That's it from me today, and we start all over again at 1200 right here tomorrow, with the first race, as it was today, at 1330. Today belonged to the brilliant Irish jockey Ruby Walsh of course, while Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson has had three seconds and one third from his 11 entries. Ouch.
Ferdy Murphy's remarkable strike rate at this meeting rears its face again with this winner. Before today he was showing a £60 profit on £1 level stakes bets since 2007 at the Cheltenham Festival. That's his 10th career win all told at the Festival, superb for someone with a much smaller arsenal than the Pipes, the Kings, the Hendersons and Nicholls.
RESULT Centenary Novices' Handicap Chase 2m 4 ½f (1715)
1. Divers (Graham Lee) 10-1
2. Quantitativeeasing (Tony McCoy) 7-1
3. Tullamore Dew (Liam Treadwell) 13-2
4. Vino Griego (Jamie Moore) 20-1
Vino Griego and Quantitativeeasing are disputing it, but from nowhere here comes Divers to snatch it at the line - we've got our third grey winner of the day!
Nadiya De La Vega is one to watch here as they approach the finish.
Rougham has lost his way, Definity has made a mistake and things are changing fast. Premier Sagas is pulled up. Vino Griego and Quantitativeeasing are two making excellent progress.
Rougham and Tullamore Dew are the two making headway at the moment, and at a lively gallop Shakalakaboomboom is looking handy.
They're off in Tuesday's final race, the Centenary Novices' Handicap Chase - eventually... after Premier Sagas spends an age to sort himself out and everyone has to take a turn.
"Can you change Honest Frank's picture? Really feel I am on a naughty site every time I see it."
Let's run down the form quickly for the final race, the Centenary Novices' Handicap Chase. Definity is the Paul Nicholls-Ruby Walsh entry with fine hurdles form. Divers, a Ferdy Murphy hope, may give him a steep challenge while Tullamore Dew, who has the 2009 Grand National jockey Liam Treadwell on board, is also a contender.
At last some belated reaction from Ruby Walsh,
who, would you believe it, has a possible favourite in our last race: "She's a super mare, she travels super and apart from the last there were no scares. She has so much class, she settles a lot better now and lobs away. She's a perfect ride."
"You know it's a good day at Cheltenham when the sad bookie face is being used on the BBC Sport live feed!"
E-mail from John Oliver:
"Good to see Ruby Walsh and Choc Thornton among the early winners - they (along with Tony McCoy) were part of a presentation to Tony Twiggs from the NHS's Great Western Ambulance Service. Tony is retiring this week after a 40-year career with the ambulance service, including 27 years heading up the emergency medical team at the festival - during which time he has picked up and treated countless jockeys, along with many more spectators, albeit they mainly needed picking up for different reasons."
RESULT David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle Race 2m 4f (1640)
1. Quevega (R Walsh) 5-6 Fav
2. Sparky May (K Burke) 4-1
3. Ocean Transit (David Bass) 50-1
Winning trainer Willie Mullins:
"She won so easy and Ruby loves her. They fire off one another and coming off a break she was just fantastic. We might go to Aintree with this filly (take on the geldings in the Aintree Hurdle)." Now that would be very fun to see.
That's Quevega's third win in this race, and there are some rueful comments from the Racing UK team wondering what she might have done had she been entered in a Champion Hurdle or a World Hurdle at some point in her career. Maybe next year? She's only seven...
Ruby wins it doing handstands... It's his hat-trick and a double for Willie Mullins.
Sparky May is right in the mix, but here comes Quevega...
Silver Gypsy and Banjaxed Girl are squabbling for the lead, while Ruby Walsh on Quevega is very steady towards the rear.
Here's my shout for the best-named horse of the day: Banjaxed Girl
. She's trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and is not without a chance, ridden by Nigel's son Sam. And they're off in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle.
BBC Sport's Frank Keogh
on Twitter: " 'He is a deserving champion and a right little horse. He has a big heart and needed it today' - Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly."
For the fearless punters among you who can stomach an odds-on bet, there's one such good thing in the next, which is off in five minutes. Quevega is bidding to give Walsh a three-timer today. If he starts at evens or somewhere around there, it won't be too short if you ask me.
Just for a change, shall we take a comment from a trainer who didn't win a race? Here's Enda Bolger,
who has won a few of these races in the past and had Garde Champetre among his team this time: "He's run his heart out and it just shows how tough he is. He had a lot of weight today. Sizing Australia has been knocking on the door a few times, so you've got to give him his due. Our horse was running on at the end and although it's back to the drawing board, it looks like there's plenty of life in him yet." He'll be 13 next year... He couldn't, could he?
From Paul, via text to 81111:
"Why have an Irish flag appearing for an Irish-trained winner, and no St George's flag when there's an English trained winner?" >>> OK Paul, it's a fair cop... I'll put up a St George's flag now when the English get a winner.
Now it's time to hear from the winning jockey Andrew Lynch,
who says: "Last year we were unlucky when we were knocked over turning in, but he's very gutsy. He's only a young horse (nine) compared to Enda Bolger's horse (Garde Champetre). He's done it well today and he jumps for fun." And here's trainer Henry de Bromhead
: "It's brilliant and he deserved it. He's been placed a few times and it's great to get it for the owners, Alan and Ann Potts. He got hampered last year but we didn't make enough use of him and that was my fault. I told Andrew to ride him however he wants today and it just show you should leave it to the jockey!"
RESULT Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 3m 7f (1600)
1 Sizing Australia (Andrew Lynch) 13-2
2. Garde Champetre (Nina Carberry) 5-1
3. A New Story (Adrian Heskin) 12-1
Well, why did anyone even think an English-trained horse would win this? The winning trainer, of course, won the Arkle last year with another "Sizing" horse, Sizing Europe. And I believe that horse runs tomorrow in the Queen Mother - one to consider maybe? Maljimar looked sure to be coming to the party at the right time but just ran out of gas and it was left to the old boy Garde Champetre, with his big weight, to take second...
Sizing Australia wins under a very consistent ride from Andrew Lynch for Henry de Bromhead - that's another Irish winner!
Maljimar is gliding to the front, just Sizing Australia to beat, it appears...
Quezac De La Rocque has come into the picture having run a quiet race to date, seven to jump, while Maljimar is finally making a move...
Quilobet is pulled up, L'Ami makes a slight error and he too will take no further part in this race.
Once Cool Cookie has made one wrong turn and his race is run. Maljimar is looking a little sluggish, so too Poker de Sivola.
Smooth progress being made by Quilobet now, but Lord Nellerie is still leading as they go to the water.
Garde Champetre almost dumps Nina Carberry but no fallers yet. With 23 fences to jump Lord Nellerie leads from Sizing Australia. A New Story is travelling smoothly.
They've been razor sharp with the starts today, and so they're off in the fifth!
If Maljimar does win, it will be a rare success for an English-trained horse in this one. Best of the Irish is probably Garde Champetre, who has the very talented Nina Carberry on board. Might be getting a bit long in the tooth now at 12 though (that's the horse, not the jockey of course!)
If you've not seen the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase before then you're in for a treat. They go along the rarely-used cross-country course, so there are all sorts of weird hedges, humps, hollows and bushes to jump, and some tight turns and very steep banks to negotiate. It's a bit like a mini Velka Pardubicka. Four of the 15 runners are owned by JP McManus. It's off at 1600.
"Picked fourth in every race so far, one has so come in E/W soon right? Any tips for next race?" ...I like Maljimar, who might be favourite but he's also got the lowest weight in the race. Incidentally, don't throw your ticket away for the third race. You get paid four places in the bigger handicaps and Fair Along (fourth in the 1440) was a good price at 25-1!
Hurricane Fly is as short as 5-2 to win this race in 12 months time with some bookmakers. You can get considerably better odds with some others, so make sure you shop around if you have any cash handy that you don't need to think about for a year.
E-mail from Jason in Reigate:
"Bet of the week landed! Just a shame I didn't get on before Binocular was withdrawn, nothing would have stopped the Hurricane today!" Well indeed. There's no question you would have got a better price about Hurricane Fly if Binocular had been in the field, but then again who would have won if Binocular had been in the race? The wonderful imponderables of racing, eh?
Incidentally, that's now three seconds and a third from the Geraghty-Henderson team - though someone e-mailed or texted in saying they had an each-way Geraghty accumulator for the first four races. Well done - you've won your cash!
I think you may want to know what Ruby Walsh
has to say: "I probably got there a fraction too soon, but he never gave me a chance early doors. He never settled really and ran keen, but we know he has the speed and class. He's shown the ability that myself, Willie Mullins and Paul Townend always believed he had. He's a deserved champion and a right little horse. He's only small but he has a big heart and he needed it today." ...and there we were thinking he had travelled the best of anything throughout!
Extraordinary noise from around the course as Ruby Walsh leads this one back to the winner's enclosure. It was a really genuinely-run race, most horses that were backed had a bit of a chance off the bend, but it was always Hurricane Fly who was travelling the best of the lot. So much for him having not beaten anything special in Ireland - you can, after all, only beat what's put in front of you!
Winning trainer Willie Mullins:
"He's got speed and he's got stamina to jump. We didn't want something stupid to happen in the final week - for him to get a kick or a bit of a cough. It was brilliant from Ruby. I thought I wouldn't give him any instructions, he knew what to do and what better man to do it."
RESULT Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (1520)
1. Hurricane Fly (Ruby Walsh) 11-4 Fav
2. Peddlers Cross (Jason Maguire) 9-2
3. Oscar Whisky (Barry Geraghty) 7-1
Hurricane Fly wins for Ireland!
Hurricane Fly has been travelling so well and just jumps the last in front.
Three flights to go, Oscar Whisky and Menorah are coming into the picture.
Peddlers Cross is moving into second place as Overturn comes under pressure now.
They're racing in the Champion Hurdle, Overturn leading them into the back straight. Hurricane Fly started 11-4 favourite.
BBC Sport's Frank Keogh
Interesting comment from BBC Radio 5 live's Peter Scudamore
, who has a little bit each-way on Khyber Kim: "I don't think jump jockeys should get suspended. They should be fined. They spend a lot of time injured as it is." (Peddlers Cross's jockey Jason Maguire was thought to be a bit lucky to avoid a ban).
on Twitter: "Some jockeys say ground on slow side of good. Ruby Walsh called it 'beautiful' after the first but he did have the winner."
Nicky Henderson, desperate to avoid another runners-up cheque, says of the challengers to Oscar Whisky: "Menorah looks fantastic, there's a pile of them in there. Khyber Kim... if he's back to his form of last year will take a fair bit of beating."
Dunguib disappointed so many punters in the Supreme Novices' this year, but he has the ability to cause a surprise here. Certainly, he was given a poor ride 12 months ago but he's a better horse than that. And how about Menorah? If he's as good as the Philip Hobbs team reckon he is then he could win by several lengths.
I tell you what, though. How about, after all the nonsense concerning Binocular, Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty winning this one with Oscar Whiskey? That duo have had three seconds in the first three races and Oscar Whisky has only been beaten once in seven starts.
Just 20 minutes to go until the biggest hurdle race of the season, and it seems inevitable that Hurricane Fly will start as favourite. He is bidding to give Ireland their first winner of the Festival, and reward favourite backers for the first time as well.
You'll struggle to get a more exciting finish this week, after an incident-packed race. Great Endeavour
had been toying with his opponents for much of the race and, having been challenged going down the hill, was ready to put his nose out in front again when falling two out. That left Nicky Henderson's Carole's Legacy
as the sole challenger to Bensalem
, who had put to bed jumping concerns with a very solid performance. And it was Bensalem and Thornton who were able to stretch clear at the finish.
RESULT - Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Steeplechase (1440)
1. Bensalem (Robert Thornton) 6-1
2. Carole's Legacy (Barry Geraghty) 9-1
3. Reve de Sivola (Darryl Jacob) 9-1
4. Fair Along (Rhys Flint) 25-1
Bensalem pips Carole's Legacy to win. Wonderful finish, great work from Robert Thornton on the Alan King-trained horse.
Great Endeavour falls at the second last, and it's an epic struggle between Bensalem and Carole's Legacy...
Great Endeavour with Timmy Murphy on board for David Pipe is still leading... Two fences to go...
Rare Bob pulled up, Razor Royale has unseated his jockey.
Great Endeavour is in good shape out at the front, with Bensalem also taking close order.
McCoy falls heavily from SunnyHillBoy - drama aplenty here.
Adams Island is an early faller, jockey Aodhagan Conlon has hit the turf, while last year's winner Chief Dan George also falls.
They're off in the third race...
Neil, not gambling at work honest, Leamington Spa:
"What's your tip for the next Oliver? I need to recover the £10 that Ben Moorhouse just cost me." Crikey, pressure on. I rarely have a bet in this trappy contest, but Blazing Bailey is certainly one of the best of the horses in this one.
Steve in Bristol
is in hot form and he's backed SunnyHillBoy (McCoy's mount). Cornelius Lysaght
points out on BBC Radio 5 live that the horse has not run since Christmas which may mean the trainer (Jonjo O'Neill) liked the weight the horse had then and didn't want him shouldering any more.
Cheltenham is gearing up for the third race of the day and the first handicap of the Festival. It's the Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase, over three miles. We're off in just over five minutes, you know. Remember Tony McCoy winning this on Wichita Lineman in 2009? Arguably the riding performance of the week...
Thanks for the feedback which is vital to this text commentary. Some of you are telling me Robbie Savage has two winners from two races. Stop now Robbie and treat the rest of the Derby boys to some champagne to top up that Irish stout! And here's Hugh O'Connor on e-mail: "Cheers for Realt Dubh, just got in at 2.00 to save me losing the shirt on Medermit. Hoping Great Endeavour can come now in the 2.40."
And here's some reaction from Philip Hobbs, the winning trainer:
"We've always thought he wanted two and a half miles and, to be fair, I still think he does. He was at work quite a long way from home but his jumping was mustard. He was a little bit right-handed, he'll always do that." ...very interesting comments, which suggest he may not be targeted at next year's Queen Mother Champion Chase. However,
BBC Sport's Frank Keogh
on Twitter tells us "Captain Chris given early quote of 14-1 for the two-mile Champion Chase at Cheltenham 2012, and 25s for Gold Cup over 3m2f."
Take nothing away from winning jockey Richard Johnson
, who knows how to guide a horse round these fences, and he says: "He's quite inexperienced and the first run of his life was only just over a year ago, but he's improved all the time and this better ground was definitely a big help. He's such a trier as well and it was great of the owners to run him in this as they could have gone for the easier race. He'd done nothing wrong and every race he's run in has been a high-class race. It's beautiful ground out there and they've done a great job."
Glad to see my each-way selection make me a tiny bit of cash by just sneaking third place from Medermit. Any of you follow it or did you back the winner instead? Finian's Rainbow made a slight mistake at the last and I reckon it proved critical. He had looked fantastic at one point. And apologies for some delays in this information reaching you. It's beyond my control, but people are working hard to correct.
RESULT - Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy (1400)
1. Captain Chris (Richard Johnson) 6-1
2. Finian's Rainbow (Barry Geraghty) 7-2
3. Realt Dubh (Paul Carberry) 17-2
1409: Captain Chris
wins, superb performance, terrific stamina...
Finian's Rainbow looks terrific three out - think he'll win.
Medermit and Realt Dubh are fourth and fifth, with Dan Breen, Captain Chris and Finian's Rainbow in the front.
They are RACING in the Arkle...
OK, got your bets for the Arkle on? Then let's proceed with the racing. Never a dull race this one, so hold on to your hats...
Ghizao will try to give Paul Nicholls the fastest double possible, and has given another contender here Captain Chris plenty of weight when beating him earlier in the season. Finian's Rainbow - look out for white colours with a black cap - is attracting lots of bets. A classy horse from the Nicky Henderson yard.
So what's the Arkle all about? It's novice chasers over a two-mile trip, and favourites have a poor record in this one so it tends to be a good idea to look beyond the obvious form horses. Saying that, Alan King's Medermit has transferred well from hurdles to fences and will take some beating. Ten go to post.
Before we completely turn our attention to the Arkle
, one of my favourite races of the week, here's some more reaction from the first race, and winning trainer Paul Nicholls:
"You need to stay in this race. Cue Card beat him last year in the Bumper when we gave him weight. This is the first time I've ever had the horse right and it was a brilliant ride. It's great for Ruby. We've had a few get beat in the last fortnight and some people were questioning our form, but all I was concentrating on was getting the horses right for this week. If they all go like that we'll be laughing. To start like that takes the pressure off."
on Twitter: "Anyone got any tips for the 14.05 please? I have been advised on Captain Chris? I'm down £10!" Mal - I tipped Realt Dubh as today's each-way selection, but here's one from Ben Moorhouse,
e-mailing in from West Yorkshire: "Stagecoach Pearl has a great each-way chance. I'm surprised nobody else is backing him! Horse of the day for me!"
Winning jockey Ruby Walsh:
"I went into the ring expecting Paul to tell me to ride him in the first three, but he said no, give him time to settle and come home and he was right. They went a good gallop, the ground was a bit dead and he picked up when I really needed him to. He jumped super. It's great to be back, a lot of people have helped me [in his recovery from various injury setbacks this season], including my family."
BBC Sport's Frank Keogh
Cue Card travelled well for much of the contest, although it was clear he wanted to run a bit freely at the outset and was held in check. McCoy's Sprinter Sacre looked the most likely winner at the top of the straight - I wonder how many more ding-dong battles involving McCoy and Walsh between now and Friday evening?
on Twitter: " Opening Cheltenham winner Al Ferof had escaped injury in February when two horses died after freak electrocution in Newbury parade ring."
Disappointing run from the big favourite (Cue Card finished fourth at 7-4) but an exciting finish in which Ruby Walsh, champion jockey at the Festival for the last three years, just delivered his mount with plenty of running at the right time.
RESULT - Stan James Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1330)
1. Al Ferof (Ruby Walsh) 10-1
2. Spirit Son (Barry Geraghty) 5-1
3. Sprinter Sacre (Tony McCoy) 11-1
Al Ferof wins for Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls!
Three from home and Sprinter Sacre under AP McCoy is looking good, Al Ferof has a chance, so too Cue Card.
No crazy fast gallop in this two-miler, and everything has a chance at present. Magen's Star is prominent with Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre also ahead of a number of others.
Cue Card is taking a keen hold from Joe Tizzard in mid-division, while Dunraven Storm is setting the pace.
And they're off in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle - as ever, an almighty roar emanates from the packed galleries a second after the tape goes up.
They've reached the start a little early for the opener - they often do - now is the time for the jockeys to get them really calmed down, and switched off.
If there's one horse I would say doesn't look entirely happy about life at the moment it's Magen's Star, one of the Irish-trained entries for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and sweating up a bit. Meanwhile, Cue Card looks like shortening in from 2-1 and will possibly start at about 15-8.
Al Ferof is now about 10-1 for the first. The grey is being led around the parade ring, with Cue Card (2-1 favourite) just behind him. Both look remarkably calm, much more so than most of the spectators at Prestbury Park where the sun is definitely doing its best to be a feature.
From BBC Sport's Gabby Logan on Radio 5 live
: "Isn't it wonderful that he is able to walk through people here, and mingle with the crowd? He's BBC Sports Personality of the year, a landslide winner of that." She's talking, of course, about AP McCoy
, who rides Sprinter Sacre in the first, the Henderson second string. No ride for him in the Champion Hurdle, however. (He had been booked for Binocular).
Your Cheltenham would not be complete without a gander at BBC Gloucestershire's masterful
It features a virtual tour of the course, past winners, most successful trainers, photos, and much, much more.
, with the whole Derby squad on BBC Radio 5 live: "I like getting dressed up. Coming to Cheltenham is different to Ascot, I've never seen so many men dressed up in green tweed outfits. I've not got a clue about horses - I usually put a finger on the paper and pick one that way but I like Menorah. I've had a few cans of Guinness and we've had a game of poker on the back of the bus so I've lost my money already."
Sparkyboy, London, via text to 81111
: "Favourites rarely win the first at Cheltenham... got to be Spirit Son to make it Britain 1 Ireland 0."
With just 30 minutes to go until the Festival opener, let's look at some of the other contenders beyond Cue Card and the Al Ferof (representing the Paul Nicholls-Ruby Walsh team). Nicky Henderson's Spirit Son
is untested on good ground and is the big unknown quantity, unbeaten in three runs. Recession Proof
has some good flat form on good ground so could be a live contender from the John Quinn yard. Robert "Choc" Thornton takes the ride from the injured Dougie Costello.
Anonymous, via text to 81111
: "Al Ferof has got to offer good value in the first race. Only narrowly being beaten by Cue Card last year who's clear favourite! At 9-1, with the race of his life he has to stand a chance!"
Comedian Kevin Day
: "John Hunt [your commentator on BBC Radio 5 live] is one of the best commentators in sport at the moment. I've tried doing it before I was down to the "brown one's jumping over the fence." He knows the horses straight away without their colours on them. He immerses himself on his homework."
If you were thinking of backing King Johns Castle in the 1600, then remove him from your shortlist, He's a non-runner. One horse I like in that is the very favourably-weighted Maljimar, from the Nick Williams yard. Quick weather bulletin for you too: Pretty grey, occasional sunny intervals, but no rain expected.
BBC Sport's Frank Keogh
on Twitter: "As nerves jangle before opening Cheltenham race, former equine stars in parade ring include Harchibald, Hardy Eustace, War of Attrition."
: Ireland have won the Champion Hurdle in seven of the last 12 runnings and with that perhaps in mind Hurricane Fly has currently displaced Menorah as favourite - but it's anyone's guess as to which one will start favourite. Peddlers Cross looks like a forgotten horse at the moment in that race. But this unexposed and unbeaten horse is a real danger: he's trained by Donald McCain, son of Red Rum's old trainer, Ginger.
Reaps from Aberdeen, via text to 81111
: "No-one's mentioned Khyber Kim
in the big race yet. Must be a good each-way bet?" Absolutely worth consideration. The trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is not noted for producing top-class hurdlers (he's a chase specialist) but yes, why not? Only beaten by Binocular last time, and that horse, of course, is missing this year.
Let's have a look to see which horses are already attracting big bets. In my my eyes, there's little surprise that Cue Card
, the Colin Tizzard-trained five-year-old who was a very tidy winner on his Festival debut last year, is as short as 2-1 in some places for our first race today. He'll get the Festival off to a terrific start for a number of punters in the same race Dunguib was such a flop last year. Hurricane Fly
seems to be the best-backed horse in the Champion Hurdle while people are looking for value in the top jockey betting and are lumping on Robert Thornton
From simmsy, via text to 81111
: "Watch out there is a hurricane coming! I think the fly will win as he has the speed." Thanks for the contribution, and let's see lots of e-mails and tweets too!
BBC racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght on Radio 5 live
: "It's disappointing Binocular is not here. But the big four for the Champion Hurdle are Hurricane Fly from Ireland, Menorah who's unbeaten at Cheltenham, Peddlers Cross who's unbeaten anywhere and then there's Oscar Whiskey, who went to Ffos Las and won a big hurdle race there. He comes here with all flags flying."
Mick Fitzgerald on BBC Radio 5 live
: "Everyone says: 'give me one winner for the week.' There's one race, the novices' hurdle handicap tomorrow, where I've already had 10 people coming up to me saying 'this will win'."
A quick summary of what to expect today. BBC Radio 5 live is under way already with commentary from the racecourse. The first race, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, is off at 1330 GMT. Today's feature, which looks wide open following
the late defection of reigning champion Binocular
is the Champion Hurdle, at 1520. I'll be with you all the way until the last race of the day, the Centenary Novices' Handicap Race (1715).
It's barely 90 minutes until the ferocious roar of the Cheltenham crowd will signal the start of the 2011 Festival. I'm excited and I hope you are too.