Third Time Lucki ended owner Mike Newbould’s 30 year wait for a winner at Cheltenham and immediately put himself in the frame for a return to Jumps HQ at The Festival in March.
The six year old’s debut over fences in the squareintheair.com Novices’ Steeplechase on day one of The Showcase Meeting was so impressive that bookmakers immediately cut his odds for the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase at The Festival next year to just 14-1.
Newbould said: “I just couldn’t believe it, it’s amazing. I’m chuffed to bits. I’ve come racing here for 30 years and have had plenty of runners, but this is my first winner. He was second here last year and this has ended a 30-year wait.
“I couldn’t believe the noise and the cheer from not even a full crowd, this place is just unbelievable. We have two or three that are good enough to come here and hopefully we’ll have another now!
“We’ve always liked the horse and I’ve had him at home all summer. You know by the way he behaves in the paddock with the other horses – he just covers the ground so well – so we knew from day one when we took him off the box that he was a nice horse. I bought him off Charlie Poste and he’d run in a point to point and finished second.
“When I took him off the box, my head lad Mick Bray said to me ‘this is something special’. We had three or four others on the books at the same time and we have another really nice horse who runs in Liverpool next month called Wilde About Oscar. This boy is flash but Oscar puts his head down, so they’re two completely different horses.
“We’ve had some nice horses - Captain Chaos has been a lovely horse too – but I think this one is something special. It’s early days, but you can’t come here in a decent race and beat them the way he’s just beaten them. They’ve all run three or four times and this is his first run over fences, so it’s exciting.”
Trainer Dan Skelton went on to admit that Third Time Lucki had frustrated him last season and outlined the plans for the rest of this season. He said: “I’ve always considered him to be one of our best horses and it was very frustrating last year.
“Mike wanted to get some experience into him early so we went and won at Uttoxeter last year and ended up coming here in bad ground and that sort of unravelled our season. We went to Musselburgh and ran terribly and he was there too soon in the County Hurdle in a slowly run race, so nothing really suited him.
“If I could have last year back I’d have won a big race but the one thing it did do was give him lots of experience. He went left-handed, right-handed, on tight tracks - he’s done it all and now he’s more mature.
“I tinkered with his wind in the summer because at home he always made a whistle and I just didn’t want that on my mind anymore. You can see now that Harry can really ride him because before you had to drop him out last, so everything has just come together.
“You hear trainers say things like ‘he’s an embryonic chaser’ all the time and that’s what we’re trying to create, so we’re just chuffed to bits with him. His jumping at home has been good and we might come back here on the Sunday of the November Meeting – if the ground is bad he will not run – and then we’ll go for the Henry VIII.
“He’s coming back here in March. Some people say I don’t test my novices enough and that I didn’t come here with My Drogo last year and that type of thing, but I’m trying to get the best out of my horses when I can and that horse now has been round Cheltenham in his first start over fences and you’ve every right to believe in him now and plan for March.
“He’s a pure two miler and the faster they go the better. It’s taken a bit of time and all those runs last year probably didn’t do him any harm. He was rushing a bit at his obstacles and just had a great deal of ability and an awful lot of belief and sometimes that is not so easy to work with when you’re jumping obstacles as you’ve got to respect them.
“It’s a great start to the season. We can obviously do with a bit more rain but we’ve been trying to protect our better horses and wait for the rain and luckily today the ground’s lovely. Harry was doing his best not to show his excitement after and there’s a long way to go. It’s October and sometimes you can look a bit foolish as you’re hyping pressure on the horse. Let’s play it cool for now and if he wins the Henry VIII, then we’ll get excited.”
The first race of the new season at Cheltenham ended in very familiar fashion as Camprond carried the colours of JP McManus to victory in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. McManus’ famous yellow and green hooped silks are the most successful ever at The Festival, with 67 victories.
The Philip Hobbs-trained five year old, returned the 1-3 favourite, had little difficulty in seeing off Irish raider Mars Harper to score by four and a half lengths under Aidan Coleman.
Hobbs said: “We got the job done, just! I’m not sure what we’re doing with him next, I gather in Ireland that they’re novices until the end of November, so heading over there is an option but otherwise it will likely be handicaps for him.
“He’s not jumped a fence at home just yet but that’s an option as well, although it’s not the most obvious thing at the moment.”
Meanwhile a first ride at Cheltenham is always a landmark moment for any jockey and that was certainly the case for Danny Houlihan, who came home last of the three runners aboard 50-1 chance Bannixtown Boy.
Houlihan said: “I went out with probably the two best jockeys in the weighing room so I was taken away with it!
“It was the horse’s first run of the season so he needed it but I was just enjoying it and taking tips off the lads as best as I could and was just watching and learning really. I’ve been a jockey for three years now and hopefully I can keep improving.
“It’s a dream to have my first ride here and I’ve got two more tomorrow, so it’s great.”
The third favourite of the day to oblige was 85-40 hope Bardenstown Lad in the 888Sport What’s Your Thinking Novices’ Hurdle. The six year old became the first Irish-trained winner of Cheltenham’s new season when securing victory by a length under Sean Bowen for the John McConnell team.
Bowen believes the Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival could be an ultimate aim this season and said: “It was a good performance. He raced very lazily early on and I gave him a reminder at the top of the hill. To be fair he came back on (to the bridle) and he’s gone and done it well in the end.
“He wouldn’t let you know how much more he’s got to be honest. I was all out at Cartmel at 1-10 in August and thought I was going to get beaten because he’s just that type of horse.
“He might need headgear later on in his life but something like the Albert Bartlett is a race where you need a really strong stayer and he is that and I think John McConnell is hoping that’s what he can be.”