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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 March, 2004, 21:42 GMT
Champion win for Eustace
Hardy Eustace on his way to victory at Cheltenham
Hardy Eustace caused a major upset by holding off Rooster Booster to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The Dessie Hughes-trained Eustace, ridden by Conor O'Dwyer, took the lead early on and withstood the challenge of Booster to win by five lengths.

Booster, the reigning champion, moved up the field after a slow start and joined Eustace in the lead at the last but Eustace was not to be denied.

Jonjo O'Neill's Intersky Falcon, ridden by Liam Cooper, secured third place.

The victory was a particularly emotional one as Eustace was ridden to victory at last year's Festival by the late Kieran Kelly, who died from injuries received in a fall at Kilbeggan in August.

"I can't describe it, fantastic, especially with the Kieran situation, it just makes it all the more emotional," said O'Dwyer.

Hardy Eustace, last year's Royal & Sun Alliance Hurdle winner, was only switched to this race at the last minute as he had been an intended runner in Wednesday's Coral Cup.

This is nearly as good as riding the winner - and that's not something I thought I would ever say
Eustace trainer Dessie Hughes

Hardy Eustace is the first Irish-trained winner of the race since the great Istabraq won the third of his titles in 2000.

Winning trainer Hughes said: "I feel sorry for Kieran, and we won't forget him. But maybe he had a hand in this result. I would like to think so.

"I told Conor to make use of the horse, but not too much. He looked to be going so easily that I knew there was something in the tank.

"This is nearly as good as riding the winner - and that's not something I thought I would ever say."

Rooster Booster's trainer Hobbs said: "Hardy Eustace won here last year and is obviously a very good horse.

"Richard was very happy with Rooster Booster. He jumped brilliantly throughout and got there nicely.

"He just wasn't good enough. It's not like he has just beaten us - he's gone away and won well.

Intersky, owned by a syndicate which includes Newcastle footballer Alan Shearer, finished four lengths behind Booster in a creditable third place while Rigmarole, another much-fancied entry, failed to impress.

O'Neill, trainer of Intersky Falcon, said: "He did everything right and he has run a great race. He jumped well and just wasn't good enough on the day."

Jockey O'Dwyer had already been denied victory in the first race of the festival when he was pipped by a neck by Brave Inca in the Supreme Novices Hurdle.

Champion Jockey Tony McCoy claimed his, and trainer Martin Pipe's, first winner of this year's Festival when Well Chief held off Kicking King in the Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase.

Jockey Robert Thornton gave Fork Lightning an excellent ride to give trainer Alan King his first Cheltenham triumph in the National Hunt Handicap Chase.

Maximise won the Challenge Cup Handicap Chase for jockey Darren Edwards to give Pipe his second winner of the day. Jonjo O'Neill repeated last year's Pertemps Final success as Creon swooped late to snatch the spoils in the closing race.

BBC Five Live's Cornelius Lysaght
"A surprise win and an emotional one"

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