Very Wood sprang a huge 33-1 surprise in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle to put trainer Noel Meade back on the Cheltenham Festival roll of honour.
Market leader Briar Hill fell at around halfway, fracturing his cheekbone and giving David Casey, replacing Ruby Walsh, a nasty fall, while Kings Palace folded when leading turning into the straight.
Deputy Dan appeared to be going great guns for Leighton Aspell, but he was running on empty approaching the last and Very Wood kicked into overdrive. With 40-year-old Carberry riding for all his worth, Very Wood beat Deputy Dan by four and a half lengths, with Apache Jack third. It was one of four winners for Gigginstown House Stud on the day.
Meade, who had endured a miserable start to 2014, was without a win at the big meeting since Go Native landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle five years ago.
The race was delayed for nearly 15 minutes after an incident with Daryl Jacob, who had earlier won the County Hurdle on Lac Fontana.
Carberry said: “It’s brilliant, great for Noel, and I’m delighted to get a winner. I know Ruby (Walsh), AP (McCoy) and Barry (Geraghty) always say they are expected to win, but I’ve come up with a shock, and a good one.
“He travelled and jumped super. He’s going to be a lovely chaser. I had to gather him up after the third-last, but he stormed up the hill.”
Meade added: “It was just fabulous. He had a bruise last night and we thought he wasn’t going to run, the team did a brilliant job to get him here.
“You could fancy him if you’d seen his run behind the favourite (Briar Hill, at Naas). He was staying on very well (over two and a half miles). It’s the trip that makes the difference to him and he’s a chaser for next year. He’s a pretty laid-back customer. Eddie (O’Leary) bought him in a field, I think.
“We ended up coming here with only two runners. We thought we had a great team, but they kept getting knocked out and then we got a bug about a month to six weeks ago and we closed up for three weeks and had no runners at all. That’s hard to take.”
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Tiger Roll oozed class when scooting up the hill to win the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Davy Russell was back in the Gigginstown House Stud colours replacing the injured Bryan Cooper, and Gordon Elliott’s youngster never looked in any danger as he travelled sweetly in behind the leaders.
He had Guitar Pete and Kentucky Hyden for company over the last, but Russell kicked him clear for a three-and-a-quarter-length win from the latter.
Ruby Walsh took a crashing fall on Abbyssial when leading early on, and the unlucky horse of the race was the favourite Calipto, as Daryl Jacob had major tack issues approaching the second-last, doing very well to keep the partnership intact before finishing fourth.
Tiger Roll made his debut when winning at Market Rasen for Nigel Hawke, after which Gigginstown snapped him up, and on his first run for Elliott he was second to Guitar Pete in Grade One company. Elliott had said all along he was not afraid of taking on that rival again and he turned the form around in no uncertain terms.
It was vindication for Russell, who lost his job as number one rider for Gigginstown halfway through the season and later in the afternoon won the Gold Cup on Lord Windermere, and then struck again for Gigginstown on Savello.
The jockey said: “I had a couple of OK rides coming in and I picked up this due to Bryan’s injury. Gordon has done a marvellous job. It’s only a third start in his career and Gordon had him on the button. Life will throw plenty of things at you. There’s been a lot worse happen to other people. What happened to me (losing number one position at Gigginstown), it’s just life.”
Winning owner Michael O’Leary added: “It’s wonderful. I’m delighted for Gordon Elliott. He’s a brilliant trainer. He’s been having a tough week as well. It’s lovely to get one on the board, even if we had to wait until the last day.”
Elliott said: “It’s a dream come true. We’ve hit the crosssbar all week, but I feel sorry for Bryan Cooper and I’m delighted for Davy because he’s always very lucky when he rides for me. I was a bit nervous early as he was keen, but he’s won and I’m delighted. We’ll look at Punchestown but I’ll talk with Michael and Eddie (O’Leary) and see.”
Nicky Henderson, responsible for second Kentucky Hyden and Royal Irish Hussar, who finished just behind the placed horses, said: “Both ran well. I would say Royal Irish Hussar would be more likely to go to Aintree. Kentucky Hyden is more of a stayer and wants softer ground. He’d be more likely for Punchestown, but we’ll probably see the winner again there.”
Dessie Hughes, trainer of Guitar Pete, said: “He has run a good race. The winner was second to us at Leopardstown but he seemed to have improved a fair bit. I’m sure he’ll go to Punchestown.”
Paul Nicholls was left to rue his luck with Calipto, saying: “It’s just the way the week’s gone, the leather snapped and it was a simple as that. He nearly got brought down when Ruby’s horse fell and whether something happened then, I don’t know. The leather snapped coming to the second-last. It’s unbelievable. He’s a super horse and will be a lovely runner next year.”
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Lac Fontana gave Paul Nicholls and Daryl Jacob a belated first winner of the Festival with a thrilling victory in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Jacob produced Lac Fontana (11-1) with a perfectly timed run on the nearside rail to collar Arctic Fire up the hill and land the spoils by half a length. Montbazon, who led over the final flight, was a length back in third with Diakali fourth.
“It’s been a very testing week for us all,” said Jacob, who had no luck at all in the Triumph Hurdle on the well-fancied Calipto and was visibly deflated afterwards, as he was when just touched off on Thursday.
“It’s a good team effort from everyone and at the end of the day there can only be one winner. You can only keep looking forward. We’re all thinking about the guys that are injured, like Jason (Maguire), Bryan (Cooper), now Ruby (Walsh) and of course JP (McNamara), but this is the place we all want to win.”
He added of the winner: “He’s very, very tough and he kept finding all the way.”
Nicholls said: “It’s been so frustrating (trying to get a winner during the week). Daryl probably needed that more than anyone really, he was on a real down and that will be just what he wanted.
“I told him to just get out there, put everything behind him and that this will win, you have to be positive. I told him he’ll stay on up the hill and he gave him a peach. He’s quite an emotional guy and you need a bit of luck, he’ll be a different rider now. That was magic, just what we wanted.”
Nick Peacock owns the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Arctic Fire and Diakali, who finished second and fourth, and said: “It’s frustrating to be second but he has run a blinder.
“He has been waiting for that sort of ground and hopefully there’s something for him at Aintree or Punchestown.
“Diakali was conceding a lot of weight but ran a great race and just needs a bit further.”
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Tammys Hill got on top close home to claim the CGA Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham.
Held up for most of the race, the Liam Lennon-trained nine-year-old crept into contention under James Smyth from four out as Carsonstown Boy made the pace from the outset.
The long-time leader would not give in without a battle and he kept on for second place, three and a quarter lengths behind the 15-2 winner.
The well-fancied On The Fringe came with a threatening run but could not maintain his bid and finished third, a length and three-quarters away.
Smyth said: “Fantastic, he jumped brilliant. We’ve fancied him for three years!”
Lennon, who trains in Newry, County Down, added: “It’s unbelievable. Totally unreal. It’s a great achievement for the Smyths. They bred this horse themselves and it’s some achievement for James. He’s 35 now and in his twilight years.
“I actually won a race on this horse’s mother – so she must have been a good mare! I finished fourth in this race on a good horse called Joe Blake. I was coming towards the end of my career and probably should have won.
“I think this horse deserves a shot at a good pot now – maybe something like the Irish Grand National.”
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Don Poli gave Willie Mullins his fourth winner at Cheltenham this week with a clear-cut victory in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in the hands of Mikey Fogarty.
The five-year-old, a third winner on the day for owners Gigginstown House Stud, who went on to make it four, drew away from his main challenger Thomas Crapper up the hill after a prolonged battle.
Fogarty drove Don Poli (12-1) home by four and a half lengths, with Caid Du Berlais a length and a quarter back in third. Urbain De Sivola ran an incredible race to finish fourth after being left many lengths at the start.
Gigginstown supremo Michael O’Leary said: “I think I’ve died and gone to heaven, it’s amazing.
“He won three miles last time out and I had no plans to come here, but Willie felt it took a stayer to win the race and that’s a fantastic performance by Willie, he’s a genius trainer. Mikey gave him a brilliant ride and I couldn’t be happier.”
Mullins added: “That was terrific. We’ve had a bit of luck in this race, winning it with Sir Des Champs, and I really wanted to make sure we have a runner now we have Mikey based with us.
“He was a good amateur, has recently turned professional and it looks as though he’s going to make the grade.
“The horse won well and I’m delighted to finish the Festival with a winner. It was starting to look like nothing today was going to go right after Ruby (Walsh) got injured, Paul (Townend) got injured and then we were nudged out of a Gold Cup.”
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