JUMP racing’s greatest supporter JP McManus enjoyed a famous one-two in the Champion Hurdle on an opening day at the Cheltenham Festival which saw wall-to-wall records.
McManus owns the Jackdaws Castle stables run by Jonjo O’Neill but it was Jezki (Jessie Harrington/Barry Geraghty) who pipped My Tent Or Yours (Nicky Henderson/AP McCoy) in a race marred by tragedy.
Fancied Irish runner Our Conor fell fatally at the third flight and the incident also cost the winning chance of Cotswolds’ finest hurdler The New One, who was badly hampered.
That is certainly how jockey Sam Twiston-Davies saw it.
“It cost me five or six lengths and I was beaten two,” was Sam’s succinct summary after his mount had finished much the fastest from the final flight to snatch third place.
McManus can certainly say his decision to pay £20,000 to supplement Captain Cee Bee in the race paid off. Fearful that the race might be falsely run, the Irish millionaire entered the 13-year-old only last week and he did an admirable job as pacemaker for the two principal McManus candidates.
On drying ground, Jezki lowered the two-mile track record set only 40 minutes previously by Vautour in the opener.
Elsewhere on a day when a new record opening day crowd of 57,098 came through the gates, the great Irish mare Quevega became the first horse to win the same race at the Festival (David Nicholson OLBG Mares’ Hurdle) six times.
It was the most hard-fought of her six victories as she had to dig deep to overhaul her Willie Mullins stable companion Glens Melody on the final hill.
Quevega was surpassing the legendary Golden Miller, who won five successive Cheltenham Gold Cups from 1932-36.
Local trainer Jonjo O’Neill and his jockey Richie McLernon sparked scenes of celebration in Temple Guiting when they won back-to-back races at the Festival with Holywell.
Last year it was the Pertemps Final over hurdles; this year it was over fences in the Bayliss & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase.
McLernon enthused: “This horse in dynamite and the trainer is brilliant – absolutely gifted.”
Ireland’s top trainer Mullins got the meeting off to a popular start for punters when the joint-favourite Vautour took the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but no one seemed to fancy Arkle Chase winner Western Warhorse, a 33-1 success for trainer David Pipe and jockey Tom Scudamore.
Barbury Castle trainer Alan King got on the scoreboard when his Midnight Prayer claimed top honours in the Terry Biddlecombe National Hunt Chase ridden by amateur rider Josh Newman.