Day one at the Cheltenham Festival: AP McCoy’s statue, a winner that wouldn’t start and an Irish trainer’s treble

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  • If you missed out on some of the action from the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, fear not! Here’s a round-up of the best stories that happened today (14 March)…

    A bronze of Sir Anthony McCoy

    The 20-time champion jump jockey unveiled the bronze sculpture (pictured, below) depicting himself today.

    The life-size statue was created by Dublin-based Paul Ferriter and can be found near to the paddock.

    “Unfortunately, it looks like me,” quipped AP after revealing the sculpture — which had been draped in the green and gold colours of renowned owner JP McManus, for whom AP rode for — to the public.

    Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) parade

    A host of racing stars and former Festival favourites were on display during the opening day, much to the delight of the crowd.

    Twelve ex-racehorses paraded in the paddock ahead of the first race, organised by the Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) and sponsored this year by The Peter O’Sullevan Trust.

    The line-up included The Giant Bolster (pictured, below), ridden by H&H blogger Lucy Bridgwater, four-time winner of the World Hurdle, Big Buck’s and 2012 Gold Cup victor Long Run, who was on his toes and look excited at the prospect of being back in the paddock at Cheltenham.

    Balthazar King, who made a miraculous recovery after a serious racing injury, looked fantastic and was ridden by Izzi Beckett — wife of trainer Ralph — who is now hunting the 13-year-old.

    The 2008 Gold Cup hero Denman, now aged 17, was back at Cheltenham, this time being led by Charlotte Alexander, who hunts and team chases the former Paul Nicholls-trained gelding.

    Midnight Chase, a five-time winner at the Gloucestershire track, also looked fantastic — the 15-year-old has been eventing and hunting, and in the show ring, qualified for the Horse of the Year Show.

    A winner who wouldn’t start

    The traditional ‘Cheltenham roar’ erupted as the runners were sent off for the first race of the 2017 Festival — the Grade One Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

    The race produced a shock result in the form of the Gordon Elliott-trained grey Labaik.

    The gelding was described as having ‘temperament issues’ after refusing to race four times in his career so far.

    However, the up-and-coming 17-year-old jockey, Jack Kennedy, managed to get a fine tune from the complicated six-year-old — beating the well-backed Melon, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, into second.

    The mighty Altior

    Certainly one of the most popular horses currently in training, Nicky Henderson’s stablestar lit up Cheltenham when winning today’s The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase — continuing his unbeaten record both over hurdles and fences (wow!).

    Kim Bailey’s handsome charge, Charbel, looked to be challenging Altior and his jockey Nico de Boinville, before coming to grief at the second last and leaving the door even more wide open for Altior to storm up the Cheltenham hill.

    A Henderson-McManus success

    The day’s feature race on the card was the Stan James Champion Hurdle and with three JP McManus-owned horses entered, the Alan King-trained Yanworth was the talking point beforehand.

    However, it was the impressive Buveur D’Air (main picture) who romped home under Noel Fehily, with stablemate My Tent Or Yours (Aidan Coleman) in second — giving the Nicky Henderson-JP McManus duo a quick one-two. Not a bad day in the office, eh?

    Talented mares on display

    Showcasing some of the very best mares in both England and Ireland, the Grade One OLBH Mares’ Hurdle did not disappoint, with the smart Apple’s Jade outshining her rivals.

    Meanwhile behind her, two Willie Mullins-trained/Rich Ricci-owned runners battled it out for the runner-up spot, which lead to a photo finish.

    The well-supported Limini, the choice of Ruby Walsh, was beaten a nose into third by stablemate Vroum Vroum Mag (Paul Townend).

    A tribute to JT McNamara

    Now named the JT McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup (for amateur riders), the race commemorates the highly regarded amateur jockey, who passed away in 2016. Considered one of the finest amateur jockeys, JT enjoyed numerous wins at the Festival, before being seriously injured in a fall in 2013.

    The race was won today by 16-1 shot Tiger Roll, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Lisa O’Neill, who was having her first (yes, first) ride at the Festival.

    Well done Gordon!

    It wasn’t a bad day in the office for Irish trainer Gordon Elliott who cleaned up impressively on the opening day of the Festival, with a treble of wins. They came courtesy of Labaik, Apple’s Jade and Tiger Roll — which can only mean one thing… Ireland lead the current standings over the Brits!

    A visit from Jilly Cooper

    Literacy fans (or should that be ‘fans of raunchy equestrian novels’…) were in for a treat today as the shopping village had a visit from Jilly Cooper — the author was signing copies of her new book Mount!

    Some solid spectator figures

    Today’s attendance recorded 66,019 people coming in through the gates. That is compared to 67,700 in 2016 — not a bad start to the week…

    Don’t miss the full report from the Cheltenham Festival in Horse & Hound — on sale Thursday, 23 March.

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