Cheltenham Racecourse staged The April Meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, April 19 and 20.
Three Listed contests for mares were the highlight on Thursday. Jockey Aidan Coleman landed the first two races, first capturing the opening £20,000 Listed Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle over two and a half miles on Brillare Momento (9/1) for local handler Martin Keighley.
The lightly-raced six-year-old took up the running three flights from home in the two and a half-mile contest and after making a mistake at the last and losing her lead, rallied gamely on the run to catch 2/1 joint-favourite Dusky Legend (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson) by a neck with the other 2/1 joint-favourite Verdana Blue (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) a further two lengths back in third.
Martin Keighley commented: “Brillare Momento is very tough – she jumped and travelled amazingly through the race. The only hurdle she missed was the last and I thought she was going to finish second but she is so tough.
“The way she picked up and galloped to the line was very impressive. She beat two very nice mares who were both placed at The Festival. It is great for the owners and great to have such a nice mare in the yard.
“She is very exciting and I think there is a lot more to come. She was a bit buzzy today – she is normally laidback but she was obviously feeling very well.
“I would say that would be it for her this season although she does like good ground. I will speak to the owners and maybe she could have one more run. It would be a nice way to end the season if she doesn’t run again.
“She will make a lovely chaser as she is a big, strong mare. We have schooled her over fences already and she was very good. She could be quite exciting. She wasn’t stopping today and I would say she will get three miles in time. She travels effortlessly with a high cruising speed.”
In the £40,000 Listed EBF/Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Novices’ Chase over two miles and five furlongs, Coleman gained the honours on 6/1 chance Plasir D’Amour (Venetia Williams). The five-year-old was always in a handy position and after taking the lead two out, stayed on strongly to see off the challenge of Magic Money (Warren Greatrex/Harry Bannister, 11/4) by six lengths.
Reflecting on his victories in the first two races on Thursday, Aidan Coleman said: “Brillare Momento ran well here at the start of the year and won a novice hurdle well at Southwell the other day.
“She has come here today and done it well. She has a good attitude, which is half the battle. I was very happy with her.
“Plasir D’Amour is a fantastic jumper. She had been prepared well. She didn’t have a busy winter as she wants better ground. Two and a half miles on good ground is probably her optimum and she has proved that today.
“She is just a nice mare and I am very happy. She does always have a look around which is probably why she jumps so well.”
Coleman went on to enjoy a 349/1 treble when partnering Upswing (Jonjo O’Neill, 4/1 Fav) in the fourth race of the afternoon, the Llewellyn Humphreys Handicap Chase over three and a quarter miles.
The third Listed contest on Thursday was the £22,000 Catesby Property Group PLC Mares’ Handicap Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles, which went to the Alan King-trained 9/4 favourite Midnight Tour (11st, Davy Russell). Patiently ridden, the seven-year-old made smooth headway to lead approaching the last and stayed on well for a comfortable six-length victory over Carnspindle (Warren Greatrex/Mr Thomas Greatrex, 15/2).
Midnight Tour’s success followed on from a good sixth in the G1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at The Festival last month and a delighted Alan King said: “Midnight Tour obviously ran well at The Festival in a Grade One – she ran better than her finishing position as she made a bad mistake at the top of the hill and got shuffled right back before staying on.
“She has proved today that was no fluke. She came from David Loder and looked marvellous. She won very well at Hereford and went up a long way in the handicap subsequently. I sort of half lost her halfway through the winter – physically she didn’t look so well. I thought she was in better form today than at The Festival.
“We will put her way now. I think the plan is to school her and go novice chasing next season.
“The mares are getting very well looked after now, thank goodness. The hurdles are very competitive. It will take a little bit of time before we get great field in mares’ chases, but it will come. There is a very good programme for mares now.”
The stewards banned Russell for five days, ruling that his mount interfered with third Indian Stream, ridden by Noel Fehily, who in turn had badly hampered the fourth The Organist, with Leighton Aspell up. The jockey was found guilty of careless riding in that he had allowed his mount to drift right-handed towards the rail when not sufficiently clear. The ban is on Thursday, May 4, Friday, May 5, Saturday, May 6, Monday, May 8 and Tuesday, May 9.
After racing on Thursday, four equine superstars - Sprinter Sacre, Valegro, Big Star and Chilli Morning - paraded before the inaugural running of the Pertemps Champions Willberry Charity Race run in aid of the Bob Champion Cancer Trust and Hannah's Willberry Wonder Pony charity which was won by Three Star General, who was partnered to victory by Ben Moore.
Moore, 39, is a soldier from Melton Mowbray. Before he joined the Army, he worked in racing and wanted to compete in the race for his daughter who loves ponies but is currently fighting cancer.
The £50,000 Grade Two Matt Hampson Foundation & NSIF Silver Trophy, a limited handicap chase over two miles and five furlongs, was the feature on Wednesday, April 19 and it was Henryville (10st 6lb, Harry Fry/Niall Madden, 7/1) who came out on top, taking up the running two fences from home and surviving a blunder at the final fence to score by four lengths from Foxtail Hill (10st 6lb, Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies, 12/1) with Casino Markets (10st 4lb, Emma Lavelle/Aidan Coleman, 12/1) another three-quarters of a length back in third.
It was Henryville’s first win since March, 2016, although the nine-year-old had hinted at a return to form when eighth in the Randox Health Topham Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree earlier this month.
Winning trainer Harry Fry commented: “It has just been a case of running Henryville and hoping he’ll come up trumps one day off his mark. He is rated much higher over hurdles and we felt there was a good chase in him.
“He has got the ability and it has taken a lot of patience and perseverance because he is not at all easy to train at home. My wife Ciara deserves all the credit that he is near a racecourse because he doesn’t go near the gallop! He is a nightmare to ride on the gallop and almost dangerous, so we have to play about and take him out in the fields.
“I said to the owners we will just keep running him because that is the easiest way to keep him fit and sometime he is going to win a good one. It is 12 days since he ran in the Topham and he has done the job today.
“He is a top of the ground horse and we will keep him on the go now. The biggest thing will be trying to keeping him fit between races.
“There are some nice prizes to aim at over the summer. Obviously, he is going to go up a bit for winning but hopefully now he is on a roll and has remembered what it is to win a race.
“He is quirky full stop. When the horse fell at the top of the hill, Niall was on his outside and wanted to get past him rather than go too wide but that meant he got there sooner than he wanted to. The horse was having a good look round at the last and it was a lack of concentration when he made a mistake.
“Niall has given him a lovely ride. I am delighted for Niall – he has come over this season and has been riding for us when Noel (Fehily) is unavailable. It has been great to reward him with a good winner.
“Noel felt that Voix D'Eau’s (the 2016 winner, who was pulled-up) race was up going down the hill and it wasn’t to be. We will take him home and see how he is but he is another who could keep going through the summer.”
The brilliant season for owners Ann and Alan Potts continued when Mick Thonic (Colin Tizzard/Harry Cobden, 13/8) landed the £24,000 Weatherite Novices’ Chase on Wednesday. The seven-year-old took up the running two out in the two-mile contest from long-time leader Marracudja (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies, 8/11 Fav). After a mistake at the last, he had to face a renewed challenge from Marracudja but stayed on to score by half a length.
The main hurdle on Wednesday’s card was the £20,000 Arkells Brewery Handicap Hurdle (3.15pm) over two and a half miles, which saw Political Quiz (10st 3lb, Tom Symonds/James Davies, 9/1) take the honours. Prominent throughout, the seven-year-old went to the front approaching the last and stayed on well to score by half-a-length from the staying-on Qualando (11st 6lb, Alan Jones/Tom Scudamore, 8/1).
The next fixture at Cheltenham is the Hunter Chase Evening on Friday, May 5.