All the news from day four of The Festival 2016 – St Patrick’s Thursday

THE FESTIVAL, GOLD CUP DAY
RACENEWS RACECOURSE SERVICE
CHELTENHAM, FRIDAY, MARCH 18, 2016

The going for the fourth and final day of The Festival, Gold Cup Day, remains:

Good

The racing today takes place on the New Course for the second day running. The first two days were run on the Old Course.

Today is forecast is to be dry with temperatures of seven to eight degrees Celsius.

Simon Claisse, Regional Head of Racing, South West & Clerk of the Course, Cheltenham, said: “We have had another dry night. I was quite surprised to find this morning that temperatures had dropped to minus four, but none of the frost got into the ground.

“There is a little bit of moisture in the ground. We didn’t water the track overnight, save for a furlong at the bottom of the hill because it was just a bit tight on the corner there.

“I think conditions will be very similar to yesterday, maybe slightly quicker. The times were not particularly fast yesterday and I am continuing to call it Good ground.

“It could stay quite murky up until the start of racing but there is then the possibility of some sunshine.

“We have been delighted this week. The racing has been first-class with some really exciting finishes. The ground has held up really well and I haven’t had any complaints on that front.

“We have also had record crowds enjoying the new facilities. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

NON-RUNNERS

3.30pm Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup
9 ROAD TO RICHES (IRE) (Self Certificate, Other)

BOODLES LEADING JOCKEY AWARD – STANDINGS AHEAD OF FINAL DAY
Jockey 1st 2nd 3rd
Ruby Walsh 7 2 1
Sam Twiston-Davies 2 1 -
Nico de Boinville 2 - 1
Tom Scudamore 2 - 1
Davy Russell 2 - -
Bryan Cooper 1 1 1
Mr Jamie Codd 1 - 1
Aidan Coleman 1 - -
Ryan Hatch 1 - -
Brian Hughes 1 - -
Mr Derek O’Connor 1 - -
Barry Geraghty - 2 2
Mr Michael Legg - 2 -
Paul Townend - 1 1
Sean Bowen - 1 -
Johnny Burke - 1 -
Ms Nina Carberry - 1 -
Mikey Fogarty - 1 -
Wayne Hutchinson - 1 -
Daryl Jacob - 1 -
Jack Kennedy - 1 -
Richie McLernon - 1 -
David Mullins - 1 -
Robert Power - 1 -
Nick Scholfield - 1 -
Harry Skelton - 1 -
Noel Fehily - - 2
Richard Johnson - - 2
David Bass - - 1
Paddy Brennan - - 1
Mr Tom David - - 1
Lizzie Kelly - - 1
Andrew Lynch - - 1
Joshua Moore - - 1
Ian Popham - - 1
Mr Sam Waley-Cohen - - 1
Ms Katie Walsh - - 1

IRISH INDEPENDENT LEADING TRAINER AWARD – STANDINGS AHEAD OF FINAL DAY
Jockey 1st 2nd 3rd
Willie Mullins IRE 7 5 3
Nicky Henderson 2 1 4
Nigel Twiston-Davies 2 1 -
Gordon Elliott IRE 2 - 1
Paul Nicholls 1 3 -
Jonjo O’Neill 1 1 1
Colin Tizzard 1 1 -
David Pipe 1 - 1
Martin Keighley 1 - -
Pat Kelly IRE 1 - -
Colm Murphy IRE 1 - -
Ian Williams 1 - -
Alan King - 2 -
Henry de Bromhead IRE - 1 1
Tom George - 1 1
Dan Skelton - 1 1
Enda Bolger IRE - 1 -
Mouse Morris IRE - 1 -
Jessica Harrington IRE - 1 -
Venetia Williams - 1 -
Neil Mulholland - - 2
Stuart Crawford IRE - - 1
Philip Hobbs - - 1
Noel Meade IRE - - 1
Gary Moore - - 1
Ben Pauling - - 1
Nick Williams - - 1

THE FESTIVAL 2016 – WINNERS

Champion Day, Tuesday, March 15
1.30pm G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Altior (Patricia Pugh) Nicky Henderson 6-11-07 Nico de Boinville 4/1
2.10pm G1 Racing Post Arkle Chase – Douvan (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 6-11-04 Ruby Walsh 1/4 Fav
2.50pm G3 Ultima Handicap Chase – Un Temps Pour Tout (Professor Caroline Tisdall & Bryan Drew) David Pipe 7-11-07 Tom Scudamore 11/1
3.30pm G1 Stan James Champion Hurdle – Annie Power (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 8-11-03 Ruby Walsh 5/2 Fav
4.10pm G1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – Vroum Vroum Mag (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-05 Ruby Walsh 4/6 Fav
4.50pm Listed National Hunt Chase – Minella Rocco (J P McManus) Jonjo O’Neill 6-11-06 Mr Derek O’Connor 8/1
5.30pm Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase – Ballyalton (John Westwood) Ian Williams 9-11-10 Brian Hughes 12/1

Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 16
1.30pm Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle – Yorkhill (Andrea & Graham Wylie) Willie Mullins IRE 6-11-07 Ruby Walsh 3/1
2.10pm RSA Chase – Blaklion (Sarah Such & Gino Paletta) Nigel Twiston-Davies 7-11-04 Ryan Hatch 8/1
2.50pm Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle – Diamond King (Diana Whateley) Gordon Elliott IRE 8-11-03 Davy Russell 12/1
3.30pm Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – Sprinter Sacre (Caroline Mould) Nicky Henderson 11st 10lb Nico de Boinville 5/1
4.10pm Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase – Any Currency (Cash Is King) Martin Keighley 13-11-04 Aidan Coleman 11/1
4.50pm Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Diego Du Charmil (Mrs Johnny de la Hey) Paul Nicholls 4-11-01 Sam Twiston-Davies 13/2
5.30pm Weatherbys Champion Bumper – Ballyandy (Options O Syndicate) Nigel Twiston-Davies 5-11-05 Sam Twiston-Davies 5/1

St Patrick’s Thursday, Thursday, March 17
1.30pm JLT Novices’ Chase – Black Hercules (Andrea & Graham Wylie) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-04 Ruby Walsh 4/1 Co Fav
2.10pm Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle – Mall Dini (Philip Reynolds) Pat Kelly IRE 6-10-11 Davy Russell 14/1
2.50pm Ryanair Chase – Vautour (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-10 Ruby Walsh Evens Fav
3.30pm Ryanair World Hurdle – Thistlecrack (John & Heather Snook) Colin Tizzard 8-11-10 Tom Scudamore Evens Fav
4.10pm Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate – Empire Of Dirt (Gigginstown House Stud) Colm Murphy IRE 9-10-11 Bryan Cooper 16/1
4.50pm Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Limini (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 5-11-07 Ruby Walsh 8/11 Fav
5.30pm Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase – Cause Of Causes (J P McManus) Gordon Elliott IRE 8-11-09 Mr Jamie Codd 9/2
THE BETBRIGHT CUP – STANDINGS AHEAD OF FINAL DAY

GREAT BRITAIN – 10

IRELAND – 11

Latest BetBright odds:

10/11 Great Britain, 10/11 Ireland

Money back if it ends in a tie.

SPRINTER IS THE WEEK’S CHAMPION
As The Festival 2016 reaches its climax with Gold Cup Day, only triumph for Victoria Pendleton in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase could eclipse Sprinter Sacre’s stunning, emotionally-charged victory in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase as the week’s fairy tale.

Nicky Henderson’s achievement in producing Sprinter Sacre to regain the crown he first won in 2013, overcoming a host of physical problems on the way, has been lauded as the training performance of the decade.

Most of the other plaudits this week have gone to the all-conquering team of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. The trainer and jockey have enjoyed seven victories so far at The Festival 2016, with more possible today. Walsh has now ridden a record 52 Festival winners, while Mullins has bagged 48, which leaves him in second place in the all-time trainers’ roll of honour behind Henderson’s 55. Walsh has already equalled the record number of winners for a jockey at a Festival, which he first achieved in 2009, while Mullins is one off the record for a trainer at a single Festival, which he set last year.

While Henderson got the first shot on target when Altior claimed the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday, Mullins immediately fought back with Douvan’s impressive Racing Post Arkle Chase success. The brilliant Annie Power became only the fourth mare ever to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle – and two more Mullins mares, Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini, have taken the races restricted to their sex.

Only Yorkhill (Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle) stood in first spot in the winner’s enclosure for Mullins on Wednesday, but St Patrick’s Thursday almost entirely belonged to the Irish. Walsh booted home Vautour (Ryanair Chase), Black Hercules (JLT Novices’ Chase) and Limini (Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle) for Mullins, but Gordon Elliott (Cause Of Causes, Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase), Colm Murphy (Empire Of Dirt, Brown Advisory & Merribelle Stable Plate) and Pat Kelly (Mall Dini, Pertemps Network Final) also flew the flag for Ireland.

But the sole British success yesterday came in the day’s big race, the Ryanair World Hurdle. Thistlecrack, ridden by Tom Scudamore, was a visually arresting and highly popular winner for trainer Colin Tizzard, and the dairy farmer from the Somerset/Dorset border could pull off the ultimate double if Cue Card – already a dual Festival hero – can be first past the post in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and land a £1 million bonus.

Wednesday, Ladies Day, was dominated by the Twiston-Davies family. Father Nigel trained two winners – Blaklion in the RSA Chase and Ballyandy in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. The latter was ridden by Nigel’s son Sam, who also scored for Paul Nicholls on Diego Du Charmil in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Three trainers have experienced the elation of a first Festival winner this week – Ireland’s Pat Kelly, and Britain’s Ian Williams (Ballyalton, Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase) and Martin Keighley (Any Currency, Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase).

Unsurprisingly, Ruby Walsh is assured of a 10th Boodles Leading Jockey award with seven winners so far. Four jockeys have ridden two winners apiece – Sam Twiston-Davies, Nico de Boinville (Sprinter Sacre, Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Altior, Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle), Tom Scudamore (Thistlecrack, Ryanair World Hurdle and Un Temps Pour Tout, Ultima Handicap Chase) and Davy Russell (Diamond King, Coral Cup and Mall Dini, Pertemps Network Final).

CAN CUE CARD WIN CONNECTIONS £1 MILLION?

If Cue Card wins this afternoon’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30pm), he will earn a £1 million bonus for his connections.

Launched by Jockey Club Racecourses, which stages 85% of Grade One National Hunt racing in Britain, the huge bonus was staged in honour of the late Kauto Star and is offered to any horse which can win the three-mile plus “Chase Triple Crown” of the Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock Park, the Grade One William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton and the Grade One Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in one season.

It is a feat that Kauto Star achieved in the 2006/2007 season, triggering a £1 million bonus offered by Betfair at the time.

The Colin Tizzard-trained Cue Card took the Betfair Chase by seven lengths from Silviniaco Conti in November, and followed by beating Vautour – winner of yesterday’s Ryanair Chase – by a head in the William Hill King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

Paul Fisher, Group Managing Director of Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “We’d really love it if Cue Card goes on to win the Chase Triple Crown and the £1 million bonus that comes with it.

“It would be a fantastic achievement that all started back in November at Haydock Park and would see Cue Card emulate that great chaser of our time, Kauto Star, the like of whom I thought we may never see again.

“If Cue Card does win the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, he will deserve his place in the history books.”

If successful, the £1 million will be split between Cue Card’s owner Jean Bishop (£650,000), his trainer Colin Tizzard (£150,000), jockey Paddy Brennan (£100,000) and Tizzard’s stable staff (£100,000).

Paddy Brennan has ridden Cue Card in all his races this season and will be on board once again this afternoon. Cue Card is available at 4/1 for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup; the current favourite, at around 5/2 is the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack.

VICTORIA PENDLETON FACTS
Britain’s most successful female Olympian.

Born on September 24 1980, in Stotfold, Bedfordshire.

Height – 1.65m (5ft 5in).

Weight – 62kg (137lb, 9.8st).

Has a twin brother, Alex, who recovered from leukaemia as a child.

Her father, Max, was a star amateur cyclist.

Began cycling at the age of six.

First competed at the Olympics in 2004 in Athens, finishing sixth in the time trial and ninth in the 200m sprint.

Won her first major gold medal in the sprint at the 2005 UCI Track Cycling World Championships.

Won gold in the sprint at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and silver in the 500m time trial.

Won two gold medals at the 2008 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in the sprint and the team sprint.

Won Olympic gold in the sprint at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Won Olympic gold in the keirin at the 2012 Olympics in London and silver in the sprint, setting a new Olympic record of 10.724s in the qualifying rounds.

Retired from professional cycling after the 2012 Olympics.

Married sport scientist Scott Gardner in September 2013.

Was a contestant on series 10 of Strictly Come Dancing, partnering Brendan Cole. She competed against a stellar line up including Sid Owen, Lisa Riley and Johnny Ball, eventually being eliminated in week eight.

Made a guest appearance in Emmerdale in 2014, which coincided with the start of the Tour de France in Yorkshire.

In March 2015, announced her intention to ride at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival as part of Betfair’s ‘Switching Saddles’ initiative.

VICTORIA PENDLETON TIMELINE
2015

March 6: Announces her intention to take up Betfair’s ‘Switching Saddles’ challenge, with the aim of riding in the Foxhunter Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.

July 2: Makes her racecourse bow when finishing eighth on Mighty Mambo in the George Frewer Charity Race in a Flat race at Newbury.

August 26: Granted an amateur riders’ licence by the British Horseracing Authority.

August 31: Takes her first mount as a fully-fledged amateur rider, finishing second, beaten just a head, aboard Royal Etiquette in a Flat race at Ripon.

September 22: Teams up with Royal Etiquette again in a Flat race at Beverley but can finish only 13th of the 16 runners.

October 24: Escapes injury as she is unseated by Satanic Beat in a lady amateur riders’ Flat race at Newbury.

November 29: Makes her point-to-point debut at Black Forest Lodge in Devon, where she pulls up Minella Theatre two fences from home.

December 6: Teams up with According To Sarah for her second point-to-point start at Barbury Castle but she fails to complete.

2016

January 17: Completes her first point-to-point race as Supreme Danehill finishes fourth at Black Forest Lodge.

January 24: Completes aboard both According To Sarah and Minella Theatre in two rides at Higham.

January 31: Rides Pacha Du Polder, her intended mount in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, for the first time in public at Milborne St Andrew, with the duo beaten into second in a photo.

February 7: Fails to complete on Working Title at Wadebridge point-to-point.

February 13: Finishes fourth aboard According To Sarah in a ladies’ open event at Cottenham then emerges unscathed after being unseated by Working Title at Barbury Castle the following day.

February 19: Her first start over regulation fences ends in disappointment and anti-climax as she is unseated at the seventh fence in a hunter chase at Fakenham on Pacha Du Polder.

February 21: Swiftly back in the saddle at the Waveney Harriers point-to-point at Higham, finishing last of the six finishers.

February 27: Finishes seventh on Supreme Danehill at Horseheath point-to-point and finishes sixth of 15 on According To Sarah at Larkhill the following day.

March 2: Pacha Du Polder makes all the running under Pendleton to win as the 5/4 favourite in a hunter chase at Wincanton.

March 5: Unseated from Supreme Danehill in a point-to-point at Kingston Blount.

March 7: Confirmed that she will ride Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunter at the Cheltenham Festival.

WILL MIGHTY MULLINS SET A NEW RECORD?

With 20 runners today at The Festival, Willie Mullins is an odds-on shot to at least equal his own record of eight winners at the meeting – set last year – and may well set a new standard.

He has sent out 41 horses to run at Cheltenham in the past three days, and has scored seven times. All seven have been ridden by Ruby Walsh.

Mullins is only second to Nicky Henderson in the all-time trainer’s roll of honour at The Festival, with 48 successes to Henderson’s 55, and is the most successful Irish trainer in the meeting’s history.

Mullins, whose father Paddy sent out the only horse to win both the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Dawn Run), rode three winners at The Festival himself. The first was Hazy Dawn in the 1982 National Hunt Chase, a race he took again in 1984 on Macks Friendly, before riding and training Wither Or Which to win the 1996 Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

He had recorded his first training victory at The Festival in 1995, when Tourist Attraction won the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The Co Carlow trainer, who will celebrate his 60th birthday on September 15 this year, has won the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award at four of the past five Festivals (2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015) and is due to receive the trophy once again this year. He has been Ireland’s champion Jump trainer for the past eight seasons and 10 times in all.

Mullins is married to Jackie, who plays an active part in running their Closutton stable, and their son Patrick, who rides as an amateur, has ridden three Festival winners for his father.

Chief among his prospects for today are Djakadam and Don Poli in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, Up For Review and Gangster in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and Dicosimo in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle.

BETTING BRUNCH

The bookmakers are firmly on the back foot ahead of the final day of The Festival, Gold Cup Day, and only a run of big-priced winners this afternoon will be able to save their bacon.

Punters are determined to kick the layers while they are down though and have been busy reinvesting their winnings this morning, with a whole host of horses being backed.

Footpad has been strongly supported with BetBright in the JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm) and is now 7/1 (from 10/1) while punters are hoping the Willie Mullins juggernaut keeps charging on as Dicosimo has been nibbled at in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (2.10pm) and is now 16/1 (from 20/1) with Sky Bet.

Another Mullins inmate, Long Dog, has been the one for money in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.50pm) and the six-year-old has been cut to 7/1 (from 8/1) by Bet365 to give Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh yet another Festival winner.

The best-backed horse in the feature race of the day, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30pm), is the favourite Don Cossack, who has strengthened at the head of the market and is now 9/4 (from 3/1) with Betfair.

All eyes will be on Victoria Pendleton in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase (4.10pm) when she rides Pacha Du Polder but it is last year’s winner, On The Fringe, that punters want to be with and the 11-year-old is now the 5/2 favourite (from 3/1) with BetVictor.

The best-backed horse of the day comes in the shape of Squouateur in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.50pm) who is now the 10/3 favourite (from 5/1) with Bet365 while there has been each-way money for Chris Pea Green in the closing Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (5.30pm) and the Gary Moore-trained gelding is now 16/1 (from 20/1) with BetBright.

1.30pm – The JCB Triumph Hurdle: 7/1 (from 10/1) Footpad (BetBright)

2.10pm – The Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle: 16/1 (from 20/1) Dicosimo (Sky Bet)

2.50pm – The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle: 7/1 (from 8/1) Long Dog (Bet365)

3.30pm – The Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup: 9/4 (from 3/1) Don Cossack (Betfair)

4.10pm – The St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase: 5/2 (from 3/1) On The Fringe (BetVictor)

4.50pm – The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle: 10/3 (from 5/1) Squouateur (Bet365)

5.30pm – The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase: 16/1 (from 20/1) Chris Pea Green

THISTLECRACK’S SISTER SELLS FOR £165,000

Hours after Thistlecrack became the champion staying hurdler yesterday in the Ryanair World Hurdle, his unbroken, three-year-old full sister sold for £165,000 at Tattersalls Ireland’s Festival Sale, held in the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham.

The buyers were John and Heather Snook, the owners of Thistlecrack, who won the Grade One Ryanair World Hurdle so impressively from the stables of Colin Tizzard. They took an extremely rare, if not unique, opportunity to buy a full-sister to a Jump championship race winner on the day of the victory.

Among those who congratulated the Snooks in the sales’ ring were the filly’s breeders and vendors, Scarlett and Robin Knipe of Herefordshire’s Cobhall Court Stud. Mrs Knipe is the daughter to Fred and Mercy Rimell, legends of Jump racing and Festival-winning trainers.

Thistlecrack’s sister, who could one day go into training alongside her brother at Tizzard’s yard on the Somerset/Dorset border, was the sale’s top-priced filly, but two winning Irish point-to-pointers made bigger sums.

Timewaitsfornoone, a four-year-old gelding who won a maiden at Lingstown last month for trainer Colin Bowe, was knocked down for £225,000 to bloodstock agent Gerry Hogan on behalf of racehorse owner Barry Connell, and while Willie Mullins is enjoying a stellar week at The Festival he still needs new recruits.

Mullins and his agent, Harold Kirk, gave £200,000 for five-year-old gelding Monbeg Chit Chat, and £110,000 for the mare Three Swallowsnick, a five-year-old unbeaten in two point-to-points.

David Pipe also purchased two six-figure lots – Daklondike for £140,000 and Orchard Thieves for £115,000 – while the Alan King-trained Doncaster bumper winner, Midnight Maestro, was sold for £100,000.

Yesterday’s auction was the first staged at The Festival by Tattersalls Ireland since it purchased the bloodstock division of Brightwells.

Minella Rocco, who topped the inaugural event held in 2014, won the National Hunt Chase on Tuesday, while last year’s sale topper, Champers On Ice, runs in today’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Cue Pendleton

Cue Card and Victoria Pendleton – it’s a match made in media heaven.

The horse, a darling of racing fans, bids to make today’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup his third Festival victory – and would land a £1m bonus put up by The Jockey Club if successful – while Pendleton, Britain’s most successful female Olympian with two golds and a silver, lines up in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase. That such a celebrated athlete has turned her attention to race riding is unusual, but her achievement in making it to The Festival having ridden a horse for the first time little more than a year ago is astonishing. Gaining a superb ride on Pacha Du Polder, from the yard of champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls, is handy, but she needs skill and courage to execute the plan.

No novice jockey-cum-point-to-point rider has received so much attention, with media coverage that has ranged from compliments to criticism, yet Pendleton has appeared impervious to blame and praise. In Britain’s newest newspaper, The New Day (slogan: ‘Life is short, let’s live it well’ – could have been penned by Pendleton), she is quoted saying: “Sport is a game of opinions and it wouldn’t be what it is without those opinions.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Hayward describes the gulf in views as “an epic frontier-crossing quest, or a bookmaker’s stunt that puts her in harm’s way”. Reminding us of our voyeurism on such occasions, he asks: “Will the country be fascinated (and nervous) at 4.10pm?” He concludes: “You bet.” Chris McGrath of The Independent writes: “Nobody in racing would disparage Tony McCoy should he get it into his head to climb the Eiger,” while the Daily Star exclaims: ‘Wheel back Queen Vicky’ adding ‘Massive gamble on Olympic bike champ’.

An intriguing insight to the initial stages of Pendleton’s rise from nervous to novice is provided by Chris Cook in The Guardian, who interviews coaches Alan and Lawney Hill. Of her first visit to their yard, Alan recalls: “She hardly said a word and did not look really happy – she didn’t at all have that open smile we’ve got so used to.” Lawney remembers her as “a little waif of a thing”.

Pendleton carries racing to page four of The Guardian, and she makes the front cover of the Racing Post and a number of racing pullouts – this despite a cast of marvellous equines, from yesterday’s easy winners Vautour and Thistlecrack, to today’s Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders.

The Sun’s racing special is an example with the headlines, ‘Glory hunter’ and ‘Thistle craic’, while the Daily Mirror offers ‘Queen Vic the great’ and ‘Pol star’ a reference to Don Poli. The Daily Express proclaims ‘Right on Cue’ and ‘Victoria is ready for her big day’, but the Daily Mail restricts itself to homage of the masters, Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins, extolling them to ‘Now strike Gold’.

‘Pendomonium’ is the Racing Post’s description of Pendleton fever, but the paper’s Spotlight tipster Ben Hutton, queries Pacha Du Polder’s stamina for today’s race, and tips Current Event.

Cue Card has also lifted racing off the sports pages and into mainstream news sections. He makes page three of The Daily Telegraph, where reporter Tom Morgan tracks the story of his birth on Roland Crellin’s Welsh farm to the peak of Jumps racing. That owner Bob Bishop died three months ago, adds to a story that will provoke buckets of tears if he wins today.

Joe Tizzard, the son of trainer Colin, puts the money into perspective when telling Mark Souster of The Times: “The money will go, the prestige of winning the Gold Cup will stay forever.” A Cue Card win would not better Sprinter Sacre’s absorbing Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase win on Wednesday, but “it might run it to a dead-heat” writes Marcus Armytage in The Daily Telegraph.

‘Gold Fever!’ is the Racing Plus’s front-cover headline alongside a Cue Card photo, although the paper’s Matt Salter sides with Djakadam. A P McCoy and colleague Rob Wright of The Times opt for Don Cossack. ‘Don’s a Cup belter’ says the Daily Star (that’s also Cossack, not Poli).

St Patrick’s Thursday encouraged large men to dress as little green men in Leprechaun outfits and one group make a colourful photo across pages four and five of the Western Daily Press. ‘Punters get leprecorny’ is The Sun’s view.

Yesterday’s hero on the track, Ryanair World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack, is a stablemate of Cue Card (talk about London buses). The back page of the Western Daily Press prints a photo of the horse skipping the final hurdle, and prints the headline, ‘Tizzard: Thistlecrack is our superstar now’. It might be a mantle that lasts just 24 hours.

TWO OF VICTORIA PENDLETON’S MENTORS TALK PREPARATION

Lawney Hill, the Oxfordshire trainer that Victoria Pendleton has been based with, commented: “Last year Yogi (Briesner) took Victoria to The Festival at Cheltenham on Foxhunter Day so she could see what happened and she was extremely excited by the whole thing.

“She has been there since, doing some media work but she also walked the course with Simon Claisse (Cheltenham’s Clerk of the Course). The plan is to work for her to walk the course once or twice more. The last time will be with my husband Alan on the morning of the race. They will be on their own and so she can concentrate on everything.

“If you walk the course two or three times, it allows things to settle in. It is the experience of that race which Alan can impart. Alan has ridden against other amateurs in the Foxhunter so he knows what is it is like.

“I was talking to Aidan Coleman (professional jump jockey) the other day at Leicester and he said that Victoria has done really well because Fakenham and Wincanton are two of the most difficult courses to ride because everything happens so quickly – they have big fences and everything comes at you very quickly. There is a not a lot of time to breathe so it has not been easy for her.”

Alan Hill, Lawney’s husband, former amateur rider and currently a point-to-point trainer, won the Foxhunter at Cheltenham in 1985 on Elmboy.

He said: “I had my first ever ride under Rules in the Foxhunter in 1978, the year that the Festival was postponed a month because of snow. I think Timmie’s Battle beat Spartan Missile that year so it was a pretty good renewal.

“I was lucky enough to ride in the Foxhunter eight times and won it once. At least I will know what she is going to experience – even more importantly I am going to be very jealous of her riding a lovely horse like Pacha Du Polder. He is a vital cog in the whole thing and both Andy Stewart (the horse’s owner) and Paul Nicholls (the horse’s trainer) have been very generous to provide such a lovely horse.

“The main thing has been to teach Victoria. We have taken her to different courses around the country and most of the time she has ridden in big fields, anything from a dozen to 15 or 16 runners. We have done that to try and emulate as much as we can in a very small way what she will experience in the Foxhunter at Cheltenham.

“There are two quite steep downhill fences at Cheltenham and they can catch jockeys and horses out. Paul will have the major and last say in how the horse is ridden but what I will say to her most importantly is to concentrate on herself, concentrate on her horse and do things which are sensible.

“When people lose their concentration or confidence, that is when things start to go wrong. She is very good at riding over a fence, she is very good at judging pace and she is very good at being sensible.

“She has had over 20 rides now and she does not get intimidated, rather she gets excited but very serious.

“Before the race, I will go over the films of the last x number Foxhunters and will pick out the riders she will be taking on. Wincanton is a not a course where you can jump around easily and it was very good of Paul to pick that race out. Also, with that race being over two and a half miles, she had to be sharp and, having ridden in the Foxhunter, you jump off and go that bit quicker for a bit longer. So in winning at Wincanton, she got used to going faster and experiencing bigger fences. Wincanton is a top-class course with big fences. That helped her.

“Yogi and I keep giving her guidance on how to sit when jumping fences – that is going to be a big part of it. No horse is going to go around 22 fences at Cheltenham without making some sort of mistake so she has to cope with that.

“We will maintain the routine of schooling and riding out up to the day. Lawney and I feel very proud of what Victoria has achieved and feel very confident of her capabilities.

“She had a walk around the Foxhunter course the other day with Simon Claisse which was very nice for her as it was very quiet without any media there. No-one knows the course better than Simon.

“On the day, she and I will walk the course again. We did that at Wincanton. Then we talk about the course, the race and the horse. We do talk about one or two other things as well – eventualities that might happen. The first I do is take her to the paddock and show her where things are – the weighing room, where you get on the horse, how you go down to the start and all those sort of things.

“The other thing I always tell her on a raceday is get back into the changing room and have a cup of sweet tea or an energy drink, keep warm and concentrating.

“Winning the Foxhunter for me was how I imagine scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final would be like. It is an occasion you never ever forget – a dream. It is the amateur riders’ Gold Cup.

“I was very lucky to win that race and the Fox Hunters at Aintree. I can see why sports people get addicted to winning. Sometimes they don’t realise how privileged they are.

“Cheltenham is the mecca of Jump racing in the world. I rode for 10 years in a row at The Festival, in the National Hunt Chase or the Foxhunter and some years in both and I loved it.

“I am jealous of those riding in the races now. I will feel very proud of Victoria and hope I can put forward something which will help the day go really well for her.”

PENDLETON READY FOR HER DATE WITH DESTINY

It has been one of the talking points of the meeting, some love it, some hate it. But today Victoria Pendleton will be hoping to prove her critics wrong and come back safe and sound in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase.

On a gloomy and overcast day at the Gloucestershire track Pendleton, best known for two wheels, arrives. Dressed in a quilted coat with ‘Betfair’ embossed on one side topped off with a trendy navy cowboy hat, she certainly looks the part.

She appears from the famous weighing room, accompanied by a member of Cheltenham racecourse staff who is guarding her more closely than one of Roger Federer’s surly bodyguards at SW19. She is greeted by a throng of excited photographers knowing that the price of a picture has rocketed after it has been made clear she will not be speaking to any member of the media until after her race.

Her ‘Switching Saddles’ journey started last year and it has been well documented from there, having never sat on a horse before and will finish here today at the Home of Jump Racing when she lines in up one of the most fiercely contested races at The Festival, the holy grail for amateur riders. Roll of honour includes some well-known names like Sam Twiston-Davies, Nina Carberry and Joe Tizzard.

As the racegoers pile into the bars dotted round the racecourse, people not are discussing which Don can gallop into the history books in this year’s Timco Cheltenham Gold Cup or even whether Richard Johnson will finally get his name on the board at this season’s Festival. It’s all about “Vicky P”, many of them are wrapped up in free bright yellow Betfair scarves to shield them from the plummeting temperatures.

Sam Carter, who is definitely not wearing a free scarf, is a keen racegoer and a self-proclaimed racing obsessive. He is not a fan; he has nothing against her personally but just thinks it sends out the wrong message.

“There are a lot people who have worked a lot harder in this sport, who have not had the help and press she has had and she’s jumped straight to the front of the queue, so it’s just not for me really,” he says taking a sip of his pint. “The figure that has been banded around doesn’t surprise me at all, but that’s the modern way unfortunately.”

A look of ‘I’ve been a bit harsh’ flashes over his face and he quickly adds: “But she’s bringing a lot of positive press into racing and if she wins fair play, I just think it’s quite unfair, the whole thing.”

“We were actually just discussing that!” says Sarah Bevan in the See You Then bar. “God love her – she is trier and I’ll be rooting for her because she is trying, whether she is any good or not we will have to see.”

“It’s certainly good for racing,” Sarah’s friend Graeme Atkinson chips in. “Every week she’s in the paper. Personally I don’t see her getting round.”

“But she’s trying,” Sarah tries to convince him, but he won’t be budged.

John Quinn is not wearing a scarf, but he should be: “She’s a good enough cyclist and from what I’ve seen she’s a good enough jockey. I think it makes the race more interesting and I’m looking forward to it.”

As Victoria Pendleton makes her way back from walking the course it is no certainty she will make it round, but one thing is for sure, love her, hate her, all eyes will be on her.

GORBATOV LEAVES HIS MARK

Ivanovich Gorbatov gave trainer Aidan O’Brien his sixth Festival winner, his first since Istabraq won the Stan James Champion Hurdle in 2000, when running out the smooth winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon.

Although it is O’Brien senior’s name on the racecard, the training of this horse has been done by his son, Joseph – the recently retired Classic winning jockey – and it is anticipated that O’Brien junior will start his training career proper this summer.

The four-year-old was always travelling kindly under jockey Barry Geraghty and was still hard on the bridle as he loomed up alongside leader Apple’s Jade at the final flight. The 9/2 favourite eventually wore down the runner up as they stormed up the hill to record a length and a quarter victory.

O’Brien junior was visibly delighted after the race. “I can’t really put it into words to be honest – it’s unbelievable,” he said, “It feels slightly surreal. It’s completely different to being in the saddle. When you’re riding, you don’t get a chance to take in the whole occasion but now, you don’t have much to do on the day itself as the job is done. When you’re riding, everything you do is on the day.

“Barry was as confident as anyone. When he got off him last time out, he said he hated the ground and couldn’t jump. We just took that as it was and just trained him for here. We were in no doubt he would be better on better ground and he was. He could be a Champion Hurdle horse – he’s entitled to go into that grade – but it will be a huge step up. We’ll get through the summer first and see.

“My (training) course is on in May and hopefully I’ll pass and I’ll be able to go training from there. “I am hoping to get my licence in June. I thought it would be May, but it looks like June. I have to do the next course because I missed the last one when I was away at the Breeders’ Cup. It won’t just be jumpers I’ll train – it’ll be a 50/50 split between Flat horses and National Hunt horses, about 70 in all. I’ve got a nice bunch of 15 to 20 two-year-olds so I’m looking forward to that.

“Ivanovich Gorbatov was in Ballydoyle on the Flat and was obviously a decent horse. Then he came to us and has always jumped well. He has been working really well and all the lads at home have been happy, but he was working well before the last day. We were very hopeful the ground would make a big different and it has. He is 106 rated on the Flat. He won a big handicap at Leoapardstown over a mile and seven, so he stays well. He is by Montjeu and jumped well from day one, so we always thought he would be nice if he progressed.

“My weight was a struggle, especially the last year. I knew from day one that I would not be able to ride forever and I was very lucky to ride some of the horses I did, but there comes a time when you have to move on.”

Ivanovich Gorbatov’s owner, J P McManus, was quick to praise the O’Briens after the race. “It’s great for Joseph and also nice to get Barry off the mark for the week,” said the owner, “They’ve all done a great job. The horse needed to come back after Leopardstown but they never lost faith in him. They said he’d improve for the run and the better ground – full marks to them. Joseph’s record now speaks for itself. He thought that he should have taken a bit more off him at Leopardstown but he was a bit lighter today and Joseph wasn’t surprised that he won today.

“It’s been a good week. It was good to see My Tent Or Yours back (finished second behind Annie Power) in the Champion Hurdle – it was a great training performance by Nicky. We’ve had a lot of good memories here and this is one to savour.”

GERAGHTY GETS ONE ON THE BOARD

Ivanovich Gorbatov’s JCB Triumph Hurdle victory was a 34th Festival success for jockey Barry Geraghty – and a first at this year’s meeting.

“I’ve had a long wait. That’s how it goes and couple of years ago I had to wait until Bobs Worth in the novices’ hurdle on the last day. It is always brilliant to get one,” said Geraghty, who rode the J P McManus-owned son of Montjeu for Aidan O’Brien, although O’Brien’s son Joseph has been handling the gelding’s training.

Geraghty continued: “I wasn’t far off the pacemaker – we went a good strong gallop, and I’d say it rode a good race. The runner-up [Apple’s Jade] – when she kicked off the turn I thought ‘I’ll get you easy enough’, but I had to go and get her. It rode a good race and will work out in time.”

It was 9/2 favourite Ivanovich Gorbatov’s third start and second win over hurdles – he was beaten into fourth in a Grade One at Leopardstown in February. He won twice on the Flat when ridden by Joseph O’Brien.

Geraghty said: “He was brilliant the first time – it was just the ground last time. Joseph has done a great job on him, he has him so well. That first day at Leopardstown [when he won], I couldn’t believe it was his first time [over hurdles].”

1) Ivanovich Gorbatov (J P McManus) Aidan O’Brien IRE 4-11-00 Barry Geraghty 9/2 Fav
2) Apple’s Jade (Gigginstown House Stud) Willie Mullins IRE 4-10-07 Bryan Cooper 12/1
3) Footpad (Simon Munir/Issac Souede) Willie Mullins IRE 4-11-00 Ruby Walsh 5/1

Distances: 1¼, 6

TWO-THREE-FOUR FOR MULLINS

The juvenile hurdling crown was decided in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, in which Irish-trained horses filled the first four places.

Ivanovich Gorbatov became a first Festival winner for trainer Aidan O’Brien, while horses from the stable of Willie Mullins finished second, third and fourth. The filly Apple’s Jade made the winner work hard for his length-and-a-quarter victory, and she was six lengths ahead of Footpad. Let’s Dance came home in fourth.

Mullins said of the Gigginstown House Stud-owned runner-up: “There’s not much of Apple’s Jade, but I think that with a summer at grass she will mature a lot. Footpad didn’t seem to appreciate the hood and going at that speed, while Let’s Dance stayed on and is going to be a nice novice for next year. Let’s Dance has not won yet so we will probably keep her a maiden.”

Both Apple’s Jade and Let’s Dance have an entry in a Grade One novices’ hurdle for fillies at Fairyhouse in nine days’ time.

Mullins said: “It might be a bit too soon for Apple’s Jade, but we will leave her in until the last minute and take it from there.”

THE JOCKEYS GIVE THEIR VERDICT ON THE GOING

Before the first the official going was: Good

After the race the jockeys said:

Aidan Coleman, rider of the fifth-placed Leoncavallo, reported: “Slow side of good.”

Noel Fehily, partner of Clan Des Obeaux (6th) said: “Good, but it’s a bit slower than yesterday.”

Richard Johnson, Sam Twiston-Davies, Sean Bowen, Wayne Hutchinson and Nick Scholfield all described the ground as: “Good.”

SKELTONS’ STORY IS SUPERB

Superb Story gave trainer Dan Skelton his first Festival success when running out the game winner of the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon.

The 8/1 shot had a long run for home as the field were marshalled around the final flight, which was dolled off following a fall on the first circuit, but he stuck to his task well, staying on strongly up the hill to deny runner-up Fethard Player by two and a half lengths.

It was a real family affair as Skelton’s brother, Harry, rode the horse to victory and the trainer’s smile was beaming shortly after the race.

“It’s magic – it’s just amazing,” said Skelton.

“My horses have been running well all week and we just hoped and prayed that this can happen. We’ve had a great year but that’s everything and, with Harry being on him, it makes it even more special.

“Without sounding obvious, it was going to happen one day but you hope it will be sooner rather than later.

“To be involved with any winner at any level is great – we’re all in this sport to be winners – but this is extra special. Ok, it’s not a Grade One but it’s magic.

“I’ve not been doing this that long and I had a lot of experience and success working for Paul (Nicholls, to whom Skelton was assistant trainer in the Kauto Star and Denman era) but to do it for myself is amazing.

“We’ve got a great team, some lovely owners, some decent horses and Harry is riding brilliantly. I hoped Harry was going to be on my first Festival winner obviously!

“This is the greatest day. I’m in my third year of training and this is our global championships. I know it’s only a handicap winner and he will be eclipsed by the Gold Cup winner and probably Victoria Pendleton but I couldn’t give a monkeys!”

Skelton’s father, Nick, an Olympic gold medallist who won a showjumping team gold at the 2012 London Olympics, was also quick to praise his sons after the race.

“I’m speechless,” said Skelton senior.

“Both boys work really hard. Harry’s been saying for two weeks that this horse was going to win – he had complete confidence in him. Hopefully these two are going to keep me in my old age!

“Harry has given him a lovely ride. I don’t know if he knew they were going to bypass the final fence but he obviously knew what he had left in the tank – I thought he might have gone too early.

“To get a winner is brilliant. This is like the Olympic games for National Hunt racing and to get a winner so early on in their career is terrific.”

MAGIC MOMENT FOR HARRY SKELTON

“Magic!” exclaimed jockey Harry Skelton after achieving a first Festival win for himself and his brother, Dan, courtesy of Superb Story in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle.

Superb Story, an 8/1 shot, was driven clear by Harry to beat 25 rivals and win by two and a half lengths and three and a half lengths from Fethard Player and Sternrubin.

“This is for the staff who graft and graft,” said Harry. “I’m so thankful to Dan [who trains Superb Story] and to Dad [showjumper Nick] who has given us everything. I’ve believed in this horse, and when I saw the last hurdle had been taken out I said to myself, ‘right, get stuck in’.

“In this game a lot of people will knock you down, but you have to be thick skinned and I’m just glad to get the opportunities. I said to Hannah [Nicol, the horse’s groom] a week ago that this was the one. I schooled him yesterday and I couldn’t see him being beaten. Dan has kept him fresh since he ran in the Greatwood Hurdle in November and trained him to the minute.”

He added: “I know we have been given so much by Dad and people think we are lucky, but if ever I have children I will do the same for them. We have still had to take the opportunity and make it work.”

1) Superb Story (A Holt, J Robinson, A Taylor & S Miller) Dan Skelton 5-10-12 Harry Skelton 8/1
2) Fethard Player (William Treacy) William Treacy IRE 9-11-02 David Mullins (3) 33/1
3) Sternrubin (Terry Warner) Philip Hobbs 5-11-02 Tom O’Brien 33/1
4) Wait For Me (Andrew Cohen) Philip Hobbs 6-10-13 Richard Johnson 7/1 Jt Fav

7/1 Jt Fav Great Field

Distances: 2½, 3½, hd

1st win at The Festival for trainer Dan Skelton
1st win at The Festival for jockey Harry Skelton

THE BETBRIGHT CUP – GREAT BRITAIN – 11 IRELAND – 12

PLAYER SHOWS HIS GAME AFTER LONG LAY-OFF

The Billy Treacy-trained and owned Fethard Player finished second at 33/1 to Superb Story by two and half lengths. It was the nine-year-old’s first run since October 31.

Treacy wasn’t present, but his daughter Mia said: “We’re delighted. He’s been off since October – he doesn’t like winter ground, and ideally we’d have got a run into him before now, but he’s so honest, he’d kill himself on winter ground.

“He’s been a brilliant investment. My brother Kieran and I bought him for 3,000 euros at the Goffs Sale in 2011. He’s very small, only about 15.3hh, but he has a big heart.

“You’d wonder whether he’s now gone from handicap company into graded races, but he might be a little bit below that in ability. But perhaps the better handicaps where he wouldn’t have top weight.”

Fethard Player was ridden by David Mullins, who said: “He’s a great little horse to ride. He was in the box seat everywhere, he winged the hurdles. He’s due a big one some day.”

A further three and a half lengths back in third was the Philip Hobbs-trained Sternrubin, ridden by Tom O’Brien.

O’Brien said: “He’s a tough horse, game, stays all day and jumps well. I had a good run around.”

NOW HARRY KNOWS THE MEANING OF A FESTIVAL FIRST

A horse who was bought to give a club of owners some fun landed one of The Festival’s championship races today, providing trainer Harry Fry with his first ‘official’ winner at the meeting.

Fry has been credited with plotting victory for Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby in 2010, while based at a satellite yard for trainer Paul Nicholls. Now a trainer in his own right he got off the mark when Unowhatimeanharry won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle under Noel Fehily. An 11/1 shot, the winner beat Fagan (33/1) and Champers On Ice (20/1) by one and a quarter lengths and one and a half lengths.

The Pertemps Network Final was the plan for Unowatimeanharry, but a win at Taunton caused a rethink. Fry said: “At the start of the season he was a 123-rated hurdler and the plan was simply to win a race for the [Harry Fry Racing] Club. It didn’t matter where – just to win a race and give the members a day out. First time out he won a conditional jockeys’ handicap at The Open meeting, so to end up back here winning the Albert Bartlett is extraordinary.

“Noel was brilliant and just let them get on with it. As always in this race it was a furious gallop and Noel was cool. He said he might not have been on the best horse, but he’s as hard as nails and tries all day. He kept battling and kept finding on the rising ground.

“The plan was the Pertemps. Two days after he won a qualifier for that race at Exeter I rang the handicapper thinking we might get a 7lb or 8lb rise, which he won off 138, and he said ‘that is the best staying novice hurdler performance I’ve seen all season’. I nearly put the phone down on him!

“He said you are nearly going up 12lb to 14lb, which will put you level with Barter’s Hill and company. Martin Greenwood, the handicapper, said ‘if I was given the choice I’d take your horse’, and that gave me the confidence to aim for the Albert Bartlett. We thought long and hard, because he had made his mark in handicaps.

“We bought him last summer, thinking he had the right profile for a club horse. He was a maiden, so he gave us lots of options – he had a bit of form and we could run him regularly for a bit of fun. There are 40 members and four horses in the Club, but for him to do this for them is extraordinary.”

A FESTIVAL FIRST FOR FRY AND FEHILY

Unowhatimeanharry’s victory in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at 11/1 was jockey Noel Fehily’s first of The Festival 2016, and his third Festival winner in total. Trained by Harry Fry, the eight-year-old has now won all five of his starts this season, and took the Grade One race by a length and a quarter.

Fehily said:“He’s unbelievable. He started off rated 123 [when the horse joined Fry last summer], and he won round here [at The Open in November] and won round Newbury, and if you’d told me he’d be winning an Albert Bartlett I’d have fallen over! He’s so tough and Harry Fry, what a trainer. He’s had this horse absolutely primed for today. I schooled him the other week and you’d have thought it was his first run of the season, he was that fresh. It just seems like he’s improved again.”

Describing the race, Fehily said: “It was tight and we were plenty far enough back. I had Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Richard Johnson around me so I was pretty happy I was probably in the right place!

“He’s just a tough little horse and nothing fazes him. He jumped fantastic and I knew when I turned up the hill, ‘this one won’t be stopping’. He stays well; he’s not very big but he’s very gutsy.

“It’s fantastic to get one on the board eventually.”

1) Unowhatimeanharry (Harry Fry Racing Club) Harry Fry 8-11-05 Noel Fehily 11/1
2) Fagan (Ronnie Bartlett) Gordon Elliott IRE 6-11-05 Davy Russell 33/1
3) Champers On Ice (Prof Caroline Tisdall & Bryan Drew) David Pipe 6-11-05 Tom Scudamore 20/1

7/2 Fav Shantou Village

Distances: 1¼, 1½

FAGAN CAN’T QUITE PICK HARRY’S POCKET

The Gordon Elliott-trained Fagan stayed on strongly up the Cheltenham hill but couldn’t quite reel in the one and a quarter length winner, the Harry Fry-trained Unowwhatimeanharry, in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival this afternoon.

The 33/1 shot, owned by Ronnie Bartlett, whose company Albert Bartlett sponsored the race, had plenty of ground to make up as the field turned for home but responded to some strong driving from his jockey, Davy Russell, to take second place up the hill, with the David Pipe-trained Champers On Ice a further length and a half back in third.

Russell was happy enough with the performance of the runner-up following the race.

“He’s a tough horse,” said the jockey.

“He travelled well. You need to be on the bridle round here, which he was for the majority of the race, and he stayed on well.”

Tom Scudamore, jockey of Champers On Ice, was looking to the future for the 20/1 chance after the race.

“He’s run a tremendous race,” said Scudamore.

“He’s going to be a fantastic staying chaser. I was flat out for a long way but hasn’t he kept on well? He’s kept on at the one pace. In an ideal world, it would have been nice if we’d have had a bit of rain last night but that’s all in hindsight.

“He’s handled everything, travelled well and is continuing to improve.”

NO EXCUSES FOR ‘BRAVE’ BARTERS

Ben Pauling gave no excuse after Barters Hill’s fourth in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

The six-year-old son of Kalanisi was coming into Cheltenham with an unbeaten record from this season and last season and was last seen winning a Grade Two at Doncaster. He had been a solid favourite in the build-up to this year’s Festival but drifted on Thursday morning and Pauling reported he had pulled out stiff on Wednesday morning but was fine on Thursday.

Ridden by regular jockey David Bass and send off 4/1, Barters Hill made the running in his usual style but seemed to not have enough in his locker when Unowhatimeanharry, Champers On Ice and Fagan came knocking on the door, eventually finishing four and a half lengths off the winner.

Pauling said: “He’s run very well, I wouldn’t be a trainer if I wasn’t competitive and being beaten is not what I came here to do today. He actually got a lovely position and he’s lobbed away and there were no hard-luck stories, the only thing I might think is that on genuinely good ground has he quite got the turn of foot the others have at the end.

“He is as hard as nails and I am so proud of the horse. There are going to be plenty of other days ahead and we will look forward to those. I thought we might have to drop him in today but we didn’t and in this absolute top-class we were unable to tear them apart.”

The trainer continued: “Coming round the home bend, I thought he’d win it. It was just unusual because normally in that position he only has to beat one but they were coming from every angle today.”

Commenting on possible future plans, the handler commented: “He will see how it comes out of it. We will bypass Aintree, if he is A 1, we might consider Punchestown but this was the main aim and he’s done so well this season. Three miles might have stretched him a bit and I wouldn’t be surprised if we dropped him back in trip, but I don’t know. There was no hard luck story – we’ve been beaten today.”

More winning jockey quotes from the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle

BRILLIANT FOR THE SKELTONS

Harry Skelton, the winning rider on Superb Story, said: “I was just saying when I came back in, I was three places closer than I wanted to be the whole way, but I wanted a good start and to be out trouble.

“I know it is mad to say but we have never fancied one as much. It is only our second year here but we knew this was our golden ticket and Superb Story has delivered.

“Dan (Skelton – trainer and brother) has trained him to the second. It takes some balls to leave the horse off since the Greatwood (at Cheltenham in November) but we knew if we got him right that he would win.

“Dan has learnt from the master and there is no better tuition. It is brilliant for everyone and team because they all put so much into it and I am the lucky one who gets a lot of the glory. This is for everyone and hopefully we will have a good old doo tonight.

“The horses have been running really well this week and have hit every bit or woodwork bar the net. It is nice to get one slotted in – it’s magic.

“As good a season as we have had, these are the four days that matter to everyone. It is brilliant to get the first one on the board.”

Trainer Dan Skelton added: “We have planned it out with this horse and really believed in him.

“I was talking to Phil Smith (the BHA Head of Handicapping) earlier and he said we were brave not running beforehand, but he’s not really a horse who wants soft ground.

“In these handicaps this week, you have seen horses just get in off 139 or 140 and I did not want to run the risk of running all winter on bad ground then going down and not getting in here.

“Superb Story has been working beautifully in the build-up to this. This is our Olympics and to get one on the board means the world.

“I think the sport is evolving now and Cheltenham is taking up so much of the priority on a 52-week basis.

“There is so much pointing towards it that you have to run risk of holding a few back for it, although things can go wrong in running and you don’t get your day when you have saved all your coins.

“There were 26 runners with a plan in that race and luckily it came off for us.”


ELLIOTT SPEECHLESS AFTER GOLD CUP WIN

Don Cossack justified 9/4 favouritism in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, winning by four and a half lengths for owner Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Bryan Cooper.

It was an eighth Festival success for 38-year-old Elliott who won the Grand National with Silver Birch in his first season as a trainer, said: “I’m just so happy for all of us – all the staff in the yard, and my mother and father.

“I’m in a great position; I’ve got a lot of good owners at the moment.

“I can’t believe it! It’s unbelievable. I’m delighted for my staff, my family. It’s great. To be honest, I need to look at the race again – I was so nervous all the way around. That was something special.

“Brilliant, unbelievable, I can’t believe it. I can’t thank Michael and Anita and Eddie [O’Leary] and Wendy enough, and all at Gigginstown – they supported me from the start.

“I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I’m just so happy for all of us, all the staff in the yard, my mother and father.

“It means so much to me to win a Gold Cup. It was something special.”

COSSACK DANCES TO GOLD CUP VICTORY

Two years after suffering a bad leg break at the Cheltenham Festival, Bryan Cooper struck gold after Don Cossack stormed to victory in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup this afternoon.

Cooper was riding Clarcam, owned by Gigginstown House Stud (who also own Don Cossack and retain Cooper as their stable jockey) in the 2014 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle when the four-year-old fell at the second last when holding a narrow lead. Cooper broke the tibia and fibia in his right leg and doctors feared he could lose his leg but the popular Irishman made a full recovery and recorded the biggest victory of his career to date as Don Cossack put his rivals to the sword with a bloodless performance.

Cooper always had the 9/4 favourite handy and the pair only had Djakadam to beat after the unfortunate fall of Cue Card three fences from home. He sent the nine-year-old for home as the field turned into the home straight and the runner-up had no answer to his finishing kick, as Don Cossack skipped up the hill to land a famous four and a half-length victory.

The jockey was understandably delighted after the race.

“I can’t believe that’s happened – it was over so quick,” said Cooper.

“I couldn’t believe I was going that easy turning for home. He went to go round again at the bend after the last. He galloped the whole way to the line. He jumped great – he only missed one fence all the way round. Other than that, he was foot perfect.

“Fair play to Gordon and the team, Michael (O’Leary – whose Gigginstown House Stud own the horse) and Eddie (O’Leary – Michael’s brother) – they always believed in him and trained him for this race.

“We’ve put all the doubters away now – they all said he wasn’t good enough. All the people who said I didn’t get on with him – we’ve put them in their place today. There’s only one day – and this was it. He didn’t need cheekpieces on this ground. He might have needed them if it was soft, but not on that ground. We’ve not quite had one good enough this week but this one certainly was.

“I can’t thank Michael and Eddie enough. From the time I broke my leg here two years ago, they have supported me all the way. Last year was a hit and miss year, I had a couple that got away from us but they really stuck by me. That filled me full of confidence. We’re a great team and this was a great team effort. Don Cossack has beaten what’s been put in front of him and that’s all he can do. He’s the best I’ve ever sat on.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make (Cooper had to choose whether to ride Don Cossack or third-placed Don Poli, who is in the same ownership) and I think people backed Don Poli more as they thought I’d chosen the wrong one. We proved it though – he was the best horse and the highest rated horse for a reason.

“I think it’s clear to say that he needs good ground now. Everything went perfect today. He got into a great rhythm and jumped well. We didn’t want to get him crowded and we didn’t. I knew from the turn in that he’d win.”

DON GIVES O’LEARY SECOND GOLD CUP

Don Cossack’s impressive four and a half length success in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup was a second in the showpiece race for owner Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, after War Of Attrition’s win in 2006.

Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Bryan Cooper, was the 9/4 favourite.

O’Leary said: “I am actually so emotional! We have been doing seconds all week. Bryan gave Don Cossack a peach of a ride and for [O’Leary’s other runner] Don Poli to finish third is brilliant.

“I am delighted for Gordon. He has obviously had a tough week losing No More Heroes and it was also tough for Bryan. To win a Gold Cup is beyond dreams. It is 10 years since we won it with War Of Attrition and what a way to celebrate the anniversary.

“What a race. Djakadam put it up to him the whole way around and I feel sorry for Cue Card. It is a pity.

“Gold Cups are incredibly hard to win. I’m thrilled! I’m so happy I could cry.

“Gordon’s a magnificent trainer, Bryan’s a magnificent jockey. To win a Gold Cup at just 23, 24… Ruby [Walsh] has had a great week, but Ruby is the master of riding round here and hopefully Bryan will be the next Ruby.”

When asked whether it has been a long wait since War Of Attrition took the race, O’Leary replied: “It’s very tough to find those horses. We’ve had a few like Weapon’s Amnesty, who won an RSA Chase and got injured. Gold Cup winners are impossible to find. I’ve bought a lot of horses in the past 10 years!”

SECOND AGAIN FOR DJAKADAM AS IRISH SWEEP FIRST FOUR PLACES

Irish stables mopped up steeplechasing’s greatest race as Don Cossack led his rivals home in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The runner-up Djakadam, a 9/2 chance, was repeating his placing of 12 months ago – he was beaten four and a half lengths this time, but was 10 lengths clear of his stablemate Don Poli, who, like the winner, is owned by Gigginstown House Stud. Jockey Bryan Cooper, who is retained by Gigginstown, could have ridden Don Poli, but picked the right one.

Willie Mullins, who has yet to win the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, and who has trained the runner-up six times, said of Djakadam, who was ridden by Ruby Walsh for owner Rich Ricci: “We have no excuses – he had every chance from the fifth-last home and jumped as cleanly as he could. He was beaten by a better horse on the day so congratulations to all the connections of the winner.

“Gigginstown invest a huge amount in Irish sport, I’m delighted for Gordon [Elliott, the trainer of Don Cossack] and also for Bryan Cooper. He had a difficult choice to make, and while it may not have looked that way during the race he has been wondering for a month about his choice of rides.

“I would imagine the ground was just too fast for Don Poli – he wasn’t able to go the pace. He just stayed on and on and is possibly a Grand National horse.

“It’s tough to finish second twice with Djakadam, and it is going to be tough now for him to win one. We’ll see, but I would imagine he would stay on this road in a bid to come back here next year.”

CUE CARD FINE AFTER HIS FALL

Colin Tizzard reflected on Cue Card’s fall at the third last fence when his horse had taken a narrow lead.

The trainer said: “We just thank god that Cue Card got up after the fall. That is championship racing, isn’t it – two seconds before that you think here we go – he was slightly in front. He just put down and hit the top of the fence and over he went.

“He is absolutely fine, he’s walked away as though he hasn’t got care in the world and hardly blowing. There are worst things that have happened.

“Going flat out in a Gold Cup, it will bring mistakes. He hasn’t looked like falling in four seasons of chasing. Joe fell off him once.

“He was running a brilliant race – chuffed to have had him for the last six years. He is racing differently nowadays – off the bridle and lobbing along.”

Cue Card started at 5/2 second favourite today in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.

3.30pm G1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup

1 Don Cossack (GER) (Tongue Strap) Gordon Elliott, Ireland 11st 10lb Bryan Cooper 9/4 Fav
2 Djakadam (FR) Willie Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Ruby Walsh 9/2
3 Don Poli (IRE) Willie Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Davy Russell 9/2
4 Carlingford Lough (IRE) John Kiely, Ireland 11st 10lb Barry Geraghty
5 Irish Cavalier (IRE) (Sheepskin C/P) Rebecca Curtis 11st 10lb Paul Townend
6 Smad Place (FR) Alan King 11st 10lb Wayne Hutchinson
7 O’Faolains Boy (IRE) (Sheepskin C/P) Rebecca Curtis 11st 10lb Noel Fehily
8 On His Own (IRE) (Sheepskin C/P) Willie Mullins, Ireland 11st 10lb Mr Patrick Mullins
FELL 3 OUT Cue Card (Tongue Strap) Colin Tizzard 11st 10lb Paddy Brennan

9 ran
Non-Runner: Road To Riches (Other, Ran Yesterday)
Distances: 4½, 10, 7, nose, 16, 15, 1½
Breeder: Gestut Etzean
Breeding: br g Sholokhov (IRE) – Depeche Toi (GER) (Konigsstuhl (GER))
Tote Win: £3.00 Places: £1.50,£1.50,£1.80 Exacta: £579,902

Gordon Elliott
Synopsis – Has risen to become one of Ireland’s leading Jump trainers since taking out his licence 10 years ago. Shot to international prominence with victory in the 2007 Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree, aged 29, despite having not had a winner back home, and has gone on to record numerous major wins in Ireland and Britain, including five successes at The Festival. Born – March 2, 1978 Background – a successful point-to-point rider, who also partnered winners under Rules. Started his racing career while still at school, working at Tony Martin’s stable in County Meath. From there, he moved to Britain, joining Martin Pipe in 2002, and during his spell in Somerset his six rides as an amateur included one winner. Elliott then returned to Ireland for another term at Martin’s stables. Started training from Capranny Stables in Trim, Co Meath in early 2006 and bought Cullentra House farm in 2011. He has emerged over the last few seasons as the main challenger to Willie Mullins’ dominance in Ireland and has already sent out more than 100 winners at home this season. First winner as a trainer – Arresting, Fugro-Technip Handicap Hurdle, Perth, June 11, 2006

Cheltenham Festival wins (8)
2011: 2 – National Hunt Chase (Chicago Grey), Coral Cup (Carlito Brigante)
2013: 1 – Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Flaxen Flare)
2014: 1 – JCB Triumph Hurdle (Tiger Roll)
2015: 1 – National Hunt Chase (Cause Of Causes)
2016: 3 (so far) Coral Cup (Diamond King), Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase (Cause Of Causes), Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup (2016 Don Cossack)

Other major wins include:
Crabbie’s Grand National (2007 Silver Birch), Betfred Ebor (2010 Dirar), Drinmore Novice Chase (2010 Jessies Dream, 2013 Don Cossack, 2015 No More Heroes), Powers Gold Cup (2013 Realt Mor), Punchestown Champion Novice Chase (2013 Mount Benbulben), JNWine.com Champion Chase (2013 Roi Du Mee, 2015 Don Cossack), John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase (2014 Don Cossack), Racing Post Novice Chase (2014 Clarcam), Manifesto Novices’ Chase (2015 Clarcam), Melling Chase (2015 Don Cossack), Punchestown Gold Cup (2015 Don Cossack), Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle (2015 Prince Of Scars), Neville Hotels Novice Chase (2015 No More Heroes)

6th success at The Festival for jockey Bryan Cooper (1st Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup victory)

15th success at The Festival for owner Gigginstown House Stud (2nd Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup victory after War Of Attrition in 2006).

THE BETBRIGHT CUP – GREAT BRITAIN – 12 IRELAND – 13

COOPER RELIEVED HE MADE THE RIGHT DECISION

Bryan Cooper said at the post-race press confrerence that he always ‘knew he was on the right horse’ after winning the Timico Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Don Cossack for his boss Michael O’Leary.

Cooper was left with what looked like a hard choice between two Gigginstown horses and chose to ride Don Cossack, which meant getting off last year’s RSA winner Don Poli who finished third today.

Cooper said about the decision: “It wasn’t that easy after Don Poli won the RSA last year although it’s hard to know how much he had left last year. I knew I would be on the best horse in the race, Gordon (Elliot) and everyone had him in tip-top shape.”

Explaining how the race turned out, Cooper continued: “I had plenty of horse under me and came close to the fourth last and still landed running away, and I knew I had Ruby (Walsh on Djakadam) and Cue Card in trouble and it was a case of him being quick enough and from the last he had his ears pricked and he wasn’t doing a stroke.

“There were a lot of press around saying that ‘I couldn’t get on with the horse’ and I think I’ve proved you all wrong now so I’m delighted.”

Cooper, who started his career with Dessie Hughes, paid tribute to the late trainer: “Definitely I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for Dessie, and he was definitely cheering me on over the last.”

Talking about the pressure riding for such a high-profile boss, Cooper commented: “I was under no pressure from any of the trainers or the owners. They knew the runners were finishing as good as they could, there have been no hard luck stories, except No More Heroes who we unfortunately lost – he was the one that got away.

“I had a great winner yesterday, one I least expected but that did help settle the nerves and it took that little bit of pressure off. I’m only 23 – Ruby, Barry and Davy Russell have 10 to 15 years more experience ahead of me but they’ve been very good to me, they keep saying keep your chin up and train hard and thankfully it paid off.”

Cooper, who broke his leg badly in the 2104 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at The Festival, said: “It was bad enough, but there are plenty of soccer players who have had the same injury and been back playing after four or six months later. I’ve always said that if it happened at Thurles on a Thursday it wouldn’t have been blown up half as much and it was the first year in the new job and everybody thought that was it.

“But I came back and had a good season last year, won the RSA and there were maybe one or two got away, but we’re here now a year older, a year wiser supported by a great team and I’m very lucky.”

FRINGE AGAIN AS CARBERRY AND PENDLTON EXCEL

The outstanding woman amateur of her generation was overshadowed before the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase by a novice rider, but she was in front when it mattered.

Nina Carberry won last year’s race riding On The Fringe for owner J P McManus, and she repeated the feat on the same horse today, bringing the Enda Bolger-trained winner through late to win going away – back in fifth, and worthy of just as many plaudits as Carberry, was Victoria Pendleton, the Olympian who began riding last year, and covered herself in glory on Pacha Du Polder.

She was beaten less than three lengths and was finishing as well as any after a hold-up ride, while 13/8 favourite On The Fringe beat Marito by a neck, with last year’s third, Paint The Clouds, taking that slot again, another length further back. Sheikh Fahad’s Current Event was fourth, beaten a further length.

Enda Bolger, who trains On The Fringe, said: “It’s exciting, and it’s got a bit of everything – we’re not only clapping Nina on the back, but Victoria also. It was a brilliant performance by both women and it gives the [St James’s Place] Foxhunter Chase a great lift.

“He hadn’t run since Punchestown in April when he was beaten first time out this season, and after his three big wins here, at Aintree and Punchestown we were very kind on him and gave him a good break at J P’s place. He came back a little too burly and needed a race for the match practice. He needed to pull out all the stops today.

“He likes to be ridden from behind and arrive late, but they were going so fast up front there was no other option. It all came together.

“If everything is okay in the next 10 days the plan is to go back to Aintree, and then consider Punchestown again.”

CARBERRY DOUBLES UP

Under a beautifully-timed ride from Nina Carberry, 13/8 favourite On The Fringe won his second consecutive St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase by a neck from Marito.

It was only the Enda Bolger-trained 11-year-old’s second run of the season, and he was beaten on his reappearance at Leopardstown on February 6.

Carberry has now won six races at The Festival and three St James’s Place Foxhunter Chases.

She said: “I’m just so happy, so happy, I can’t believe it. I didn’t think I had a chance turning in, I was boxed in with nowhere to go. I was bit worried going to the second last and I needed a jump at the last and he winged them, he’s always there for you.

“He [Enda Bolger] is unbelievable for getting a horse right. He kept him for today and a spring campaign and he’s done a great job.”

“I was expecting a better gallop for him, to be honest, to use his jumping more and I couldn’t really do that. When it started heating up a lot of bunching happened and we missed the third last and I thought, ‘oh God, our chance has gone’ because they’d kicked on a bit and I’d lost about three lengths. But in fairness he dug back and winged the last two, and he kept going. It was a brilliant training performance by Enda.

“[The horse] doesn’t handle very heavy ground and it showed that day [at Leopardstown]; he didn’t handle it at all but we needed to get a run into him and he had to run. He loves the spring ground – it brings out the best in him. It’s a dream come true to win here again.”

Asked about Victoria Pendleton, Carberry said: “It’s the first time I’ve met her today and I think she’s great. She’s got an unbelievable attitude to the whole thing and I’m delighted she got around – fifth place is a great achievement. She had a great horse to ride and look after her, and may she go onwards from here. She has the competitive edge and she loves it to bits.”

1) On The Fringe (J P McManus) Enda Bolger IRE 11-12-00 Ms Nina Carberry 13/8 Fav
2) Marito (James Marley/Samuel Downey) Colin McBratney IRE 10-12-00 Mr Noel McParlan 14/1
3) Paint The Clouds (Peter Deal & Robin Eynon) Warren Greatrex 11-12-00 Mr Sam Waley-Cohen 9/2

Distances: nk, 1
7th win at The Festival for trainer Enda Bolger
6th win at The Festival for jockey Nina Carberry

THE BETBRIGHT CUP – GREAT BRITAIN – 12 IRELAND – 14

CHAMPION TRAINER NICHOLLS HEAPS PRAISE ON PENDLETON

Britain’s champion trainer Paul Nicholls was full of praise for Victoria Pendleton following her fifth place finish in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase.

While many voices had said the former Olympic cyclist, who had ridden just one winner before today, was too much of a novice to be allowed to ride in such a competitive race – 24 went to post – Nicholls defended the decision to allow her to ride Pacha Du Polder. Last for a circuit, she gradually made up ground and was beaten less than three lengths at the finish.

Nicholls said: “Congratulations first to Nina Carberry [who rode winner On The Fringe], but for Victoria to finish fifth after all the publicity and people doubting her ability was superb. Believe you me, Team Ditcheat would not have let her go out there today if she was not ready. She has improved enormously and was brilliant today.

“She did what we told her – I said, ride him that way and you can finish fifth or sixth. She’s had a thrill and it’s been good for racing across the board.

“She’s not won, but she’s ridden ‘a winner’ today in everyone’s eyes, and you saw the reaction from the crowd – it’s what the sport is all about. There was a lot of people with a lot of opinions, and they do it because they haven’t got a voice otherwise – they want to get back in their box quite honestly. A professional team have been behind her and if we hadn’t believed in her she would not have ridden our horse. We’re not stupid and we knew what she was capable of.

“The horse is a legend and the one I felt was suited to giving her a ride, and Andy [Stewart, the owner] was very kind to let her get on board. She earned the right to be out here.”

Nicholls confirmed that Pacha Du Polder would now be aimed at Aintree’s Crabbies Fox Hunters’ Chase in which he was second last year, but that Will Biddick would be back in the saddle. Pendleton is not qualified, yet, to take a ride over Aintree’s Grand National fences.

However, Nicholls added: “There are some other hunters’ chases later in the season, such as a ladies’ race at Stratford, and we will consider that. She can get back on him then.”

VICTORIA PENDLETON PRESS CONFERENCE

Victoria Pendleton

“The first couple of fences came really quickly and, as you can probably tell by watching, I wasn’t the most tidy. Then we settled into a rhythm and I just kind of tried to relax into it. He jumped so beautifully, even with very little space, he really gave me a great opportunity and was very relaxed. I just tried to steady him up and stay on the inner as much as I could. I was really trying not to expend too much energy because I knew the trip was going to be the biggest challenge of the day. Now, I’m just kicking myself because if I didn’t have my whip stuck down the breast girth, I may have got fourth! Don’t ask how I did that – novice mistake!

“Nobody knew if this was possible – myself included. The team around me set off with a challenge and we were going to give it our best shot, take it one step at a time and we didn’t know. Today, we could have been sat here and I could have fallen off, fallen out of the side door and we would have been in a very different situation. I’m just glad we made it.”

Barry Orr, Betfair

“I think the team of experts around Victoria have been vindicated. We deferred to that team and we’ve been behind her throughout the campaign and throughout the challenge. Lawney and Alan Hill, who have not only been mentors but have become very close friends, Yogi Breisner and Paul Nicholls all said she could do it and made the decision to take up this challenge. I think they’ve been completely vindicated.”

Pendleton

“I’ve had complete faith in my team of experts from the very start. I trusted and believed every decision that they came to – whether it was yes or no.”

Lawney Hill, Victoria Pendleton’s mentor

“When Alan rang Paul this morning and asked him how he wanted her to ride the horse today, everyone agreed on the plan and we went off to walk the course. We knew Pacha Du Polder was a doubtful stayer so the idea was to ride him sensibly, hunt him around and riding him coming through with a finish. Had there been another couple of furlongs, she might have won! It’s a tremendous achievement. I think we won’t realise what an achievement it is until two or three days time until we see just how much Victoria has done for racing. It’s a huge, phenomenal thing.”

Pendleton

“I’ve got no ambitions to go on to Aintree – I think that would be a step too far. I’m more likely to sprout wings and fly rather than ride there! I think, with my level of experience, it would take a lot more seasons before I could consider that. We’ll have to take it one step at a time. I’ve really enjoyed the point-to-pointing. It’s a really relaxed, lovely environment. I’ve been very welcomed by the organisers and the jockeys – in the tent, getting changed with your feet on a plastic bag in the mud. I’ve really enjoyed that and I definitely want to continue with that and consolidate what I’ve learned – I’ve not really had a chance to do that yet. Hopefully I can become a more competent horse woman and see what’s next. Give me any sport and I’ll give it a try though!

MORE VICTORIA PENDLETON

Victoria Pendleton

“The achievement comes on the back of the fact that Andy Stewart and Paul Nicholls have very kindly given me the chance to ride such a fantastic horse. A better jockey on that horse would have won the race today. He is a very classy, experienced horse. If I hadn’t have had a horse as classy, as canny and as experienced as that, I wouldn’t have finished fifth.

Lawney Hill, Victoria Pendleton’s mentor

“I think you do yourself an injustice there Victoria. Paul thinks that if we had put one of the lads on there, they would have tried to ride more of a race and therefore would have had less of a chance at the end. Don’t do yourself down! The first thing she did when she came back was say sorry!”

Pendleton

“I’m just going to enjoy going back to the yard. We’re going to be riding out again in the morning at Lawney’s – first lot – and I will just enjoy riding out and the training aspect of it, working with the horses every day, getting to know them, feeling their form come on. This is the same thing I enjoyed about training when I was cycling – the development and the understanding, the feel of it. I just want to learn more about the craft without any pressure or expectation and just soak it all up. I haven’t had the time to grow and learn in this challenge and now perhaps I do. The atmosphere is really strange. As soon as you get the leg up on that horse, you’re totally focusing on your job. Although lots of people are saying good luck, I was just focusing on ‘lower leg forward Vicky’, ‘get lower into the horse’, ‘think about the space’ and I was thinking about the jumps and when to hold on when we got to the uphill and downhill jumps and which they were. I was just completely focused on what I was doing and it wasn’t until I got to the home straight that I was aware that there was noise. The reception was almost like I’d won coming back in which was special! I feel very lucky for that – it was lovely! It was really unexpected. I didn’t expect to get that cheer as I came back – it was quite humbling. It was an experience I will never forget – it will rank right up there with being in the Olympic Velodrome. How often does someone get to perform in a sporting event like that in front of so many people in such a prestigious Festival? I feel very honoured and a very fortunate human being to be given such wonderful opportunities and I’d like to thank everyone for making it possible because it was ambitious, it was a dream, it was audacious, it was ridiculous! We all gave it our best shot and you know what? I got round on the horse! I feel awesome about it!

“I haven’t got any rides in a point-to-point this weekend but it’s my local point a week later so I definitely will be there. I’ll be riding According To Sarah, my lovely chestnut mare, at Kimble (in Buckinghamshire). I’ll know a lot of people so that’ll be nice. I wanted to stay on the inside today as Pacha has a tendency to jump a bit left so I was going one in, one out to help this. I also wanted to use that new ground. Watching videos of the Foxhunters in previous years, I noticed that coming round into the straight, everyone gets a bit more room. So I was hoping that all the jockeys were going to spread out and I would have some room to make my move. I was glad the race settled into a rhythm early on in the race as it made it a bit more comfortable and easy to manage.

“I hope Nina Carberry gets loads and loads of coverage because she deserves it. She did it for the girls! I was chatting to her in the changing room – it was the first time I’d met her – and she was really helpful. She was asking me questions about my preparation and warm up and training – stuff like that. I’m glad Nina won and I hope she gets lots of coverage for winning the Foxhunters because I was in it. Fingers crossed! I hope it has brought more attention to amateur racing – people may think of it as a bit of a low light but hopefully there will be good coverage for it. I think the Gold Cup is such a prestigious event that little old me couldn’t possibly overshadow it.”

NICHOLLS: ‘I’VE HAD A GREAT DAY’

Ibis Du Rheu, a 14/1 shot, gave Paul Nicholls a second winner of The Festival 2016 in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, taking the race by a length and a quarter under Jack Sherwood, for whom this was a first Festival triumph.

Nicholls said: “I’m really thrilled for Jack. He’s had a hard old time of it; I kept saying to him this past fortnight, ‘you’ve got a nice ride at Cheltenham’. I didn’t really imagine he’d win, but he gave him a good ride and it was good for him

“We’ve always liked the horse, he’s just been a bit slow to come to hand. A bit like [Ibis Du Rheu’s half-brother] Saphir Du Rheu, he’s big and backward. He’ll make a good three-mile chaser in time – he obviously stays forever.

“I’ve had a great day with Victoria [Pendleton, who rode the Nicholls-trained Pacha Du Polder in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase], my two (former) assistants [Dan Skelton and Harry Fry] training winners, and Jack having a winner. Forget me, I’ve had a lot of pleasure out of these lads today. It’s been an awesome day.”

He continued: “Victoria gave Pacha Du Polder a beautiful ride in the circumstances, and the crowd… It was so good for everyone today.”

1) Ibis Du Rheu (John Hales) Paul Nicholls 5-11-07 Jack Sherwood 14/1
2) Flying Angel (R J Rexton) Nigel Twiston-Davies 5-11-06 Ryan Hatch 8/1
3) Sky Khan (The Ormello Way) Lucinda Russell 7-11-03 Derek Fox 50/1
4) Tully East (Barry Connell) Alan Fleming IRE 6-11-08 Shane Shortall 50/1

Distances: 1.25, 1.25, 6.

39th win at The Festival for trainer Paul Nicholls
1st win at The Festival for jockey Jack Sherwood

THE BETBRIGHT CUP – GREAT BRITAIN – 13 IRELAND – 14

SHERWOOD HAS DREAM RUN

Jack Sherwood admitted that after getting injured early this season he considered throwing in the towel and doing something else.

But he was pleased he stayed in the saddle after Ibus Du Rheu came home in front in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, his first winner at the Fesival.

Sherwood who is the son of Simon, who famously rode Desert Orchid to victory in the 1989 Gold Cup before Jack was born, but the jockey jokes: “Obviously, I’ve seen the replay loads of times!”

Sherwood, who broke his arm at Fakenham earlier in the season and had his first ride back on Boxing Day, said:”I was half thinking I would do something else, because I had 40 winners last season with some big Saturday winners and it just wasn’t getting going again. I just loved it too much to do that so I just stuck at it and now I can’t believe it. I’m just speechless.”

When asked if his father was here he said: “No, he’s in Sri Lanka! He’s clerk of the course at Ludlow, there’s no racing there until next week so he took a two-week break. I rode a winner for Paul at the Hennessy meeting and he wasn’t there then, so when he doesn’t come, it seems to do well!

“I’ve had seconds and third here but to have a winner at The Festival – there is no feeling like it.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies was pleased with last week’s Imperial Cup winner Flying Angel who finished second. The local trainer said: “Yes I’m delighted, he had a hard race last weekend at Sandown. We always thought we would win, but we didn’t so there we are.”

SOLAR ECLIPSES RIVALS AND ROUNDS UP A FABULOUS 434/1 DOUBLE FOR NICHOLLS

Trainer Paul Nicholls wore the biggest smile in Cheltenham’s winner’s enclosure after landing the final race at The Festival, 2016, and his third of the meeting.

His Solar Impulse, ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, won at 28/1, completing a 434/1 double initiated by Ibis Du Rheu in the previous race. Wearing blinkers for the first time, Solar Impulse, owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie, won by three and three-quarters of a length and half a length from Dandridge and the 9/2 favourite Rock The World. Savello finished fourth, another good result for Dan Skelton, a former assistant trainer to Nicholls.

The champion trainer, who now has a total of 40 Festival firsts, said: “It’s been a great day – we’ve had two nice winners, Victoria Pendleton had a great spin on Pacha Du Polder, Dan and Harry Skelton have had a winner [Superb Story in the Vincent O’Brien Handicap Hurdle] and Jack Sherwood has enjoyed his first Festival success.

“This horse has not been trying his hardest this season, but having said that he’s been running on heavy ground at Haydock and Exeter which he hated. We have been forced to take him out of races because of the ground, but today it was perfect and the blinkers made a big difference to him.

“Yesterday, when I was doing the declarations, I was thinking I’ve got to do something to get the best from this horse and decided to put the blinkers on, ten minutes before the deadline. Sometimes you get a gut feeling and it pays off. The day before I made a pig’s ear by not declaring blinkers for Arpege d’Alene [second in the Pertemps Network Final], but you don’t know if that would have made the difference or not.

“Last night we put blinkers on this horse while he was on the walker and then came here. To me he was travelling like the winner throughout the race, and he’s dropped to a handicap mark from which he can win. We’ll now go to Aintree.”

SOLAR IMPULSE FINALLY FINDS HIS FORM

Sam Twiston-Davies was delighted with Solar Impulse’s three and three quarter length win in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase. The win means he finishes with three wins for the week and is runner-up behind Ruby Walsh in the Boodles Leading Jockey Award.

“It’s absolutely brilliant,” Twiston-Davies said. “We were stood in the paddock beforehand discussing it and I can’t quite believe it has worked out as well as it has. Mr Wylie and me had a discussion before and he said I owed him one for the bumper, so it’s nice to get him one on the board.”

Solar Impulse has struggled to find form this season and this was only the second time he has delivered over fences – a first since 2014.

“We have been disappointed with the way this horse has been running all year but the blinkers and the good ground has made the world of difference. He jumped, he travelled it is as good a feel as I’ve had off him for a long time.”

“We needed to see something a bit more like this if he was going to win this, and I couldn’t been happier – he was really tanking along,” he continued. “This year he just seemed to be going to sleep on you during the races. It was a very different story today.”

“It’s important to get winners for the champion trainer at the Festival,” he continued. “I believe in him and it’s important he believes in me, and it’s important to come to meetings like this and ride winners.

“It’s great to ride winners here for the boss man [Nicholls] but also for Dad as well [Ballyandy in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper], so it’s been a great week.”

1) Solar Impulse (Andrea & Graham Wylie) Paul Nicholls 6-11-00 Sam Twiston-Davies 28/1
2) Dandridge (Ronnie Bartlett) Arthur Moore IRE 7-10-11 Davy Russell 8/1
3) Rock The World (Michael Buckley) Jessica Harrington IRE 8-11-06 Robbie Power 9/2 Fav
4) Savello ((S Smith & S Campion) Dan Skelton 10-11-05 Bridget Andrews (5) 25/1

Distances: 3¾, ½, 1 ¾

40h win at The Festival for trainer Paul Nicholls
7th win at The Festival for jockey Sam Twiston-Davies

THE BETBRIGHT CUP – GREAT BRITAIN – 14 IRELAND – 14

CROWD RISES AGAIN ON FOURTH DAY TO PROVIDE RECORD TOTAL

Today’s crowd amounted to 70,242, the highest attendance figure of the four days. Cheltenham has capped the attendance to make the experience of racegoers better. Last year’s crowd on Gold Cup Day was 68,957, while the record figure for the day was 70,765 in 2012.

The total for the four days – 260,579 – was a new Festival record.

Another impressive crowd of 65,544 attended Cheltenham Racecourse yesterday, easily topping last year’s record of 60,495 for the third day, St Patrick’s Thursday, since The Festival went to four days in 2005. The increase over last year amounted to 5,549 racegoers (+8.5%).

Wednesday’s attendance came to 57,093, up 1,734 (+3.1%) from the 55,359 last year on the second day of The Festival, Ladies Day. This is a record crowd for the second day since The Festival went to four days in 2005.

Tuesday’s crowd of 67,700 (2015 – 63,249) was a new record attendance for the opening day, Champion Day, of The Festival.

Day/year 2016 2015
Tuesday 67,700 63,249
Wednesday 57,093 55,359
Thursday 65,544 60,495
Friday 70,242 68,957
Totals 260,579 248,050 +12,529 (+5%)

BRITAIN AND IRELAND DRAW IN BETBRIGHT CUP

The BetBright Cup, celebrating the intense competition between Great Britain and Ireland at The Festival, finishes with a draw as both countries have 14 winners to their credit at the end of four fantastic days’ racing.

Robert “Choc” Thornton, who captained the British team, said with a smile: “We’ve retained the BetBright Cup – it’s a draw, but just like happens with the Ashes, the BetBright Cup stays in Britain!

“The highlight was Sprinter Sacre’s Bet Way Queen Mother Champion Chase win – that was a real ‘wow’ moment – and Thistlecrack in the Ryanair World Hurdle. And Altior beating Min in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle meant the Brits got off to a flying start.

“The Irish fought back, but a draw is a great result.”

Hector Ó hEochagáin, captain of the Irish team, said: “We’ve come over here and we’ve had a magnificent week. Choc has scraped a draw by the skin of his teeth, and I have no complaints – we’ve taken the lion’s share of the big championship races, we’ve taken the big prize-money of the week and Choc has just skinned a draw. It’s probably the best result.

“Choc’s happy because he didn’t want to be the only losing British captain of the BetBright Cup!”

More Timico Gold Cup quotes – fourth race

DJAKADAM RAN A BLINDER

Ruby Walsh, the rider of runner-up Djakadam, commented: “He ran a blinder after travelling really well. Smad Place was jumping right in front of him and gave us a great bit of light all the way.

“I jumped through on his inner somewhere down the back. It was just the drying ground I suppose really helped Don Cossack and looked like it was really going to help Cue Card as well, when he fell.

“But I didn’t have the speed – if it had been softer, more testing for stamina – but it was what it was on the day and Don Cossack was a very good winner.

“My horse has always been a very good jumper; when he won his beginners’ chase in Leopardstown he was spectacular. Jumping didn’t concern me and I got a very good run round in a great position.

“The winner was very good on the day and fair play to Brian Cooper, he picked the right one. He was entitled to celebrate. It’s a great race to win and he gave the horse a great ride. And fair play to Gordon Elliott too, a great day for him.”

BOODLES LEADING JOCKEY AWARD –
FINAL STANDINGS

Jockey 1st 2nd 3rd
Ruby Walsh 7 3 2
Sam Twiston-Davies 3 1 -
Bryan Cooper 2 2 1
Davy Russell 2 2 1
Tom Scudamore 2 - 2
Nico de Boinville 2 - 1
Barry Geraghty 1 2 2
Ms Nina Carberry 1 1 -
Ryan Hatch 1 1 -
Harry Skelton 1 1 -
Noel Fehily 1 - 2
Mr Jamie Codd 1 - 1
Aidan Coleman 1 - -
Brian Hughes 1 - -
Mr Derek O’Connor 1 - -
Jack Sherwood 1 - -
Mr Michael Legg - 2 -
David Mullins - 2 -
Robert Power - 1 1
Paul Townend - 1 1
Sean Bowen - 1 -
Johnny Burke - 1 -
Mikey Fogarty - 1 -
Wayne Hutchinson - 1 -
Daryl Jacob - 1 -
Jack Kennedy - 1 -
Richie McLernon - 1 -
Mr Noel McParlan - 1 -
Nick Scholfield - 1 -
Richard Johnson - - 2
Mr Sam Waley-Cohen - - 2
David Bass - - 1
Paddy Brennan - - 1
Mr Tom David - - 1
Derek Fox - - 1
Lizzie Kelly - - 1
Andrew Lynch - - 1
Joshua Moore - - 1
Tom O’Brien - - 1
Ian Popham - - 1
Ms Katie Walsh - - 1

IRISH INDEPENDENT LEADING TRAINER AWARD –
FINAL STANDINGS
Jockey 1st 2nd 3rd
Willie Mullins IRE 7 7 5
Paul Nicholls 3 3 -
Gordon Elliott IRE 3 1 1
Nigel Twiston-Davies 2 2 -
Nicky Henderson 2 1 4
Jonjo O’Neill 1 1 1
Dan Skelton 1 1 1
Enda Bolger IRE 1 1 -
Colin Tizzard 1 1 -
David Pipe 1 - 2
Harry Fry 1 - -
Martin Keighley 1 - -
Pat Kelly IRE 1 - -
Colm Murphy IRE 1 - -
Aidan O’Brien IRE 1 - -
Ian Williams 1 - -
Alan King - 2 -
Henry de Bromhead IRE - 1 1
Tom George - 1 1
Jessica Harrington IRE - 1 1
Mouse Morris IRE - 1 -
Colin McBratney IRE - 1 -
Arthur Moore IRE - 1 -
William Treacy IRE - 1 -
Venetia Williams - 1 -
Philip Hobbs - - 2
Neil Mulholland - - 2
Stuart Crawford IRE - - 1
Warren Greatrex - - 1
Noel Meade IRE - - 1
Gary Moore - - 1
Ben Pauling - - 1
Lucinda Russell - - 1
Nick Williams - - 1

THE FESTIVAL 2016 – WINNERS

Champion Day, Tuesday, March 15
1.30pm G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Altior (Patricia Pugh) Nicky Henderson 6-11-07 Nico de Boinville 4/1
2.10pm G1 Racing Post Arkle Chase – Douvan (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 6-11-04 Ruby Walsh 1/4 Fav
2.50pm G3 Ultima Handicap Chase – Un Temps Pour Tout (Professor Caroline Tisdall & Bryan Drew) David Pipe 7-11-07 Tom Scudamore 11/1
3.30pm G1 Stan James Champion Hurdle – Annie Power (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 8-11-03 Ruby Walsh 5/2 Fav
4.10pm G1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – Vroum Vroum Mag (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-05 Ruby Walsh 4/6 Fav
4.50pm Listed National Hunt Chase – Minella Rocco (J P McManus) Jonjo O’Neill 6-11-06 Mr Derek O’Connor 8/1
5.30pm Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase – Ballyalton (John Westwood) Ian Williams 9-11-10 Brian Hughes 12/1

Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 16
1.30pm Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle – Yorkhill (Andrea & Graham Wylie) Willie Mullins IRE 6-11-07 Ruby Walsh 3/1
2.10pm RSA Chase – Blaklion (Sarah Such & Gino Paletta) Nigel Twiston-Davies 7-11-04 Ryan Hatch 8/1
2.50pm Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle – Diamond King (Diana Whateley) Gordon Elliott IRE 8-11-03 Davy Russell 12/1
3.30pm Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – Sprinter Sacre (Caroline Mould) Nicky Henderson 11st 10lb Nico de Boinville 5/1
4.10pm Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase – Any Currency (Cash Is King) Martin Keighley 13-11-04 Aidan Coleman 11/1
4.50pm Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Diego Du Charmil (Mrs Johnny de la Hey) Paul Nicholls 4-11-01 Sam Twiston-Davies 13/2
5.30pm Weatherbys Champion Bumper – Ballyandy (Options O Syndicate) Nigel Twiston-Davies 5-11-05 Sam Twiston-Davies 5/1

St Patrick’s Thursday, Thursday, March 17
1.30pm JLT Novices’ Chase – Black Hercules (Andrea & Graham Wylie) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-04 Ruby Walsh 4/1 Co Fav
2.10pm Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle – Mall Dini (Philip Reynolds) Pat Kelly IRE 6-10-11 Davy Russell 14/1
2.50pm Ryanair Chase – Vautour (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-10 Ruby Walsh Evens Fav
3.30pm Ryanair World Hurdle – Thistlecrack (John & Heather Snook) Colin Tizzard 8-11-10 Tom Scudamore Evens Fav
4.10pm Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate – Empire Of Dirt (Gigginstown House Stud) Colm Murphy IRE 9-10-11 Bryan Cooper 16/1
4.50pm Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Limini (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 5-11-07 Ruby Walsh 8/11 Fav
5.30pm Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase – Cause Of Causes (J P McManus) Gordon Elliott IRE 8-11-09 Mr Jamie Codd 9/2

Gold Cup Day, Friday, March 18
1.30pm JCB Triumph Hurdle – Ivanovich Gorbatov (J P McManus) Aidan O’Brien IRE 4-11-00 9/2 Fav
2.10pm Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle) Superb Story (A Holt, J Robinson, A Taylor & S Miller) Dan Skelton 5-10-12 Harry Skelton 8/1
2.50pm Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Unowhatimeanharry (Harry Fry Racing Club) Harry Fry 8-11-05 Noel Fehily 11/1
3.30pm Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup – Don Cossack (Gigginstown House Stud) Gordon Elliott IRE 9-11-10 Bryan Cooper 9/4 Fav
4.10pm St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase – On The Fringe (J P McManus) Enda Bolger IRE 11-12-00 Ms Nina Carberry 13/8 Fav
4.50pm Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Ibis Du Rheu (John Hales) Paul Nicholls 5-11-07 Jack Sherwood 14/1
5.30pm Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase – Solar Impulse (Andrea & Graham Wylie) Paul Nicholls 6-11-00 Sam Twiston-Davies 28/1

THE BETBRIGHT CUP – FINAL STANDINGS

GREAT BRITAIN – 14

IRELAND – 14

(BetBright will refund all bets placed today on the BetBright Cup)

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