Cheltenham Festival 2020: Results from Day 1

The Cheltenham Festival 2020 got off to a flying start with a thrilling photo-finishes, nail-biting racing and excitement all round!

Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

 
The Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin made it three victories for four starts over hurdles with a thrilling victory in the £125,000 G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
 
Ridden by Nico de Boinville, the 6/1 shot stayed on strongly up the Cheltenham hill to eventually get the better of an engaging battle with the Gordon Elliott-trained Abacadabras (11/4), to register a head success in the two-mile opener to The Festival™ presented by Magners. Shishkin’s stable companion Chantry House (15/2) was a further 11 lengths back in third.
 
Seven Barrows maestro Henderson, drew level with Willie Mullins as the most successful trainer ever at The Festival with his 65th victory.
 
Shishkin, a £170,000 purchase at Tattersalls Cheltenham in 2018, was providing Henderson with a fourth victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle following on from Altior (2016), Flown (1992) and River Ceiriog (1986).
 
Henderson, whose stable star Altior was ruled out of this year’s G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase having aggravated a splint, said: “I couldn’t see where Shishkin had got to and Barry looked to be in the right sort of place. Nico looked to be in the right sort of place coming to the last. Shishkin has got those gears and he needed them today to get out of the trouble he had got into. It was no fault of Nico’s – he has given the horse a wonderful ride and has done well to get out of there. I think we know he is pretty cool round here.
 
“Chantry House has run a great race and both he and Shishkin are two gorgeous horses for the future. We have a lot to look forward. They have won point-to-points and I would think chasing is where we will go.
 
“We say it every year that something will come up and bite you, and sadly it was Altior that has had to stay at home. He is one of the more powerful shots but this was great and all of our horses have run well.”
 
For Nico de Boinville, winner of the Holland Cooper Leading Jockey Award in 2019, it was his second victory in the opening race of The Festival – he also won it in 2016 with dual Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Altior – and his second for trainer Nicky Henderson.
 
De Boinville said: “It wasn’t a very nice experience, if I am honest. It was never ideal.
 
“It was a very rough race. I got shuffled back; I got switched out wide just to try to get him travelling, give him a bit of light and a bit of comfort in himself. Then the horse fell in front of me and nearly knocked me over. Then it was just a case of trying to pick up the pieces. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
 
“It just shows what a fantastic horse this is going forward. He has got so much ability. He is so talented. He has tremendous gears and got out of an awful lot of trouble. Wherever he goes next season, it might be that we’ve found another really good one.”
 
1.30pm Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
1 Shishkin (Marie Donnelly) Nicky Henderson 6-11-07 Nico de Boinville 6/1
2 Abacadabras (Gigginstown House Stud) Gordon Elliott IRE 6-11-07 Davy Russell 11/4
3 Chantry House (J P McManus) Nicky Henderson 6-11-07 Barry Geraghty 15/2
15 ran 9/4 fav Asterion Forlonge (4th)
Distances: hd, 11
Tote Win: £7.80 Places: £2.70, £1.60, £2.70 Exacta: £35.30
Nicky Henderson – 65th winner at The Festival
Nico de Boinville – 11th winner at The Festival

Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy

Put The Kettle On proved a 16/1 winner of the G1 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy for trainer Henry De Bromhead and owners the Dermody family of County Kilkenny.
 
Their mare, who was ridden by Aidan Coleman, won by one and a half lengths from Fakir D’oudairies (3/1), with Rouge Vif (9/1) another 18 lengths back in third. The unplaced 5/2 favourite was Notebook, a stablemate of the winning mare.
 
De Bromhead said of Put The Kettle On, the first mare to win the ‘Arkle’ since Anaglogs Daughter in 1980: “I’m delighted, especially for the Dermody family, and Mary Dermody who is such a good owner. Aidan rode her brilliantly and said she attacked every fence, and she had the course-and-distance form from last year [she won the G2 Racing Post Arkle Trial at The November Meeting] so wasn’t to be underestimated.
 
“Notebook was our more fancied runner, but this mare keeps improving. For a mare that won a 116 beginners’ chase at Kilbeggan she’s come a long way. She had been busy all last summer and then topped it off with victory here in November, so we said we would back off her, give her a break and then come here. We thought about the novices’ handicap chase at the end of today over two and a half miles, but felt two miles would suit and opted for this race. She seems to handle any ground and Aidan said she loved this ground.
 
“Notebook was disappointing, and I just noticed that when Cash Back dropped out we dropped out too. It crossed my mind that they had a tough race together in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown. Notebook’s best form is on better ground, and while we were a bit unlucky with the delayed start he behaved very well.”
 
Mary Dermody, who was at the racecourse with her sons John and Michael, explained the mare’s name by saying: “It’s just something that is commonly said at home. People come to visit and we say, ‘put the kettle on’. We chose Henry to train for us because he is a winner. I’ve always liked horses and we’ve bred a few, but we’ve never had one as good as this.”
 
Her son, Michael said: “We drink a lot of tea at home! Henry has done a fantastic job but we didn’t think we would end up here at The Festival. She was under the radar, but we were confident she would run a big race.”
 
The Dermodys bought their mare for €20,000 as an unbroken three-year-old. De Bromhead said: “Every horse Mary has is mad, and that includes another mare we had before that who was as mad as a hatter. This mare was prancing around at Goffs [the bloodstock sales company] and standing up on her hind legs, and my wife Heather and I looked at each other and said, ‘That’s the mare for Mary!'”
 
Aidan Coleman was registering his third winner in total at The Festival™ presented by Magners and said: “She won the Arkle Trial so I suppose she came in here as a bit of a dark horse.
 
“Put The Kettle on has been expertly trained by Henry as she has not run since November.
 
“She went through that ground very well and she jumped exceptionally out of the ground for quite a small mare. It’s super to win the race.
 
“The whole way, I was absolutely having some craic. Turning in, I was going to be sick if I had got beaten because she is a good mare.
 
“Her jumping is a joy to behold and it was just brilliant.”
 
2.10pm Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
1 Put The Kettle On (One For Luck Racing Syndicate) Henry de Bromhead IRE 6-10-11 Aidan Coleman 16/1
2 Fakir D’oudairies (J P McManus) Joseph O’Brien IRE 5-11-04 Mark Walsh 3/1
3 Rouge Vif (Kate & Andrew Brooks) Harry Whittington 6-11-04 Gavin Sheehan 9/1
11 ran 5/2 fav Notebook (6th)
Distances: 1½, 18
Tote Win: £18.60 Place: £3.30, £1.60, £2.50 Exacta: £81.30
Henry de Bromhead – 8th winner at The Festival
Aidan Coleman – 3rd winner at The Festival

Ultima Handicap Chase

The Conditional gave his trainer David Bridgwater a first winner at The Festival when taking the G3 Ultima Handicap Chase by a neck from Kildisart. The 15/2 chance, an eight-year-old by Kalanisi ridden by Brendan Powell, won the Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap Chase over course and distance (3m 1f) in October.
 
Bridgwater, who rode five Festival winners as a jockey, said: “What a great jockey! I thought we were stuffed at the second-last when the horse pecked, but it’s probably done us a favour, because I didn’t want us to hit the front too soon. Fantastic ride.
 
“He’s a good horse – only a baby, still a novice. I was umming and aahing about running him in the RSA Chase. I was half-hoping we would get balloted out of this, but we got in easy and I thought, stuff it. And the betting never gets it wrong, we were favourite, second favourite, so… I fancied him for a place in the RSA, which would have made him a certainty today. His owner, Mr Cave, has been in the game all his life and it was a great day when this horse won here in October, but to do it here, it’s amazing.
 
“I’ve always been very lucky here, first as a jockey and then a trainer – I know we haven’t had many bullets to fire here, but I wouldn’t necessarily run a horse here that hasn’t got a chance. I’m not a very social person anyway, so I’m definitely not here for the social. But if they’ve got a chance, we’ll come and give it a go.
 
“I was pretty confident – I was confident last night and I said to Brendan: ‘If you are going well at the top of the hill, just fill him up’ because I am not sure whether he actually gets the trip. We are still learning about him. He has given that a peach. It’s unbelievable, amazing. He is all about next year, really. We’ve nearly won a Ladbrokes Trophy and now we’ve won at The Festival – how much higher… Dare to dream, isn’t it? When I bought him off Martin Hassett I thought he was possibly a long-term Grand National horse. We’ll see. He’s only a baby and we’re still only learning, but that’s a great start.
 
“I think Brendan is a wonderful jockey and he deserves that because he has had a rough old time last couple of years. We all have down times, trainers, jockeys, and it’s very special for him. We have been unlucky with The Giant Bolster, who was placed in the Gold Cup three times, but to have a winner a Cheltenham is beyond belief. If you watch the replay, he’s probably the only horse who has had a smooth run. He was never hassled and always travelling.”
 
This was a third Festival win for Brendan Powell, who said: “It’s unbelievable. Obviously, I am lucky enough to have been in this position before but the time in between has been tough. 
 
“He ran a stormer in the Hennessey back in November, then at Warwick I didn’t give him the best ride as I got drawn into the pace down the far side. He probably didn’t stay the trip [3m 5f] either. We put the cheekpieces on today – he’s not un-genuine but he does save a bit for himself and in these big races you need everything on your side.
 
“I had a lovely run around the inside. I had to pick him up at the second-last then he winged the last – when he hit the front he pricked his ears briefly, but when he heard the other horse he pulled out more and thankfully held on.”
 
2.50pm Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
1 The Conditional (Mr P J Cave) David Bridgwater 8-10-06 Brendan Powell 15/2
2 Kildisart (Simon Munir & Isaac Souede) Ben Pauling 8-11-03 Daryl Jacob 10/1
3 Discorama (Andrew Gemmell/Thomas Friel) Paul Nolan IRE 7-11-01 Bryan Cooper 11/2jf
4 Vinndication (Moremoneythan) Kim Bailey 7-11-12 David Bass 11/2jf
23 ran
Distances: nk, 2¼, nk
Tote Win: £8.50 Places: £2.40, £3.10, £2.20 Exacta: £85.90
 
David Bridgwater – 1st winner at The Festival
Brendan Powell – 3rd winner at The Festival

Unibet Champion Hurdle

Nicky Henderson extended his exceptional record in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle to eight when Epatante took the two-mile championship contest under Barry Geraghty, for whom it was a fourth, record-equalling, success in the race.
 
2/1 favourite Epatante, a six-year-old mare by No Risk At All, is the fifth of her sex to win the Champion Hurdle, and the first since Annie Power in 2016. She beat the Willie Mullins-trained Sharjah by three lengths.
 
Henderson said: “It’s a nice race, isn’t it? It goes back such a long time since the first one, which was I think was 1985 [See You Then], so it’s quite a long time.
 
“She was always travelling and you were always quite pleased with where she was. Barry gave her a beautiful ride. He always just had it covered and she has the gears.
 
“I was worried a bit after last year, when she didn’t run well in the mares’ novice hurdle, and she fell to pieces afterwards. She went home to [owner JP McManus’s stud] Martinstown – I sent her there looking awful and she came back looking fantastic, a million dollars.
 
“We have been very lucky to have those sort of good horses. JP should have had last year’s winner in the race [Espoir D’Allen] and [2017 and 2018 winner] Buveur D’Air, who is back at Martinstown with a hole in his foot, so this would have been his third string.
 
“She’s as good as she looked the only two times she’s run this year. The big worry was when she came here last year and I thought she’d win, and she didn’t show up. Sophie Candy rides her every single day of the year, and she deserves great credit.”
 
It was a ninth success in the race for JP McManus, whose 69th birthday it is today.
 
Epatante’s win gave Henderson a 20/1 double so far today, following Shishkin’s victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
 
For Barry Geraghty it was his fourth winner of the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle and his success puts him alongside Tim Molony and Ruby Walsh in terms of victories in the hurdlers’ championship.  
 
Geraghty said of Epatante: “I thought after riding Chantry House in the first race that the ground would be too slow for her and she would struggle. I was worried about it all week yet every step of the way, she was a dream. We missed one or two just because she was wanting to get on with it and trying to take them on, so I was always trying to keep a lid on her.
 
“I was a little concerned about the ground and I was hoping and praying all the way through the race that she would keep travelling for me. In fact it was the opposite, and she was taking on hurdles when I was asking her to pop. I needed to cover Darver Star coming down the hill and I was just happy to play her late. She quickened and is just a very smart filly.
 
“Nicky has done brilliantly with her, as has Sophie Candy, who looks after her. The mare has improved no end since Christmas, but Sophie has waited on her every day. She’s in with her ten days a week! Minding her and minding her, and it’s that love and care and attention to detail which makes a difference. There is no better trainer of a Champion Hurdler or any Cheltenham winner than Nicky Henderson – he is unbelievable.”
 
3.30pm Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)
1 Epatante (J P McManus) Nicky Henderson 6-11-03 Barry Geraghty 2/1f
2 Sharjah (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-10 Mr Patrick Mullins 16/1
3 Darver Star (SSP Number Twenty Two Syndicate) Gavin Cromwell IRE 8-11-10 Jonathan Moore 17/2
17 ran
Distances: 3, 3¾
Tote Win: £2.70 Places: £1.90, £5.30, £2.70 Exacta: £47.40
Nicky Henderson – 66th winner at The Festival – now the leading trainer of all-time at The Festival.
Barry Geraghty – 39th winner at The Festival

Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle

It was billed as one of the races of the week and the £120,000 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle served up a treat for racegoers as 9/4 shot Honeysuckle defeated Benie Des Dieux in a thrilling renewal of the G1 event.

Honeysuckle, ridden by Rachael Blackmore and trained by Henry de Bromhead, was always prominent in the two miles and four furlong event and stayed on gamely in the closing stages to fend off the sustained challenge of 4/7 favourite Benie Des Dieux, trained by Willie Mullins, by a half-length.

De Bromhead, registering a 54.25/1 double on the day following Put The Kettle On’s 16/1 success in the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase, was also enjoying a ninth success overall at The Festival™ presented by Magners.

He paid tribute to Honeysuckle, who is now unbeaten in eight starts over hurdles and is a four-time G1 winner, as well as rider Rachael Blackmore, registering her third winner in total at The Festival.

The County Wexford handler, who also had the option of running Honeysuckle in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle 40 minutes earlier, said: “I’m delighted with Honeysuckle – it was a superb performance to go and beat Benie Des Dieux.

“It was [a] very close [decision] in fairness and thankfully we came up with the right race between us. What a ride – my God, the way she got up the inside coming around the last turn. It was two amazing ladies together.

“Paul [Townend, aboard Benie Des Dieux] opted to go the other way and I think Rachael had to sit and suffer, to be fair. Suddenly, the gap appeared and she was gone. It’s fantastic. She kind of threw herself at the last – Rachael wasn’t sure and left it to Honey and she gave it a lash. She really toughed it out up the hill.

“We will enjoy to today and see. It’s amazing for her to do it.”

Rachael Blackmore, tipped to win this week’s Holland Cooper Ruby Walsh Trophy for the leading jockey at The Festival, got off the mark when riding Honeysuckle to victory.

Benie Des Dieux was travelling marginally the best on the final bend, but Blackmore slipped through on the inside and appeared to get first run on the favourite. In typically modest fashion she played down the move, saying: “That was just the way it worked out.”

She added: “This means so much. This mare is so special – Colman does an unbelievable job with her and Emma looks after at home as well. It’s those people who you need on your side looking after a mare like this. They have done an unbelievable job with her. Henry has produced her in tip-top shape every day she has run. I am the lucky one who gets to steer her round.

“It’s a big week and I am delighted. You kind of realise early in the day that these winners are so hard to get, so I am so lucky to be riding all these horses.

“It’s every jockey’s dream to be in the position I’m in, and Cheltenham is what it is all about.”

4.10pm Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

1 Honeysuckle (Kenny Alexander) Henry de Bromhead IRE 6-11-05 Rachael Blackmore 9/4

2 Benie des Dieux (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 9-11-05 Paul Townend 4/6f

3 Elfile (Kenny Alexander) Willie Mullins IRE 6-11-05 Danny Mullins 16/1

9 ran

Distances: ½, 6½

Tote Win: £2.90 Places: £1.20, £1.10, £2.40 Exacta: £3.90

Henry de Bromhead – 9th winner at The Festival

Rachael Blackmore – 3rd winner at The Festival

Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase

The talk of many a Festival preview night, 4/1 joint-favourite Imperial Aura rewarded all those who listened by winning the Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase by three and a quarter lengths.
 
This always looked like the right race for Imperial Aura’s after his runner-up finish in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase on Cheltenham’s Festival Trials Day (25th January), which in recent years has proved a reliable guide to the outcome of this race. Trainer Kim Bailey confirmed as much, saying: “That was the plan.”
 
“Obviously, we came here very hopeful. It’s a huge relief as the anticipation has been high – today was the goal for the whole season. I’m not stupid, I read the papers and I knew everybody was tipping him.
 
“He ran a blinder here last time, when we knew that he wasn’t 100 per cent. The horse had a very good preparation. He’s a syndicate horse and it’s a dream come true.
 
“He jumped really well here last time. We started at Fakenham with basically a walkover and just needed to get experience. Luckily, when he came here last time there were enough runners and he could get in amongst other horses. He is just a really nice horse and looked fantastic today. All credit to the team – Matt, Lee and everybody else.
 
“He has always shown that he is a nice horse – he has won his bumper and his hurdle races. I made the decision to go chasing this season rather than hurdling and thank God I did now.
 
“This is why we do it. It’s a struggle in life anyway and this is what you come here for. We are at Cheltenham and Cheltenham is the best. To be here and have a winner is the best as well.”
 
When it was pointed out that local man Bailey must surely relish training winners at Cheltenham, he quipped: “Absolutely – it means we can get home quicker for a drink.”
 
David Bass, who came fourth on the stable’s Vinndication earlier in the day, was delighted to get on the scoresheet at the meeting in the colours of 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander. He said: “I had nice position on Imperial Aura.
 
“The Henderson horse has given me a lovely lead and I couldn’t be happier as I know he stays well. He was brilliant today and, to be fair, we were confident that he would improve from Trials Day.
 
“The way he picked up, pinged the last two and ran to the line was impressive and he has improved. I was so gutted when he got beat here in January – I thought that he would win everywhere – but he has improved and it is a great team effort.
 
“It is a great bunch of owners and a great syndicate, a really good bunch of people. Lauren, who looks after the horse, absolutely loves him and adores the horse.”
 
4.50pm Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed)
1 Imperial Aura (Imperial Racing Partnership) Kim Bailey 7-11-05 David Bass 4/1jf
2 Galvin (Ronnie Bartlett) Gordon Elliott IRE 6-11-04 Davy Russell 4/1jf
3 Hold The Note (Tim Radford) Mick Channon 6-11-07 Jonathan Burke 10/1
4 Whatmore (Strachan, Lewis, Gabb, Graham & Inkin) Henry Daly 8-11-00 Tom O’Brien 14/1
20 ran
Distances: 3¼, 9, ½,
Tote Win: £4.70   Place: £1.70, £1.70, £2.30, £3.60 Exacta: £22.90
 
Kim Bailey – 5th winner at The Festival
David Bass – 3rd winner at The Festival

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