A RECORD-breaking crowd of 57,098 descended on Cheltenham racecourse yesterday for the opening day of the world-renowned Festival, which is expected to host more than 230,000 racegoers this week.
Olveston-born trainer Paul Nicholls had little to celebrate, however, as the much-fancied Irving failed to perform in the first race and set the scene for all of his rides during the day.
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle ultimately went to Vautour and provided Ruby Walsh’s first of two Champion Day wins.
“She’s just class - what more can I say?” said trainer Willie Mullins. “I’m so pleased for her and she has her own place in history now. “ “She put down her head and is so brave - she keeps pulling it out. She is never beaten.”
Mullins’ other hopeful for Champion day, Hurricane Fly, failed to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle –Tuesday’s feature race – an honour that ultimately went to six-year-old Jezki, trained by Jessie Harrington and ridden by Barry Geraghty, who pushed other favoured horses My Tent or Yours, The New One and Hurricane Fly into second, third and fourth place respectively.
Harrington said: “I didn’t see much of the final two hurdles because I was doing a lot of jumping up and down and cheering for Barry. Jezki seemed to travel really well and jumped well apart from the fourth-last where he dragged his hind legs, but then he battled like hell up the hill.
“He had little bits of excuses in defeat, but today it all came right and the fast pace definitely suited him.”
The race was marred, though, by the fatal fall of Our Conor.
Mullins saluted Quevega after the mare created history by winning the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle for a sixth successive year, making her the winning-most horse ever at The Festival.
Elsewhere, Brendan Powell rode Present View to win the Novices' Handicap Chase, while Jonjo O'Neill-trained Holywell claimed his second consecutive Festival win in the Handicap Chase. Midnight Prayer won the amateur riders' Novices' Steeplechase with jockey Joshua Newman.
The going description for the Prestbury Park racecourse was changed after racing to Good, Good to Soft in places after another dry day.