Cheltenham Festival got off to a flying start today with Willie Mullins’ yard clinching three wins all ridden by Ruby Walsh. Racegoers were on tenterhooks this morning following lows of minus 12 overnight and concerns the frost covers wouldn’t be enough to save Champion Day. A course inspection gave the all clear but the first race was moved back to 2.05pm and the Cross Country race had to be rescheduled for Thursday Evening at 5.15pm as the course was frozen. The Charity race will be taking place on Thursday evening after the Cross Country. The Cheltenham roar heralded the start of the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle in which Champagne Fever (Willie Mullins) led the whole way round and still had enough left in the tank to beat off the challenge of favourite My Tent or Yours. Ruby Walsh said, “He jumped like a stag and when AP (McCoy, My Tent or Yours) got me he just stuck his head down and went again.” The Arkle Challenge Trophy was taken by the favourite Simonsig and although he didn’t display his usual spark he hung on from brave outsider Baily Green. Young Brendan Powell, 18, following in his father’s footsteps had his first Festival winner today in the JLT Speciality Handicap on Golden Chieftan. There were doubts about the horse’s ability to stay but he finished well ahead of favourite Our Mick. His jockey said, “I was delighted to get the ride at Cheltenham never mind a win,” as he rode in. The main race of the day, the Stan James Champion Hurdle had the crowd roaring and throwing hats in the air as Hurricane Fly reclaimed his crown from last year’s winner Rock on Ruby. He had supporters worried at the start of the race when it looked as though he wasn’t travelling well but he produced a gutsy finish. The OLGB Mares’ Hurdle launched Quevega into the record books as she became the second horse to win a Cheltenham Festival race five times, (Golden Miller being the first winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup from 1932-36). Ruby Walsh had a job to pick her up and catch the front runners but she got her nose in front of Sirene d’Ainay on the run to the line. The final race on the card went to Nicky Henderson’s Rajdhani Express with the favourite Colour Squadron an also ran. The frost covers have gone down again this evening and there will be a precautionary inspection in the morning at 8.00am. Tomorrow all eyes are on Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion chase, the outstanding jumper is looking unbeatable.
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