Cheltenham Festival round-up: Nicky Henderson leads the way for British trainers
Irish trainers may have dominated the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, but there was still plenty for their British counterparts to celebrate during the four-day meeting.
Buveur D’Air was the star attraction on the opening day, and Nicky Henderson’s charge didn’t disappoint as he retained his Champion Hurdle title with a thrilling victory from Willie Mullins’ Melon. The 4-6 favourite held on by a neck to give Henderson a seventh victory in the race. He has previously won with See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009) and Binocular (2010).
Elsewhere on the card, Mullins secured a 54-1 treble that was headed by the brilliant Footpad romping away with the Arkle Chase. Benie Des Dieux took the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle and Mullins’ trio was completed with his son Patrick winning the National Hunt Chase aboard Rathvinden.
Henderson’s Altior secured the major honours on day two as he ran away with the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Mullins’ Douvan was travelling well when falling at the fourth last fence, leaving the race at Altior’s mercy. He was booted to the front by Nico de Boinville to claim a brilliant victory.
Irish trainer Gordon Elliott got himself on the winners’ board with a superb treble. Unbeaten Samcro took the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle justifying his status as the Irish ‘banker’ of the meeting. Tiger Roll won a thrilling Cross Country Chase, while 33/1 outsider Veneer Of Charm secured a surprise victory in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Presenting Percy triumphed at the Festival for the second year running with an impressive victory in the RSA Chase, while Mullins also got in on the act as Bleu Berry (Coral Cup) and (Relegate) took his tally of winners to five.
Warren Greatrex denied Ireland a clean sweep of winners on the third day, as Missed Approach dug deep to win the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase. It was a second Festival success for Greatrex after his 2015 World Hurdle win with Cole Harden.
Ireland dominated the rest of Thursday, with Elliott banging home a treble via Shattered Love (JLT Novices’ Chase), Delta Work (Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle) and The Storyteller (Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase).
Mullins won The Stayers’ Hurdle with Penhill and went on to claim a record 61st Festival victory with Laurina in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. Henry de Bromhead’s Balko Des Flos took the Ryanair chase on a memorable day for the Irish.
Colin Tizzard ensured British trainers would finish the meeting on a high as his Native River won an epic duel with Henderson’s Might Bite in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. The 5-1 chance gave the Dorset trainer his first victory in the race after some spectacular jumping under champion jockey Richard Johnson.
Elliott claimed the top trainer award for the week as Farclas won the Triumph Hurdle and Blow By Blow finished first in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. His total of eight winners at the Festival equals Mullins’ all-time record.
Paul Nicholls was also amongst the winners on the final day as Le Prezien clinched victory in the concluding Grand Annual Chase.
That result completed a 220-1 double for Nicholls who had earlier taken the Foxhunter Chase for the second year running with Pacha Du Polder.
Jockey Harriet Tucker overcame the pain of a dislocated shoulder to win, becoming the 14th female jockey to record a victory at the Festival.