Cheltenham report - New Year’s Day 2018

Excellent racing drew a crowd of 24,125 to Cheltenham on New Year's Day.

Replays of the seven races can be accessed through http://www.thejockeyclub.co.uk/video/20180101
 
12.15pm £25,000 Listed Ballymore Novices' Hurdle 2m 4f 56y
There were two very well-backed horses among the eight runners for this strongly-contested novices' hurdle sponsored by Ballymore, the 3/1 favourite Tikkanbar (trained by Neil Mulholland and ridden by Noel Fehily) and the 4/1 chance Aye Aye Charlie (Fergal O'Brien/Paddy Brennan).
 
Tikkanbar, who won easily on his first start over hurdles in November, retained his unbeaten record by making virtually all.
 
The seven-year-old travelled well throughout, though his jumping was a bit sloppy. He was strongly challenged after jumping the last hurdle by 4/1 shot Ainchea (Colin Tizzard/Bryan Cooper), successful on his Sandown hurdles' debut, but produced more and scored by a length and a quarter.
 
Springtown Lake (Philip Hobbs/Tom O'Brien, 7/2) kept on in third, while Aye Aye Charlie was a never nearer fourth.
 
Neil Mulholland, who trains hear Bath, was doubly pleased with the victory as Tikkanbar is the only horse owned by his father Brian and was his second success of 2018 from two runners as Dieg Man captured the first at Catterick.
 
The trainer commented: "Tikkanbar stays and gallops and loves the ground, though I don't think he needs it heavy. Time will tell.
 
"There has been a lot of work done already in the jumping department - he wasn't the most natural at the start and he is still not. But he is getting the job done and hopefully he can only improve.
 
"He is owned by my father, who is here today, and it is great for the whole family
 
"Tikkanbar has done very little wrong and we ran him here to see if he was good enough to handle these horses and he was."
 
Noel Fehily added: "This horse definitely has ability, though his jumping needs to improve. As he gets more experience, his jumping should get better. At the least the engine is there.
 
"The ground is deep - definitely soft to heavy - but we are getting through it. The bit of rain earlier probably helped."

 

12.50pm £25,000 Watch Live Racing On BetBright.com Handicap Chase 3m 2f 70y
Vyta Du Roc (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob) returned to winning form under Daryl Jacob by making all in the Watch Live Racing On BetBright.com Handicap Chase.
 
The nine-year-old grey, sporting cheek-pieces for the first time, raced sweetly throughout and his jumping was good.
 
The 15/8 favourite won unchallenged by 22 lengths from 12/1 chance Lamb Or Cod (Philip Hobbs/Tom O'Brien).
 
Nicky Henderson, based just to the north of Lambourn, revealed that he had very nearly not run Vyta Du Roc.
 
He said: "We said happy birthday to all the horse this morning and it is nice to be unbeaten so far in 2018!
 
"We weren't going to run because of the ground and then at quarter to 10 yesterday there was only one horse in the race and I spoke to Anthony (Bromley - racing manager for the owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede) and said we had better come in.
 
"Four more joined in when the race re-opened. It suddenly occurred to me about a week ago in the middle of the night that this horse just needed something to make him concentrate and we put cheek-pieces on and they have played a big part in today's victory, especially as he was able to dictate the race. His jumping was good to watch.
 
"If they move him up in the weights enough, he might go for the Grand National and that is probably where he will finish off the season (in April). We will see what happens.
 
"He has been hard to place and the last race he won was the Reynoldstown (when a novice chaser), but he has been knocking on the door in some very good races."
 
Daryl Jacob remarked: "The cheek-pieces worked well and the horse focused on what was in front of him rather than around him.
 
"He jumped well and I could hear the horses behind me hitting the fences so that was to my advantage too.  My horse jumped and the others didn't - I think that was the difference today."
 


1.25pm £35,000 Grade Two BetBright Dipper Novices' Chase 2m 4f 166y
The five runners for this G2 novices' chase sponsored by BetBright were almost in a line three out.
 
But earlier mistakes by Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies, 100/30) and Willoughby Court (Ben Pauling/Nico de Boinville, 15/8 joint favourite) compromised their chances.
 
Front-running Sizing Tennessee (Colin Tizzard/Bryan Cooper, 12/1) was challenged from two out by Yanworth (Alan King/Barry Geraghty, 15/8 joint favourite) who took the lead with a great leap at the last.
 
Yanworth went at least two lengths clear only to look around and let the rallying Sizing Tennessee back in the contest.
 
Barry Geraghty was at his strongest to get Yanworth home by neck at the line, with Willoughby Court eight lengths back in third.
 
Alan King, who trains in Wiltshire, said: "Yanworth's jumping was pretty good, especially when he was short which we have worked on.
 
"Full credit to Wayne (Hutchinson) and Yogi Breisner, who have done a lot of work with him. They've had two good sessions to get him to shorten a little bit and that was evident.
 
"Yanworth has gone and winged the last and I thought he was going to win by two or three lengths and then he's suddenly pricked his ears. Luckily, when the other horse came to him, he went on again.
 
"It's not been straightforward, but he was much better today. That was a big step in the right direction.
 
"I think he will have entries in the JLT and the RSA (at The Festival in March), but he wants another run. I would imagine we will look at something like the Reynoldstown (Ascot, February 17) or the Scilly Isles (Sandown, February 3) beforehand."
 
Barry Geraghty explained: "That was a better performance. Alan has done a good bit of work with Yanworth, along with Yogi Breisner, and it has definitely helped his jumping.
 
"He was still slow enough at one or two fences - the third-last and fifth-last - and has a bit to learn, but he is going the right way.
 
"He dossed when he got to the front - as soon as the second came upsides, he went on again.
 
"It is safe ground, but hard work and he is a classy good mover who will only be better on nicer ground."
 
Sizing Tennessee's trainer Colin Tizzard declared: "We never quite got by up the run-in. He is a good horse now. He would in all probability have beaten Black Corton first time up, but he frightened himself at the top of the hill.
 
"He won last time and we schooled him this week and he looked like he was back. I think he will be RSA-bound now."
 
Ben Pauling added: "Nothing will change for Willoughby Court, who will go straight for the RSA.
 
"I just didn't really feel that he was quite as fluent as he had been at Newbury and he was not able to operate on this ground like he can do.
 
"It was a proper mistake he made at the top of the hill (four out), but he was still only beaten eight lengths so it wasn't a bad run."

 

2.00pm Grade Three £75,000 BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase 2m 4f 66y
The day's most valuable race, the £75,000 BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase, went to bottom-weight Ballyhill, one of the two runners for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, at 9/1.
 
The seven-year-old novice chaser, who fell in a similar race at Aintree in December, was partnered by 3lb-claimer Jamie Bargary and went to the front three out.
 
Last year's winner Shantou Flyer (Richard Hobson/Mitchell Bastyan (5), 8/1) challenged from two out but Ballyhill ran on strongly after the last to triumph by a length and three quarters, with Sametegal (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies, 5/1) another six lengths back in third.
 
Twiston-Davies said: "It was a long way out when he fell at Aintree last time, but we thought he was going well there and he has proved that today.
 
"He doesn't mind this ground. He has pulled out plenty there so it is happy days. We will look a race here on Festival Trials Day (Saturday, January 27) and then we will work out what we go for at The Festival after that."
 
Bargary commented: "Ballyhill was really impressive today - he obviously had that fall the last time, but it didn't harm him whatsoever. He was just a delight to ride.
 
"He jumped and travelled really nicely throughout the race and I never had a moment's doubt. The trip on this ground was a little worry but he has really stuck to it.
 
"He was winging his fences - being over exuberant at a few - and Nige really fancied him. He had not raced on this sort of ground before, but handled it well. He is an honest horse and gives his all."

 

 2.35pm £25,000 BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle 2m 7f 213y
It was another local trainer - the Slad-based Tom George - who was in the winner's enclosure with seven-year-old Boyhood, successful at Lingfield Park earlier this season.
 
11/2 chance Boyhood took over from 11/4 market leader Red Rising (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton) approaching the last and saw off his main opponent by seven lengths by the line. Buckle Street (Martin Keighley/Harry Stock (7), 10/1) came home third of the eight runners, another two and a quarter lengths in arrears.
 
Part owner Stephen Smith celebrated his first Cheltenham winner in the colours of his late grandfather who enjoyed two successes at The Festival.
 
George said: "I had a doubt about Boyhood liking the ground. He has been a babyish horse and hangs a bit. He was left and right, and was on and off the bridle, a very relaxed horse which probably helped today.
 
"He has taken a long time to learn what to do, but every time he runs I think he is learning a bit more. The track probably suited him."
 
Paddy Brennan commented: "It was good to win here. He was going so well I had to go when I did.
 
"Tom told me to ride this as Adrian (Heskin - stable jockey) is at Musselburgh and he was right."
 


3.10pm Grade Two £50,000 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle 2m 4f 56y
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and Daryl Jacob celebrated separate doubles on the day when they combined with Wholestone, the 9/4 joint favourite, who is fast becoming a Cheltenham specialist.
 
The seven-year-old, owned by Jacob's retaining owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, was held up before coming through to lead before the last on the stands' side.
 
He ran on strongly to hold the fast-finishing Agrapart (Nick Williams/Lizzie Kelly, 4/1), last year's winner of this race, by three and a quarter lengths, with the other 9/4 joint favourite, Colin's Sister (Fergal O'Brien/Paddy Brennan) another three and a quarter lengths back in third.
 
This was Wholestone's fourth Cheltenham victory from seven starts at the Home of Jump Racing and he has never finished out of the first four here.
 
Twiston-Davies said: "That is the best he has jumped, travelled and gone for a bit.
 
"He was a little bit sick and sorry for himself after Newbury last time. I am really chuffed to bits with that performance.
 
"I imagine it will be one more run and then back here for the Stayers' Hurdle (at The Festival in March). He ran really well at The Festival last year and he was the best of the English runners in the Albert Bartlett (in third).
 
"The Stayers' is a race that is looking a bit more open than some of the others and we will definitely have a look at the Cleeve back here at the end of this month (January 27)."
 
Munir was delighted: "Wholestone obviously relishes the track and did that very well. I am enjoying the dream while the horses are in good form."
 
Jacob said: "Last time at Newbury, he wasn't the Wholestone I had sat on in the past and I just looked after him there.
 
"We got him checked out at home and came here. He powered into the race today, felt beautiful and I got there too soon, but I wanted to get the rail which is a big help in this ground.
 
"He is a good classy horse and was a very good novice last season - it was a good performance today.
 
"I have the two best bosses in the world - Simon and Isaac - and they give me a lot of confidence. I am really, really enjoying my racing."

 
3.45pm Listed £25,000 EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club National Hunt Flat Race 1m 5f 209y
Four-year-old Acey Milan (Anthony Honeyball/Aidan Coleman, 3/1) made all and powered clear up the Cheltenham hill to score by three and three quarter lengths from Malinas Jack (John Mackie/Daryl Jacob, 25/1), the only horse in the 13-strong field who could mount any sort of challenge.
 
The in-form Dorset-based Honeyball explained: "Acey Milan is a straightforward horse. He surprised me how much he came forward from his first bumper to the second bumper and this was his third run.
 
"I think we will go to Newbury for the Listed bumper against the older horses and if he runs well he could go for the Champion Bumper back here in March."

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