Horse & Hound columnist Robert Thornton (pictured) set Cheltenham alight on the opening day of the National Hunt Festival, winning the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle and the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The Supreme Novices’ victory came on a catch ride, the JP McManus-owned Captain Cee Bee, and gave Irish trainer Edward Harty his first Festival winner. But closer to Thornton’s heart will have been his terrific victory on Katchit in the Champion Hurdle for his boss, Alan King.
“Choc” and Katchit took last year’s Triumph Hurdle, but the pony-sized Katchit has found it harder against bigger, more experienced rivals this season. He is, however, a fighter, and no horse could have battled harder than he did today, holding off the front runner Osana and Tom Scudamore by a length. Nicky Henderson’s Punjabi finished five lengths back in third, ahead of 2007 winner Sublimity.
“The statistics were all against him, but he’s like a terrier,” said Thornton. “He’s so small, we’ll probably get him in a pony race round here one day!”
Tidal Bay was a highly impressive first Festival triumph for jockey Denis O’Regan in the Irish Independent Arkle Chase for the Howard Johnson/Graham Wylie team.
Tom Scudamore was another jockey to get off the mark on David Pipe’s An Accordion in the William Hill National Hunt Chase, while the Carberry siblings, Paul and Nina, took a race apiece. Paul scored in the last on Crack Away Jack, holding off the much-fancied Ashkazar, while Nina won the BGC-sponsored cross-country race for the second year running, this time on Garde Champetre for JP McManus and “cross-country king” Enda Bolger.