive win in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 18.
He had to dig very deep to hold off Sir Rembrandt and Harbour Pilot but proved himself in the process a worthy winner.
In a driving finish, Jim Culloty asked him for everything and he was not found wanting. Sir Rembrandt flew down the outside to deny last year third Harbour Pilot for second.
Culloty enjoyed an quiet ride on the champion as he soared over each fence up the inside rail with French raider First Gold jumping for fun in front for Thierry Doumen.
As the race started in earnest a groan was heard around the Cheltenham stands as Best Mate was squeezed for room.
He jumped to the front approaching two out but Harbour Pilot refused to give in and looked a definite threat to the 8-11 favourite.
Andrew Thornton produced another effort out of his mount Sir Rembrandt producing a fitting finale to the world's greatest championship steeplechase.
But Best Mate was just too strong and finished half a length ahead of Sir Rembrandt with Harbour Pilot one and a quarter lengths away in third.
Jim Culloty said: "We said beforehand that the only safe way was down the inside, because down the middle was cut up last year and there was no grass on it.
"We had to take the gamble, and at times I wasn't getting the best of runs. Everybody was saying it was a steering job, but it was a Gold Cup and there is no quarter given."
Henrietta Knight referring to the Cheltenham crowd said: "Just listen to them! I thought we were beat coming to the last, but he's
tough, too. He was brilliantly ridden.
" It is just the most enormous relief. The pressure has been unimaginable.
" This is a horse who has been taken to the heart of the country and I
could not bear the thought of letting them down."
Owner Jim Lewis said: "Henrietta is the most dedicated, wonderful person. I know she is thinking about her late mum now, like I am thinking about my mum and dad. You look upstairs and think 'stay with me, help me' and
" But I really was ready to lose because the dream has to come to an end one day. It was tight in the end, but it's
not the greatest ground for him. But what we saw today is that he is
an amazing jumper."
Best Mate's stable lass Jackie Jenner said: "It was so nerve-wracking.
There was so much pressure and it is such a relief. The run up the hill
was never ending. It is a dream result."
Azertyuiop lifts Queen Mother crown
A brilliant performance from Azertyuiop and Ruby Walsh saw them land the Queen Mother Champion Chase (3:20pm) in fantastic style on Wednesday.
The 15/8 second favourite travelled sweetly for Walsh, measuring his fences superbly and galloping on strongly up the hill for a very comfortable success, and ended a miserable start to the meeting for both his jockey and his trainer Paul Nicholls. Plenty of interest in the race was gone when Moscow Flyer came a cropper at the ditch on the hill. The defending champion was asked for a big one but left his hind legs in the fence and rocketed Barry Geraghty into the air. Flagship Uberalles stayed on strongly for second, as did Tiutchev for third.
The day's opener, the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle (2:00pm) saw a wonderfully game effort from Fundamentalist, who was given a brilliant tactical ride by Carl Llewellyn to land his seventh Festival success and his first for 10 years. Ridden patiently early on, the six-year-old made headway around the outside as they went out into the country and when the tap was turned on down the hill, he was able to go the pace with considerable ease. Despite flattening the last, he ran on strongly up the hill to score at 12/1, with the fast-finishing favourite Inglis Drever unable to get by.
There was yet another shock winner at the meeting when Rule Supreme landed the Royal & SunAlliance Chase (2.35pm). Jumping indifferently for much of the way, he was well off the pace until the home turn, and when those up front had run out of petrol, he stayed on strongly up the hill to win at 25/1. He was jockey David Casey's second Festival winner from the plate and another for trainer Willie Mullins. Royal Emperor was a game and gallant runner-up, after Dominic Elsworth lost his whip, while Our Vic put up a game effort but could find no extra up the hill.
Monkerhostin landed the big handicap he had been threatening to do when he took the Coral Cup (4:00pm) at 13/2. Always going well for Richard Johnson, who was content to sit just in behind a strong pace, he came there oozing confidence two out. Leading at the last, he ran on strongly to hold off 200/1 outsider Court Shareef and give Johnson his tenth Festival success. The runner-up put up easily his career best effort, ridden initially in midfield by Wayne Hutchinson, who produced him two out travelling well and he simply found one too good up the hill.
There was some relief for favourite backers in the 134th Year of the National Hunt Chase (4:35pm), with 5/1 joint favourite Native Emperor and Robert Widger swooping late to claim long-time leader Celestial Gold on the run-in and give Jonjo O'Neill another Festival win. Timmy Murphy gave one of his virtuoso waiting rides on Tikram, who came from nowhere to land the Mildmay of Flete (5:10pm) at 12/1, bursting past favourite Iznogoud on the run-in to score from out of the handicap. Topweight Fondmort ran a cracker to finish third.
The Weatherbys Champion Bumper (5:45pm) was again run at a searing pace, with Jim Culloty gaining some confidence ahead of his mount on Best Mate in the Gold Cup by taking the prize on Irish challenger Total Enjoyment at 7/1. Refinement and Master Albert stayed on for the places.
Rooster overturned by Hardy perennial
33/1 chance Hardy Eustace sprang the biggest Champion Hurdle shock since Beech Road, when taking Rooster Booster's crown from under his nose.
Tuesday's pre-race suggestions that the pace might be muddling so as not to suit defending champion Rooster Booster were well off the mark, as they went the usual good Champion Hurdle gallop, with Hardy Eustace setting the pace under Conor O'Dwyer and making virtually all to land the prize. A winner of last year's Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle, he stays well and all the way through O'Dwyer knew he had more to come, and his mount fought off the challenge of Rooster Booster to win.
The runner-up came there strongly down the hill and travelled the better going into the last, but after drawing alongside he could find no extra. Intersky Falcon ran somewhere near his best, being held up this time around, and finished late for third. Second-favourite Rigmarole struggled, adding to a miserable start to the meeting for trainer Paul Nicholls.
There was a false dawn for favourite backers in the Letheby & Christopher Supreme Novices' Hurdle (2:00pm), when 7/2 'jolly' Brave Inca got the better of an epic battle with War Of Attrition to prevail by a neck. Both were clearly travelling strongly off a good pace at the top of the hill and once they turned in there were only the pair of them in it, as they pulled seven lengths clear of Fleet Street. Albuhera was disappointing and Ruby Walsh reported afterwards that he was never travelling.
There was another fine finish in the Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy (2:40pm) and a fantastic ride by Tony McCoy on 9/1 chance Well Chief. Patiently ridden just in behind the leaders, the inexperienced five-year-old cruised through with a peach of a run on the inside approaching two out. Favourite Kicking King gave chase from that point, but had two lengths to find up the hill, and although Well Chief dwelt for a few strides, once he was rousted by McCoy he was always holding his rival. Ante-post favourite Thisthatandtother, who hit the first fence hard and came down after trying the same at the second.
The William Hill National Hunt Handicap Chase (4:00pm) produced a battling win for the novice Fork Lightning, who jumped impeccably for Robert Thornton, travelled particularly well, and was never headed after touching down in front two out. The eight-year-old prevailed at 7/1 and gave trainer Alan King his first Festival winner in the process. Shardam put up his best effort for some time in second. He jumped and travelled well for Carl Llewellyn and was going as well as anything two out, but just found one too good. Disappointment of the race was Marlborough, who was never travelling and eventually pulled up by Mick Fitzgerald.
There were shades of the 1973 Grand National in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup (4:40pm), with Merchants Friend being out on his own for a long long time and looking uncatchable two out. Despite having that lead reduced by the last, he was still 10 lengths clear at the foot of the hill, until David Edwards produced Maximize really late and he flew up the hill to lead in the last stride and win very cheekily at a massive 40/1.
The biggest shock of the day was reserved for the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final (5:20pm), where 50/1 chance Creon found plenty up the hill to pip G V A Ireland and Alexanderthegreat close home and provide Timmy Murphy with a winner, as well as the first of the Festival this year for Jonjo O'Neill and J P McManus.