There are more obvious dates to enjoy a bumper crowd than a damp Monday in March, but such is the fever for racing in this Cheltenham Festival week that we are able to open our season with a vociferous and jovial crowd, keenly anticipating the most awaited 4 days of the year. So despite intermittent showers and a keen wind, our six race card enjoyed a very respectable audience, underwritten by the on-course bookmakers.
Alan King is looking for a 34th festival winner with Edwardstone in tomorrow’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, but meantime showed that his team is in good fettle by taking the opener in a bloodless 17l victory with chaser Grandeur d’Ame. The race was something of a procession, with 5l separating second and third, and a further 14 to the only other finisher. the stable was enjoying its 45th jumps winner this term, that wellbeing demonstrated by the fact that nearly 60% of runners have reached the frame.
There wasn’t any more happiness for the on-course bookmaker sponsors in the next, when odds-on favourite Bo Zenith landed the odds in the juvenile hurdle. The winner turned over JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite Blood Destiny at Auteuil last April, and his rating would merit a look at the Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree. Trainer Gary Moore is not one to avoid a strong race.
Another horse bound for a valuable race is Bubble Dubi, the third of four favourites to win on the day, who broke his duck at the seventh attempt in the feature Better Value with Racecourse Bookmakers Handicap Hurdle. Trainer Stuart Edmunds is aiming him at a £100k hurdle at Sandown on the closing day of the season. Meantime, he was a 20th winner of the term for rider Cieran Gethings.
Another to break his duck was amateur rider Huw Edwards, who rode his first winner in the novices hunters chase at the 48th attempt for JJ O’Shea. And if frustration had held up the pursuit of success thus far, it was never in doubt here once Edwards took up the running 3 out on runaway winner Time Leader. O’Shea has Cousin Pascal on track to run in the Aintree Foxhunters next month.
Tristan Durrell is another amateur who has graduated to the professional ranks, and there would be few more coveted positions than with Dan Skelton. Of his 24 winners to date, 21 have been for his boss, who goes to Cheltenham well armed this year. Go Steady, winner of the Cash is King in the Ring Handicap Chase was a nice pump primer, even if poorly named for a sport where speed is of the essence. In what may prove a definitive week in the Trainers’ Championship, Skelton is “only” £600k behind his mentor and rival Paul Nicholls.
Sean Bowen has a date with Noble Yeats in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, and warmed up for that with a 2l winner in Flying Fortune for his father in the concluding bumper.