Huge crowds gathered for the first day of the Cheltenham Festival where the course Going was officially Good to Soft (soft in places).
1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade1 Class 1): Distance 2m ½ f: 8 Fences: 14R
The front three runners virtually throughout were Charbel, Min and Supasundae with Bellshill holding an early fourth place. Altior was around seventh in the field with six hurdles remaining. Charbel and Min took a two length lead ahead of the field on the back straight. Meanwhile Beveur D’Air had only five horses bunched behind it four from home but began to travel well through the field. On the turn going into the home straight Altior showed a turn of foot to pass Min as Charbel began to fade. Going into the final flight Altior was accelerating past Min as Supasundae faded from any contention. Altior thundered toward the finishing post showing no signs of deceleration to win by seven lengths a 4-1 2F winner. 15-8 favourite Min was second 1 ½ lengths ahead of Beveur D’Air at 10-1.
Altior gave trainer Nicky Hendersen his first Novice Hurdle success since 1992 and Nicky became the first English winning trainer of the race since Donald McCain with Cinders and Ashes in 2012.
2.10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (Novices Grade 1): Distance 2m: 13 Fences: 7R
Going into the third flight Sizing John, Douvan and Fox Norton held the front three spots in the field. With seven to jump Douvan had the edge over Sizing John with Vaniteux in third place just nudging ahead of Fox Norton. The Game Changer and Baltimore Rock followed the front four with Aso as the back marker with three jumps remaining. From here Vaniteux tried to accelerate on the outside of the front runners but fell on landing at the second last flight along with Baltimore Rock. Douvan remained untroubled by the fallers and won easily as the 1-4 race favourite by seven lengths ahead of 9-1 Sizing John in second 3 ¾ lengths in front of 33-1 Fox Norton in third place.
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3): Distance 3m 1f: 20 Fences: 23R NR Indian Castle
Winner: Un Temps Pour Tout 11-1 seven lengths ahead of Second: Holywell at 8-1 2F odds. Nine lengths behind in Third: The Young Master 14-1 just a length in front of Fourth: Morning Assembly at 10-1.
All the jockeys in this race were subsequently given a one day ban for anticipating the start.
3.30 Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1): Distance 2m ½ f: 8 Fences: 12R NR Old Guard
From the start Annie Power looked incredibly poised out front and never really came under any threat from the rest of the field. With three flights to go and about five furlongs out My Tent Or Yours was second followed by The New One and Nichols Canyon running in the slipstream of Annie Power. Going into the final hurdle Annie Power had a clear three length advantage over My Tent Or Yours and Nichols Canyon both battling for the minor placings. At the finish Annie Power the 5-2 race favourite took victory by 4 ½ lengths over 10-1 My Tent Or Yours just a head in front of Nichols Canyon at 15-2. Annie Power became only the fourth mare to win this race and the first since the Flakey Dove success of 1994. Annie Power had tasted defeat in her previous two attempts in this race having suffered a fall at the final flight last year. Great credit must also go to the second placed My Tent Or Yours running again after 702 days off the track.
4.10 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Registered as the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle) (Grade 1): Distance 2m 4f: 10 Fences: 19R NR Flementime
Desert Queen, Aurore D’Estruval and Melbourne Lady took the initiative at the race start with Vroum Vroum Mag travelling in the middle of the field. With seven to go Stephanie Frances was the back marker and around five lengths separated the front two runners. Desert Queen kept a small advantage at the back straight whilst Vroum Vroum Mag stayed about twelve lengths off the pace. However the horse was jumping well despite an anxious moment when Vroum Vroum Mag was sandwiched between Pass the Time and Aurore D’Estruval, and jockey Ruby Walsh looked unsteady in the saddle. Between the second last and final flight The Governess was allowed to let rip by the jockey and showed a quickening pace whilst Vroum Vroum Mag comfortably eased along in contention. Unfortunately The Governess took a heavy fall at the final jump which proved to be fatal. Vroum Vroum Mag at 4-6 F odds won by 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Rock On The Moor at 66-1. Just a half length behind 40-1 Legacy Gold took third with a length advantage over 80-1 Pass The Time.
4.50: 146th Year Of The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Listed Amateur Riders Novices’ Chase): Distance 4m: Fences unknown: 20R
Winner: Minella Rocco 8-1 by 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Second: Native River 7-1 2F. Six lengths behind in Third: Measureofmydreams 9-1 and five lengths further back Fourth: Southfield Royale 5-1F.
5.30 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed): Distance 2m 4f 78y: Fences unknown: 20R
Winner: Ballyalton 12-1 with a half length win over Second: Bouvreuil 14-1. Four and a half lengths behind Third: Double Shuffle 8-1 J2F with a 2 ½ length advantage over Fourth: Bridgets Pet 33-1