Definitly Red puts down Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup marker after today's BetBright Trial Cotswold victory
Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham Racecourse today delivered great racing and notable success for two female jockeys - Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly.
The feature race, the £100,000 G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase, went to Northern challenger Definitly Red who will be back at Cheltenham in March for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on the fourth and final day of The Festival.
BetBright launched the 2018 BetBright Cup, The Festival battle between Britain and Ireland. New Irish team captain is snooker player Ken Doherty, while Phil Tufnell again heads the British team. BetBright executive chairman Rich Ricci revealed that he will have 12-20 runners at The Festival.
There were tributes to trainer Richard Woollacott who died at the age of 40 earlier this week, and Many Clouds, the winner of last year's BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase.
A crowd of 20,868 attended the day, slightly down on the 22,000 last year.
G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase 2.25pm, eight runners
A fascinating renewal of the £100,000 G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase, the centrepiece of the terrific seven-race card at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, saw success for 7/1 chance Definitly Red, owned by Phil Martin and James Keegan, trained by Brian Ellison in North Yorkshire and ridden by Danny Cook.
The improving nine-year-old chaser will now go straight to the G1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on the fourth and final day of The Festival, Friday, March 16.
He won in good style by eight lengths from American (Harry Fry/Noel Fehily, 9/2), who does not have a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry but might be supplemented if the ground stays soft according to trainer Harry Fry.
Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Daryl Jacob), the 7/4 favourite, came home third, two and a quarter lengths further back, disappointing connections, who will now enter him in the Randox Health Grand National, which closes on Tuesday. He might miss the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Brian Ellison commented: "It has been ages since I had a winner here - Latalomne was the last one in 2001- but you have to have a good horse to come here and Definitly Red is probably the best that I have ever trained. It's a good place to have a winner!
"Danny (Cook) gets on great with the horse and gave him a great ride - he is probably one of the best jockeys riding around.
"He had to use his head down the back, when he was sitting upsides American, who was jumping that bit better than us. Danny sat off him by two lengths and, when he had given Definitly Red a kick in the belly, he has gone.
"There was plenty of pace on and they never let up in this ground. He shows that he stays well and it's the Gold Cup now. He doesn't need this ground, he has won on good ground, and he just doesn't like it tacky because he is such a good-moving horse.
"He has got better every year and the plan this season was to keep him fresh. Today was the day when we decided whether to go for the Gold Cup, so we will go there now."
Danny Cook declared: "Definitly Red is a horse that always goes under the radar. You only have to look at his runs to wins ratio - he is now 12 wins from 23 races, so he is above 50 per cent.
"He is a fantastic horse for me to ride and I have been very lucky with very loyal owners and trainer. Hopefully, I can keep repaying their faith with winners.
"We have gone a good gallop. American has gone pretty keen and fresh, so we have followed him through when he came up the inside. I was quite glad for a bit of company to be honest because Definitly Red would have idled the whole way if I had got to the front.
"I got a nice tow and, when I have asked my horse turning in, he has really quickened up well. He has idled after the last but, if something was with me, he would have found more.
"He is not pretty to look and not overly big, but he is the one you all love to have. He does nothing quickly up the gallops and what you see is what you get. He performs on the racedays - he does no flash work but just keeps going.
"I will enjoy today and have a few drinks tonight because I don't get to ride these ones that much round here. What will be in the future will be and we will enjoy today for now.
"I'd like to dedicate it to my grandad, who is not very well and I don't know how much longer he has got. He asked if I could get a big one at Cheltenham and I am glad that I have."
Harry Fry said of American: "If you had told us at the start of the day that we would finish second, we would have taken all day long. For the first couple of fences, it looked like a repeat of Newbury - he wasn't really jumping, travelling or giving Noel much of a feel - but he warmed to it and really got into a rhythm.
"For a minute at the top of the hill, we were almost thinking that the impossible was going to happen. We came here today thinking that it possibly be his last run this season because he hasn't been showing us masses at home.
"Hopefully, today he has got his mojo back and he revelled in those conditions. We have just got to find the same conditions and I am delighted to have a horse back on our hands.
"He is not entered in any Cheltenham race at the moment and he needs these conditions. The likelihood of that at The Festival is slim, but we won't rule it out and we can always supplement if we need to. I would have thought that it was unlikely and there is a Listed chase at Kelso at the beginning of March, where he might get his ground."
Headed to Aintree for the Randox Health Grand National is the fourth home The Last Samuri (Kim Bailey/David Bass 9/2), runner-up in the marathon in 2016, who nearly snatched third today.
His trainer Kim Bailey said: "I am delighted with The Last Samuri. He has never been to Cheltenham before and is a good ground horse, but he has tried his heart out and ran a proper race.
"It was a proper Grand National trial - all he was doing was staying at the end - and I think that he will go straight from here to Aintree where, fingers crossed, he will have a great chance.
"He has run in God knows how many races at Aintree and won and placed at Doncaster, but he has been running with top-weight every single time he runs. There was an idea that the Gold Cup was cutting up a bit and we had to have a try and see.
"If anything, he has proved today that he is not good enough to go and do it in the Gold Cup. He is still a very good horse and Aintree is more his course - he is such a fantastic jumper and I am delighted with him."
G2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial 12.40pm, six runners
Festival Trials Day began with the £32,000 G2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial over an extended two miles and the exciting 1/7 favourite Apple's Shakira (Nicky Henderson/Barry Geraghty) maintained her unbeaten record, consolidating her position as ante-post favourite at around 7/2 for the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle on the final day of The Festival, March 16.
The four-year-old, a winner on her hurdles' debut in France, has now enjoyed three impressive victories in Britain, all at Cheltenham.
The filly travelled strongly throughout the race, racing a bit keenly initially as Barry Geraghty held her up as fourth of the six runners.
Northern challenger Look My Way (John Quinn/Tom Scudamore, 5/1), who took up the running before three out, made a race of it when kicked for home coming down the hill.
He established a clear lead, but then Apple's Shikara gave chase and closed approaching the last hurdle.
Apple's Shikira led half-way up the run-in and went away to score by eight lengths from Look My Way, with another 13 lengths back to the third Ulysses (Barry Brennan/Harry Cobden, 100/1).
Nicky Henderson, enjoying the first leg of a Cheltenham double, commented afterwards: "Barry said at the last meeting that he would love to get her on some better ground on which she would be miles better, but unfortunately I suspect we have run her on worse ground today.
"She is so lazy at home - she is amazing - she will not show you anything. They tell me that Apple's Jade does not do much either. She is always having a buck and a squeal but when she does some work you wonder how she ever won a race. But she comes out on the racecourse and does it.
"But her jumping is unbelievable - very slick - and she is very solid at it. She gets through the air very quickly.
"She had to do a bit of work there. We had to get out and race today, but she won't run again before The Festival. Job done and there we go. I am thinking about the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
"I thought they went a reasonably strong gallop. Barry had something to aim at and she went away well. She stays well, gallops on well and I think that she will be better on better ground.
"You can't wait forever and we are going to have to run some of these horses on the ground today. It will be the same next weekend and the weekend after - we will have to keep going."
Barry Geraghty declared: "It's tough work out there.
"Apple's Shakira has jumped great and settled better today. She ran with the choke out a little last time and she still travelled strongly today but in a way that you like a good horse to travel.
"She is up for it - she's got pace, a good appetite and jumped great. I was always trying to switch her off and I had to switch her back on but she did it at the death and pulled away in the end.
"She is fairly straightforward and the way she jumped the third-last tells you that she had loads left in the tank. There is a lot to like about her.
"They are workmanlike conditions out there and I think better ground will only help her. She is a classy type."
The official going was changed after the first race to Soft, Heavy in places from Soft after steady rain most of the morning and afternoon.
Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase, 1.15pm, seven runners
The £27,500 Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase over two miles and five furlongs ended up as a battle between the two bottom-weights - six-year-old gelding Mister Whitaker (Mick Channon/Adrian Heskin, 10st 8lb, 6/1) and eight-year-old mare Theatre Territory (Warren Greatrex/Mr Sam Waley-Cohen (3), 10st 5lb, 8/1).
The former prevailed in a driving finish after going to the front two out. He looked as though he might stretch clear up the run-in, but Theatre Territory rallied well and narrowed the gap to a length and three quarters by the line.
Tim Radford, chief executive of Timico which sponsors the Cheltenham Gold Cup, owns Mister Whitaker and four others trained by Mick Channon, who is assisted in the Jump sphere by former handler Henrietta Knight.
It was Knight who bought the winner as a three-year-old from Tom Costello, the same vendor who sold her Best Mate, the triple Cheltenham Gold Cup victor.
She said: "We bought Mister Whitaker as a three-year-old from the Tom Costello, where I got Best Mate from.
"I was so struck by his jumping - he stood out. Tom jumps them all loose and this one was spectacular. I have always loved this horse - he is such a good jumper and a smashing horse.
"It has taken quite a long time to get him to settle and to pay attention - he is always looking around. There should be a lot more to come as he gets older and wiser.
Mick Channon: "Mister Whitaker travelled great - it must be heavy ground out there and he went on it because he has a bit of class.
"We knew that he was in good nick, but we just didn't want to be in front too long. He pricked his ears after the last again - pulls up in front - but he did it well. Adrian got him jumping and into a good rhythm.
"I would have thought that we will go for the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at The Festival now. We probably had to win today to get a run. That's where Tim wants to go and I don't think that we will have a lot of say in it!
"All his horses are geared to Cheltenham and let's hope that everything goes right and we can come here again. Better ground would definitely be better for him. Hen is thrilled because she bought him and schooled him - it is very rewarding when something comes together like that."
Adrian Heskin added "The ground was only concern because he is such a classy horse - he has loads of speed and we thought that the ground might just take it out of him.
"He is a fabulous jumper and the credit goes to Henrietta Knight, who has done a fantastic job along with Mr Channon.
"He gets to the front and thinks that he has done enough. He was the same with me the day he won at Carlisle. It's great to know that he has a little bit more left in the tank for when we need it."
The official going was changed again after the second race, this time to Heavy.
G3 Crest Nicholson Handicap Chase, 1.50pm, 14 runners
The £75,000 G3 Crest Nicholson Handicap Chase over two miles and five furlongs witnessed a devastating performance from top-weight Frodon (Paul Nicholls/Bryony Frost, 11st 12lb, 13/2), who took the lead before two out and went away to triumph by 17 lengths under the jockey find of the season Bryony Frost.
There were in effect three cheers for Frost, firstly a big roar from the crowd when she went by the winning post, then when she and six-year-old Frodon entered the winner's enclosure and finally as she came on the winning podium.
Bryony Frost, enjoying her fifth success at the Home of Jump Racing, said: "My only worry was that Frodon was going to be too keen for me, but he settles, jumps and he performs. He is brave and the drop back down in trip was a perfect training performance.
"He relishes the ground and never stops, he has a big heart. When you ask, he gives it to you and I cannot believe no one else was around me. What a beautiful feeling, coming up this hill on a horse like this.
"This horse is only at the start of his career. He has only just left primary school and now he is holding his own with the big boys. You never know where the future lies for a young horse like this but, being in the spirit he is and the heart he has got, god knows what heights he is going to get to, but today I am the privileged one to be sat on top.
"I have a bit of time off work through flu, which is bizarre for me and I don't quite like it. I am not a very good patient, but I went home for a day and dad did mashed bananas with ice cream and golden syrup, which got me back on the road. Anyone with flu should have that!
"The crowd is awesome - they are cheering my name and saying well done. For them to be on board with you, it feels that they are riding winners with me. They get excited with my successes but even when you are beat they are still cheering you on. So cool. I love giving time to everybody."
Harry Derham, assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls, reported: "Frodon won in real deep conditions last season, but he had no weight, so we were a bit worried today with all the weight. He is a remarkable horse - he is so honest and jumps fantastically.
"I think the New Course at Cheltenham suits him because he can travel down the back straight and jump. Every time that he jumps well, you can fill him up, so that suits him. He jumps so well that I think anywhere would suit him.
"Bryony gets a plan and then sticks to it. She said that she was going to go down the inside because the ground was fresh down there and it worked out great.
"We will enter him in the Ascot Chase and he is in the Ryanair Chase (at The Festival in March). We will go to one of those two next."
The runner-up was Shantou Flyer(Richard Hobson/James Bowen (3), 11st 5lb, 10/1), with King's Odyssey(Evan Williams/Barry Geraghty, 10st 11lb, 7/1 another two lengths back in third of the 14 runners.
G2 Ballymore Classic Novices' Hurdle, 3.00pm, nine runners
The G2 £32,000 Ballymore Classic Novices' Hurdle over extended two and a half miles went to Santini (Nicky Henderson/Jeremiah McGrath, 4/1), who got up in the closing stages to beat Black Op (Tom George/Tom Scudamore, 8/1) three quarters of a length, with 29 lengths back to the third Aye Aye Charlie (Fergal O'Brien/Paddy Brennan, 16/1).
Nicky Henderson, after gaining a double on the day, reported: "We took Santini out of Ascot last weekend because we thought that the ground was too soft.
"I said to Richard (Kelvin-Hughes - joint owner) at lunchtime today that it will be softer than Ascot but where do you go? It's going to be the same next week and the week after, and the horses are ready to run.
"He is a lovely big horse but only a big baby and is going to be a lovely chaser. The Albert Bartlett closes next week and he will get an entry, but I think that we are all leaning against it at the moment. I think that he wants another year and to come back as a chaser."
The winning rider Jeremiah McGrath added: "I wasn't seeing a stride going down to the last and for a big horse, Santini is very agile. He popped it nicely and has kept the momentum up, thankfully.
"He is a horse for the future. We didn't think that he would cope with the ground today, but his ability has seen him out. He is bred to be a three-miler so it is onwards and upwards.
"I have ridden him a few times on the grass gallops at home and you think that you are getting to the bottom of the barrel with him but he just keeps finding. He will be a proper stayer in time.
"I think he will jump and travel better on proper spring ground and will hopefully be a horse to be reckoned with."
G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle, 3.35pm, nine runners
There was no fairytale result to the £60,000 G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdles over three miles as Beer Goggles (Kayley Woollacott/Richard Johnson) finished fifth a few days after the sad death of trainer Richard Woollacott at the age of 40.
Beer Goggles ran in Richard's honour and his wife Kayley has established a donation page dedicated to his memory, while racegoers were able to contribute at Cheltenham today Donations are split between three charities - Mind, the Injured Jockeys Fund and Devon Air Ambulance.
A minute's silence was held at the course before the race.
For those wanting to make online donations to the three charities, please go to
Agrapart (Nick Williams/Lizzie Kelly, 9/1) finished three and a quarter lengths behind Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Daryl Jacob, 9/2) when second in the G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle on New Year's Day, a race the horse won in 2017.
But over an extra half-mile Agrapart reversed the placings with Wholestone who has not finished out of the first three in seven starts at Cheltenham and won four.
The winning margin today was three lengths as Agrapart relished the step-up to three miles and went away from his rival after they were together at the last.
It was a good day for female jockeys at Cheltenham today and Lizzie Kelly commented: "Agrapart has shaped my career, winning the Betfair Hurdle and the Relkeel Hurdle, and he is such a diamond to look after as well, a real yard favourite.
"The fact that he tries his hardest and wears his heart on his sleeve - he is the most amazing horse to be involved with.
"He doesn't really have a turn of foot. He got there and I felt that I would rather be travelling rather than making him come back. It's not like a wind-up car- once you are rolling, you can't stop and then expect him to go again.
"He has bumped and barged today a bit more than he ever has done and I think he quite enjoyed it. I found that he was always on the bridle because I was always having to pull and come round something, which sort of helped.
"Once I am rolling on him, I can't really stop and, to be fair, he finds everything off the bridle. The fact that I was still travelling so strongly jumping the flight at the top of the hill, I was really confident.
"It was a bit of déjà vu with me and Daryl going up that hill. I thought: 'I have managed it once, I'll do it again!'
"It has been a good day for the girls. Bryony (Frost) is a great rider and I used to point-to-point with her. It's wonderful to have two girls from the same area doing well.
"We have banged on for ages about whether girls can do it and we have proved that we can."
Nick Williams added "Agrapart is very much a ground dependent horse. We hoped to run him in the Reve De Sivola race at Ascot (just before Christmas), but the ground wasn't soft enough.
"It was similar to the Wholestone battle he had in the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year's Day. They keep running against each other and keep having tough battles. Cheltenham suits him but, more importantly, it was the ground today.
"We didn't make an entry for the Stayers' Hurdle because there is a 90 per cent probability that the ground won't be soft enough. Even soft ground isn't soft enough, so he is quite a hard horse to place.
"The ground is quite quick in the spring in France as well and the Grand Prix d'Automne was always a target for him last autumn, but we had quick ground in Paris, so that went all wrong."
Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle 4.10pm, 11 runners
The £27,500 Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.10pm, 12 runners) went to to-weight Remiluc (Chris Gordon/Harry Reed (7), 11st 5lb) who powered up the run-in to triumph by two lengths.