Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore celebrated success at Cheltenham for the first time since their heroics at The Festival when Gin On Lime won the SSS Super Alloys Novices’ Chase in dramatic fashion on the opening day of the November Meeting.
It looked as if 4-9 favourite My Drogo would be making a winning chase debut in the match race as he smoothly took up the running approaching the second last fence.
However, the six year old buckled on landing, parting ways with Harry Skelton in the process. At the same time, 7-4 chance Gin On Lime almost came to a standstill too following a bad mistake, but Rachael Blackmore managed to muster another effort from the five year who was left to come home alone in the two and a half-mile contest.
Speaking afterwards Blackmore, who was last at Cheltenham when taking the leading jockey award for The Festival in March, said: “It was a very strange race and it was very unfortunate for the Skeltons what happened but the ball has fallen right for me I suppose.”
Explaining her own mount’s mistake two fences from home, Blackmore added: “She just crumpled under me and it was quite a slow motion thing I suppose. She’s an extremely honest mare to go down and jump the last and canter over the line.”
Winning trainer Henry de Bromhead, who was also returning to the scene of his six Winners during this year’s Cheltenham Festival, added: “I can’t say I’ve been involved in a race like that before!
“I remember years ago when I was a kid my father had a horse called Quarter Bridge. It was a three-horse race and he looked beaten and the other two fell at the second last and he ended up winning it. The owner said it was such a shame that they didn’t stand up as I would have liked to have seen more of a race and my father was going ‘no, no no we won!’ You don’t like to see it happen.
“I thought the favourite jumped brilliantly throughout today. The way Rachael sat on - she just clung to her. Maybe ours was a slightly slower fall, I don’t know. It’s just Jump racing. It’s mad and I’ve not seen much of that before.
“She (Gin On Lime) was always going to have a break after this and we just came to have a look for the Mares’ Chase in the spring so we can bear that in mind.
“At least we can say she has won around here. She was running well I suppose but she would never have jumped right like that as we thought she was better going left.”
Dan Skelton, trainer of My Drogo, added: “He jumped the fence fine but just knuckled on landing and slid. I was delighted with him the whole way round. He jumped beautifully.
“He was a bit big at a couple down the back. The first ditch he was a bit big and the next plain one he was a bit big at. He jumped the ditch at the top of the hill better than the mare and then came back on the bridle.
“He would have won - we all know that - but at least he is alright. I’m totally relaxed about it. I’m frustrated he has ended up not completing his race and that goes on his record but that doesn’t mean he is any less of a horse.
“He cantered back up the straight. They had gone a nice strong gallop which is unusual in a two horse race. Fair play to Rachael as she made a similar mistake but that is racing and we move on.”
Fergal O’Brien currently heads the UK Jumps trainers’ championship and Art Approval brought up win number 71 of the 2021/22 campaign for the local handler when landing the opening race of The November Meeting, the Markel Insurance Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (2m 5f 85y).
The five year old, returned at 100-30, saw off all challengers to take the honours by two and three-quarter lengths.
Winning rider Peter Kavanagh was a late substitution in the saddle, replacing Liam Harrison who was reported to be sore following a fall at Sedgefield yesterday.
And he duly took the opportunity to ensure his first ever Cheltenham ride was a winning one. Kavanagh said: “It was a great spare ride. I only found out after nine o’clock this morning, so I had to jump off my third lot and rush down here as quickly as I could! I’m based up with Donald McCain and had my first spare for Fergal on Monday and had a winner, so that’s two from two now.
“The journey was a bit of a rush this morning that’s for sure – I’ll find out about whether I’ve got a speeding ticket when I get home! It’s my first ever ride here and the atmosphere was just amazing, no words can describe it. I didn’t really get a chance to get nervous to be honest as I was just rushing to get here.
“A huge thanks must go to Fergal for putting me up. It’s not really the circumstances you want to be picking up a spare in as Liam (Harrison) got a bad fall yesterday. He should be back soon enough, hopefully.”
Winning trainer O’Brien said: “Liam had a bad fall yesterday so he is a bit sore so he will be off for a couple of days. It was Peter’s first ride here and he did very well. It was his second ride for us and his first was a winner around Carlisle the other day so he has done really well for us.
“He didn’t run badly last time. Paddy was fourth on him last time and that was as good as a winning ride as he didn’t knock him about so he recovered very well and he came back here from today. That was as good as Peter’s ride today. That’s why I’m at such an advantage to have Paddy on side.
“I think he would stay further and there were times in the race I thought he was in trouble. We were delighted with him. It is great to have one for Rupert as he has been so good to us. It is a fantastic facility to have. He has dug deep. It is an investment for him and hopefully he will feel this is starting to repay him.”
Art Approval is owned by Rupert Lowe, former Chairman of Southampton FC and O’Brien’s landlord.
Lowe said: “I swore I’d never have a horse but when Fergal came to our yard with Sally (Randell, O’Brien’s partner) we’ve ended up with Art Approval. He is a fantastic horse with a great character and he never gives up. Today I thought he did fantastically well. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
“I was a bit nervous when he hit the rail at the end at the end and when he went wide and didn’t have anything to run against but he is a fighter and never gives up. I was just saying to Fergal we didn’t quite get to Wembley with Southampton but we got to Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium where we lost 1-0 to Arsenal, where I personally thought we deserved to win but he said this is better than that.
“It’s a great day. I’ve got another one called Cordey Dancer who is a nice horse that is going to have a bit of time off and come back in the summer and then I’ve got half of something called Art Man with my father Patrick.
“Fergal is doing well. I met him through some friends of ours. He had a look at where I used to breed my cattle. He had a look at the gallop which runs up from the River Colne which is about four furlongs.
“That is a fantastic gallop now, we’ve built him a three furlong round gallop and a jump gallop. The set-up now is fantastic I think. Fergal really has a chance to prove what professionalism can do.
“He deserves all the success he gets. He is over 70 winners on the jumps and has had some flat winners as well so it is amazing. My great friend Charles Green, who used to be the chairman of Rangers, bred Art Approval and breeds lots of horses in France. I really owe my interest partly to him as he persuaded me to take an interest in Art Approval, Cordey Dancer and Art Man. It is very exciting.”
Memories of 2014 Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy were evoked when Editeur Du Gite (4-1) came home the winner of Mucking Brilliant Paddy Power Handicap Chase by a neck under Niall Houlihan, who was also enjoying a first Cheltenham winner. The winner runs in the colours of The Preston Family, who also raced Sire De Grugy.
Houlihan said: “It was an absolute thrill. I was a small bit worried about the good to soft ground but he handled it perfectly well. I wasn’t sure why I was so far clear as I felt I hadn’t gone overly quick I winged it over the first four and I made my intentions to go forward but from there on in I was just holding him down the back straight going a very even speed.
“I let him lengthen down at three out and he has come home very well. He wasn’t emptying towards the line he was just getting a bit idle. It is his first time at Cheltenham coming up that narrow straight towards the line I was never worried that the other horse was going to pass me. He has got great pace but he is brilliant at a jump. It doesn’t matter whether you are long or short. He is just a natural athlete and he has given me my first winner at Cheltenham.
“I made my intentions clear to make it my own race but without the horse I couldn’t have done it. I think he is in front because he can be in front with his gears. He is a very versatile horse and his horse is quite bright. Sire De Grugy was a great champion and these are great owners. I’m just over the moon. The season on the whole is going brilliantly. I’ve got to pinch myself now and hope it lasts as long as possible.”
Successful trainer Gary Moore, who was also responsible for Sire De Grugy, said: “They thought there was a lot of pace in the race and he was getting a freebie in-front there, he was jumping his fences well and he’s definitely a lot happier going left-handed. He probably got a little bit tired at Ascot last time, but he still ran a great race there and this man (Steve Preston) is just the luckiest man on the planet – he gets one good one and then one nearly as good!
“He’s only won a neck today or a short head, and it just depends how he comes out of this. We’ll keep him going left-handed I’d think.”
Steve Preston, representing successful owner the Preston Family, said: “It’s another dream come true, I know we’ve said that before but this is another one. Sire Du Grugy wasn’t this good when he was an eight year old, ‘Sire’ got better with age and we have our fingers crossed that he can be as good as anything. He was go good today and the jockey said he was idling late on, so fingers crossed he’s going to be better. I’m lucky I met Gary 10 years ago!”
Asked if he could potentially be as good as Sire Du Grugy, Preston added: “It’s a wish more than a belief, but he’s certainly getting better with every run. Sire wasn’t special until he was eight and this lad turns eight in January, so maybe he’s got some more improvement. He’d need to improve quite a lot to be on Sire’s level, but you never know, he’s hopefully going to run in Graded company and that would be already above our initial expectations.
“Two or three of the guys who were with us before said that they were out as we could never repeat that, so we’ve got two other lads in and we’re having our day in the sunshine again. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Queen Mother Champion Chase or this race, it matters that we’re here at the best racecourse enjoying ourselves.
“This is our third horse as we also had Sire De Grugy’s brother, Blue Sire. Unfortunately he got injured very early on in his career so we never got to see how good he was - this is the third horse.”