LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – Gordon Elliott delivered at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday as Ireland’s banker for the meeting, Envoi Allen, came home to win the Ballymore Novices Hurdle — one half of a double for the Irish trainer.
Elliott’s other winner, Aramax, took the Juvenile Hurdle — one of four victorious horses on the day to carry the famous silks of owner JP McManus — but his two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll was beaten in the Cross-Country Chase.
However, Tiger Roll is set fair for his tilt at an unprecedented third successive Grand National victory on April 4 — Red Rum won three but not in consecutive years — after finishing second behind the highly impressive French runner Easysland.
Elliott professed himself pleased with his star’s performance, who won this race in the past two years on his way to triumphing at Aintree.
“I am delighted,” he said. “In terms of a trial it was perfect. He was brilliant.”
Envoi Allen drew mighty roars from the crowd — many a newspaper went flying into the sky as he passed the post clear.
Davy Russell bided his time before taking control at the final hurdle, as the 4/7 favourite led home an Irish 1-2-3.
“Fantastic! He is a marvellous horse,” said Russell.
“He is a hard one to call as he switches off his engines and runs in neutral in his races and you are not sure when to ask him to light up.
“However, today was perfect.”
Elliott ran to the rails as it became clear he would land the gamble and punched the air several times.
The only note of disappointment for McManus was Defi Du Seuil failing to justify his odds-on favourite’s tag in the feature Champion Chase — a prize that still eludes the 69-year-old Irish owner.
Harry Skelton rode a superbly-judged race to win on the grey Politologue in a 1-2 for trainer Paul Nicholls.
Skelton celebrated victory in his first ride in the race.
“He was brilliant, he dictated it from start to finish,” said owner John Hales.
Hales suffered a stroke in the past year but shook his cane as he cheered his horse home.
“My third Queen Mother (One Man and Azertyuiop in 1998 and 2004 respectively), two of them with greys, absolutely wonderful!” added Hales, who made his fortune in toys.
– ‘Smelling the money!’ –
Champ — named after legendary jockey AP McCoy — lived up to his name in the Novices Chase as he found a second wind after jumping the last.
Jockey Barry Geraghty finished rapidly on the Nicky Henderson runner to pass Irish duo Minella Indo and long-time pace setter Allaho, who were out on their feet.
McCoy’s son Archie was encircled by Princess Anne and her daughter Zara Tindall and raised his thumbs in approval.
“We were on the back foot the whole way,” said Geraghty.
“I thought we had no chance jumping the last but a few strides after it I was smelling the money!”
Henderson — who also won the Coral Cup Hurdle later on Wednesday with Dame De Compagnie — said he had also given up hope at the final fence.
“It looked as if he would finish an honourable third,” said Henderson, who has a record 69 Festival winners, three ahead of Willie Mullins.
“I moved position in the stand to watch the front two with Allaho’s owner — then blow me over he (Champ) came into my sights.”
Mullins had a wretched first two days, but left the course with a morale-boosting win as Ferny Hollow put him on the board by winning the Champion Bumper.