As usual, excitement was high in the lead up to the season’s first big meeting of the jump’s season at Cheltenham, with National Hunt fans coming out in their thousands to support this very popular event.
The feature race of the three day meeting is the Grade Thrre Paddy Power Gold Cup, which saw the Pipe family tradition of winning the race continue after son David, saddled Great Endeavour to victory. The win added to the seven previous successes that his father, Martin, enjoyed and also gave owner, David Johnson his seventh.
Although not the feature race, the Steel Plate and Sections Novice Chase which was the final race on the card on Day One, was the one which carried most interest. This of course was entirely due to the fact those two hugely talented hurdlers Grands Crus who was making his debut over the bigger obstacles, and Cue Card who had already impressively won his debut, were going head to head.
It was Grands Crus who went on to win the race by a huge ten lengths and who was immediately installed as the 6/1 favourite to win the Grade 1 RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Trainer David Pipe did not get too carried away but was clearly pleased that the six year old made such an emphatic start to his future over fences. His case was helped by Cue Card, who was travelling very well before blundering at the open ditch on the back straight which unceremoniously unseated jockey, Joe Tizzard. His fall was the signal for Tom Scudamore to shake the reins on Grands Crus, who immediately responded going to the front with the Martin Keighley trained, Champion Court and with Zaynar in close pursuit.
Grands Crus almost came to grief himself at the fourth last after standing off the fence, but Scudamore got him through, he then simply just powered away, in great style, winning comfortably to the land the odds for the delighted crowd.
Pipe is considering running Grands Crus as early as the Grade 3 Hennessy Gold Cup at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, Cue Card who lost nothing by falling, will probably be next seen in a 2½ mile Novice Shase at Newbury, also at the Hennessy meeting, where he will have an opportunity to redeem himself and get back on course for the Cheltenham Festival.
Elsewhere on Day One, the Grade 2 Sharp Novice Hurdle over two miles was fought out as expected between Steps To Freedom and Prospect Wells, who had a ding dong battle right up to the line. In the event, it was the 11/8 favourite Steps To Freedom, trained by Jessie Harrington who won by a neck from Prospect Wells who of course is from the Paul Nicholls stable.
The two will undoubtedly meet again but it might not be until the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival as Harrington is likely to rest her charge until then. Steps To Freedom in fact has been made the 10/1 favourite for the ‘Supreme’ while Prospect Wells lost a bit of ground in the betting and is now 20/1.
Day Two of the meeting was all about the ‘Paddy Power Gold Cup’, where as mentioned above was won by Great Endeavour who comfortably won by seven lengths leaving the much fancied pair, Wishfull Thinking and Mon Parrain in his wake.
The opener on the Day two card gave many of us a decent glimpse of the highly rated Hinterland from the Paul Nicholls stable, who won the race in great style by 3 lengths from Donald McCain’s Hollow Tree. It was a rock solid performance which proved that this French import has plenty of class and could well be a big star of the future. He is now the 12/1 co-favourite of two for the Triumph Hurdle.
The final day on Sunday saw last season’s Supreme Novice, Al Ferof, from the Nicholls stable, make a successful debut over fences, winning the Grade 2 November Novices Chase over two miles by seven lengths. It was a very impressive victory and one which earned the 6 year old a 5/1 quote and second favouritism behind Peddlers Cross, for the Grade 1 Arkle Challenge Trophy at the Festival in March.
Nicholls was also on the mark in the Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, the most valuable race on Sunday. This time it was 12/1 shot Brampour who made the winners enclosure with 7lb claimer Harry Derham on board. 17 year old Derham, a nephew of Nicholls was having only his 14th ride under rules, took full advantage of his allowance and powered his charge up the Cheltenham to score by over two lengths from Tom George’s Olofi. It was the second success of the season s for Nicholls and Derham, who combined to win a Listed hurdle on the same horse at Ascot a fortnight ago. The win earned Brampour a 20/1 shout for the Champion Hurdle in March.
Paul Nicholls took the top trainer plaudits with six winners followed by David Pipe with four. Ruby Walsh finished top jockey with five wins, with Tony McCoy on two, these being the only two jockey’s to win more than one race.