Nick Murphy | 21 January 2019
The opening day also provides punters with an early chance to get one over on the bookies. 2018 was no different. Getabird, Footpad, Buveur D’Air and Apple’s Jade were the four to be feared as we round-up everything that happened on day one at Cheltenham in 2018.
1:30 pm: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Punters backing the four-timer were left disappointed straight from the off, as Irish-trained raider Getabird bombed for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. The Moscow Flyer winner didn’t take to the left-handed track, which left Tolworth Hurdle 1-2 Summerville Boy and Kalashnikov to battle it out.
The latter looked to have the race won going towards the last, but 9/1 shot Summerville Boy came with a late run under Noel Fehily to win the contest by a neck. It was a first Festival win since 2002 for trainer Tom George, who scooped the £71,188 first prize.
2:10 pm: Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)
The Mullins-Walsh combination may have come up short in the Supreme. But there was to be no repeat defeat in the Arkle. 5/6 shot Footpad justified favouritism with an imperious jumping performance to win the 1m 7f contest by a country mile – or 14l to be precise.
Nearest challenger Brain Power trailed home in second, with Petit Mouchoir, Saint Calvados and 66/1 shot Robinshill completing the five. It continued Footpad’s 100% record over a fence; a record which has since been lost with out-of-sorts performances at Naas and Leopardstown.
2:50 pm: Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
There’s just something about Lizzie Kelly, Coo Star Sivola and Cheltenham. The duo combined to finish third in the Fred Winter in 2016, and then fourth in the Martin Pipe a year later. They went one better in 2018 with a neck victory as the 5/1 favourites in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Nick Williams’ raider tracked the leaders throughout with a patient ride before moving into the lead on the turn for home. The seven-year-old conceded plenty of ground towards the finish but stayed on gamely to edge out Shantou Flyer over 3m 1f and claim the £62,645 pot.
3:30 pm: Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)
Buveur D’Air held off a significant challenge from Melon to land a second consecutive Champion Hurdle in dramatic fashion. The then-seven-year-old was followed closely throughout by Mullins’ challenger and looked in serious trouble after Melon quickened away better from the final hurdle.
No matter – Nicky Henderson’s stable star dug deep in the closing stages to edge out the 7/1 shot by a neck. It extended the 4/6 favourite’s winning run to 10 races and landed the Seven Barrows Yard the £266,384 prize, albeit with a significant scare along the way.
4:10 pm: Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Most people thought the Mares’ Hurdle was Apple’s Jade’s to lose – including us. So imagine the collective shock when 9/2 shot Benie Des Dieux upset the odds to deny the 1/2 favourite a second straight win in the race.
The jolly wasn’t quite right for the entirety of last season. But take nothing away from the victor here. Mullins’ raider sat nicely out the back for the majority of the 2m 4f contest before launching a challenge on the home straight.
The eight-year-old produced a taking jump at the final hurdle to land ahead of Midnight Tour, Apple’s Jade and Indian Stream. He held on well towards the finish under Walsh to leave us eating humble pie and punters ripping up any remaining favourites trebles.
4:50pm: National Hunt Challenge Cup (Grade 2)
Only six of the 16-runners completed this gruelling 3m 7f staying contest, as Rathvinden edged out the highly-progressive Ms Parfois by less than a length. The pair battled hard after jumping side-by-side at the last but it was the 9/2 shot who found that little bit more to outstay the gallant mare.
It was the third-leg of a treble on the day for Willie Mullins and the second success in this race alongside his son Patrick following victory aboard Back In Focus in 2013. Connections pocketed the £74,950 first prize.
5:30 pm: Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed)
The final race of the day brought a head-bobbing finish as Mister Whitaker and Rather Be battled it out until the line. Mick Channon’s raider stayed on the strongest and got the nod from the judge at odds of 13/2 under the guidance of Brian Hughes.
Favourite Any Second Now could only finish eighth, as the race winners picked up a cheque for £39,865.
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