MISTER WHITAKER WINS A THRILLER
The Mick Channon-trained Mister Whitaker (13/2) landed a thrilling renewal of the Listed Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.
Ridden by Brian Hughes, the six-year-old son of Court Cave stayed on well after the final fence to beat Nicky Henderson's Rather Be (12/1) in the last strides by a head.
Tom George's Rocklander (25/1) was three and a quarter-lengths back in third with a further eight lengths to Fergal O'Brien's Barney Dwan (15/2) in fourth.
Winning rider Brian Hughes, registering third victory at The Festival, commented: "The ground is a bit tacky and he took a while to pick up on it.
"He winged the second last but just popped the final fence which didn't help but to be fair he put his head down and galloped away.
"I didn't know if he had got there as I was driving away but it was a good performance and I'm delighted.
"When you look at him, he's quite tall and athletic so I think better ground will see him in a better light."
Henrietta Knight, assistant trainer to Mick Channon for his jump horses, said: "What a race Brian Hughes rode. It was a perfect ride and Mister Whitaker jumped so well.
"I've loved the horse from a young age because of his jumping and he is just an athlete - he wasn't too expensive either!
"It's great for Mick to have a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. He is my next door neighbour and one of my closest friends, so I'm delighted for him."
TIMICO'S RADFORD DELIGHTED WITH FESTIVAL FIRST
Arguably the most wildly-celebrated winner of the day, Mister Whitaker landed the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase to the delight of owner Tim Radford.
He led the celebrations like an ecstatic teenager, but will be back in refined form on Friday when presenting the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is sponsored by the company he founded, Timico. Mister Whitaker, 13/2, Radford's first winner at The Festival, beat Rather Be (12/1) and Rocklander (25/1), with Barney Dwan (15/2) in fourth - the distances were a head and three and a quarter lengths.
Radford exclaimed: "This is what it's all about! My first winner at The Festival - I've had five winners at Cheltenham's other meetings, but only seen one because I've been away, and four previous seconds at The Festival. You have no idea of the pain!
"To see this horse coming up the hill, and to come in here to the number one spot, is the best. It's amazing, and I'm thrilled. I said to Brian [Hughes, winning jockey], 'Don't come to the front too soon because he idles in front', and he only just got there. When he came in he said, 'Was that late enough?' and I said, 'It was nearly too late Brian!'
"It's a big day on Friday - we sponsor the Timico Gold Cup and what a race it promises to be. We are thrilled to be involved with it and also with our sponsorship of British point-to-pointing. This fellow is only six, and he's done nothing wrong - maybe one day he could run in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup."
Winning trainer Mick Channon did not dismiss that idea. He said: "We got away with it again, because I'm sure this is a better horse on faster ground. He will be a different horse when it's drier. We're thrilled and I'm thrilled for Tim, who puts a lot of money into racing. He buys nice horses and this is one - he'll be a better horse again next year.
"Three miles will suit him, and while he's not the biggest horse, he's only six - there's no reason why he can't run in Tim's race one day."
5.30pm Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed)
1 MISTER WHITAKER (Tim Radford) Mick Channon 6-11-02 Brian Hughes 13/2
2 RATHER BE (Matt & Lauren Morgan) Nicky Henderson 7-11-08 Jeremiah McGrath 12/1
3 ROCKLANDER (D O'Donohoe, J Cavanagh, S Nelson) Tom George 9-11-07 Adrian Heskin 25/1
4 BARNEY DWAN (Paul & Clare Rooney) Fergal O'Brien 8-11-08 Paddy Brennan 15/2
5/1 fav Any Second Now (8th)
Distances: hd, 3¼, 8
Tote Win: £5.60 Places: £1.80, £2.90, £5.80, £2.00 Exacta: £90.10
Mick Channon - 1st winner at The Festival
Brian Hughes - 3rd winner at The Festival
BetBright Cup - standings after seven races
Great Britain 4
NO PLACE HE'D RATHER BE
After winning the Unibet Champion Hurdle with Buveur D'Air, second place in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy with Brain Power and a further second in the last, the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase, with Rather Be (12/1), definitely put a smile on Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson's face.
"They have all run well." Henderson reflected.
"You always say that if you have a winner on day one you can roll on with a bit of confidence."
"I thought we had got there with Rather Be (beaten a head), he has run a fantastic race.
"I would say he would go to Aintree next. That is what he did last year and he won at Aintree.
"He was on 143 today so it will all depend where he finishes up after today.
"He is not that great big old fashioned type of a chaser - he would want another year before aiming for something like the Topham.
"The Manifesto Novices' Chase could be an option."