ELLIOTT ON A TREBLE ROLL
A remarkable day for trainer Gordon Elliott was embellished when Tiger Roll brought up a 1,988/1 treble for his yard by landing the J T McNamara National Hunt Chase.
The victory - which completed a double for owner Michael O'Leary of Gigginstown House Stud - underlined the versatility of the seven-year-old winner, who three years ago won the JCB Triumph Hurdle over two miles. Today he ran out a ready winner over a trip almost twice as far, pulling hard for much of the trip under rider Lisa O'Neill, who works in Elliott's office and rides out each day.
Tiger Roll (16/1) scored by three lengths and three-quarters of a length respectively from Missed Approach (50/1) and Haymount (33/1).
McNamara, who rode more than 700 winners, including 16 at Cheltenham and four at The Festival, was seriously injured in a fall at the meeting four years ago - he passed away at the age of 41 in July last year, but his wife, Caroline, and their three children, Dylan, Harry and Olivia, were at Cheltenham today to present the trophies.
Elliott said: "It's unbelievable, particularly having Lisa ride the horse and in John Thomas's race. The John Thomas Munster National was won by Tiger Roll, too - it's hard to believe. If you watch the rerun of the race, Lisa has given him some ride because he head-butts fences. Fair play to her, she is a big part of our team. She is a star, who pre-trains horses, rides out each day, does everything - Jamie [Codd] could have ridden him [but partnered A Genie In A Bottle], but I said to her, if you work hard you can ride him if Jamie doesn't, and she did a great job.
"The horse loved it, and I guess the Irish National has to be next. To have three winners in a day is unbelievable. I trained three winners here last year and said if I had one this year I would be delighted!"
O'Leary said: "Lisa has been very lucky for us - she won the Kerry National for us on Wrath Of Titans and is a superb pilot. She's a lovely girl and tiny, but you could see Tiger Roll loved it, rolling along with her and having his own way of doing things. He has his own ideas about the game, but has won a couple of decent races.
"I'm delighted for Lisa and Gordon. He's an optimist and I'm a pessimist. He gives positive vibes about everything he runs, and that's been vindicated today. What a day for Gordon to win two Grade Ones and now this. Everybody misses J T and it's an honour to win his race.
"I don't know what to do for the rest of the week now, because normally I get to Thursday evening and start getting nervous because we can't find a winner. I think I had better fly home because it can't get any better than this."
FIRST FESTIVAL WINNER FOR O'NEILL
Lisa O'Neill scored a first Festival victory on her first ride at the meeting, partnering the Gordon Elliott-trained Tiger Roll, a 16/1 shot, to win the J T McNamara National Hunt Chase by three lengths over Missed Approach.
She is just the second woman to win the race after Katie Walsh took it on Poker De Sivola in 2010.
Lisa, 30, works in the office for Gordon Elliot as well as riding. Her mother Margaret is the bloodstock manager for Tattersalls Ireland, and Lisa works during there during sales also.
She said: "He's been a brilliant horse to have at home. He won the Triumph Hurdle three years ago, and he loved it today; he was a bit free with me early on and I was wondering whether he would finish it out, but he did. I think he was taking the mickey out of me because he was loving it too much!
"He's Flat-bred [by Authorized] but he's economical and measures his fences to a T. I think everyone in the yard knows he's got ability, but it's a question of when he's on song, and he was today.
"I was bred into racing - my Dad [Tommy] trains at home [in Co Meath], and unfortunately I was never able to ride a winner for him, but he'll be proud of me today."
Asked whether she had dared to dream that she could win today, she replied: "No, I suppose I'm a bit of a pessimist, so I never count my eggs until they are hatched. Today is a great day and I'll really enjoy it. J T McNamara was an icon to all of us in the point-to-point world at home in Ireland and it is a privilege to win this race."
CHANCE NOT MISSED AS APPROACH FINISHES SECOND
Warren Greatrex was delighted with the run of 50/1 shot Missed Approach who finished an excellent three length second to Gordon Elliott's 16/1 winner Tiger Roll in the J T McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase, the sixth race on day one, Champion Day, of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
The seven-year-old gelding led under Noel McParlan and after being headed by the winner in the home straight, responded willingly to McParlan's urgings to fill the runner-up position, ahead of the fast-finishing 33/1 chance Haymount under Patrick Mullins.
Lambourn handler Greatrex said: "He is a 145 rated horse and you know early doors with this horse if he is jumping and travelling then yeah he is a good horse. He stays and jumps and has a really bright future as he is a very talented horse.
"To be fair, the cheekpieces arguably lit him up slightly today as he was keen early but I couldn't be more happy. Noel gave him a great ride and I am just chuffed to bits."
Greatrex also outlined future plans for the son of Golan, remarking: "We could look at the Scottish National with him as he stays every yard.
"The owners [Alan & Andrew Turner] are great. They are in it for the fun and they said to me are we reaching for the stars today and I sort of backed myself and said this horse would have a huge chance and he showed that he did."
McParlan, having his first ride in the race, commented: "He gave me a great spin and he was super ride.
"We have no excuses and we were just beaten by the better horse on the day.
"Warren told me he would stay all day and to ride him with loads of confident. I got him into a rhythm and he's run really well.
"It was great to ride in the race and you just need a horse that stays very well! He gave me a great spin."
HAYMOUNT FOR FAIRYHOUSE?
Willie Mullins and son Patrick combined to bring the Irish National-entered Haymount into third place in the J T McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase, the sixth race on the card on the opening day of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
Willie Mullins, who trains the eight year old, a 33/1 chance, said: "He ran a bit keen in the race but ran well. We're very happy with him. The Irish National would look an option for him but we will see how he comes out of this first."
Patrick Mullins, who rode the Presenting gelding for his father, added: "He just ran too keen but will be a great ride in the Irish National"
4.50pm J T McNamara National Hunt Novices' Chase (Grade 2)
1 TIGER ROLL (Gigginstown House Stud) Gordon Elliott IRE 7-11-06 Ms Lisa O'Neill 16/1
2 Missed Approach (Alan & Andrew Turner) Warren Greatrex 7-11-06 Mr N McParlan 50/1
3 Haymount (Mrs C M Hurdley) Willie Mullins IRE 8-11-06 Mr Patrick Mullins 33/1
4/1 Fav A Genie In Abottle (5th)
Distances: 3, ¾
Time: 9m 12.60s
Tote Win £18.80 Places: £4.50, £18.80, £9.10 Exacta: £1,731.70
Gordon Elliott - 11th winner at The Festival
Ms Lisa O'Neill - 1st winner at The Festival
BetBright Cup - standings after 6 races
Great Britain 3