MERIBEL A REMINDER OF OLD TIMES
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies' single previous success in the Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase came with future Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander in 2007. It would be remarkable if his 2018 victor, 4/1 chance Count Meribel, reached those heights, but the novice chaser certainly impressed the local trainer with his narrow victory over front-runner Le Breuil by a neck following a mistake at the second-last..
Twiston-Davies said: "That was great, especially when we thought it was snatched away from us at the second-last. It was a good recovery and well done to the jockey [Mark Grant].
"I hope that he can go to the top. He will definitely stay three miles and is a lovely horse. With a clearer round, he might have won quite easily.
"He is very much Jim Old's responsibility as Count Meribel came to us when Jim gave up training. We will discuss it with Jim and the owner but I think we will look at the top novice chases.
"He is a very, very nice horse and I love him."
Old, who bought the now-six-year-old as a yearling at Tattersalls in February 2013 for 3,500 guineas, said: "He's much better on this sort of ground. He's a serious lepper and Mark was top-class to stay in the saddle after he made one mistake at the second-last. But I knew he would pick up and go again, and he did.
"If he comes here for The Festival, it would probably be the RSA Chase or the JLT, not the Arkle, and we will choose our route there very carefully."
GRANT STICKS AROUND TO MAKE MERIBEL COUNT & GAINS FIRST CHELTENHAM WIN
An almighty blunder at the second-last fence could not stop Count Meribel winning the Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase.
Jockey Mark Grant sat tight, despite being thrown up his partner's neck, and the pair rallied together to take the glory by a neck from runner-up Le Breuil (8/1) - the 15/8 favourite Mr Whipped was third of the seven runners, beaten half a length. Six-year-old Count Meribel gave Grant his first-0ever Cheltenham winner.
Nigel Twiston-Davies trains the winner not gar from Cheltenham, but he passed much of the credit for Count Meribel's win to retired trainer Jim Old, who assists him at his Gloucestershire yard, and takes responsibility for the horse.
Grant said: "We got a bit outpaced coming down the hill, and I thought I would send him to the second-last just to save the race, and it was the one fence where he put down on me. He was good to find a leg, and actually quickened up after the last and did really well to get back up and win.
"Last year he made the running over hurdles, and today it probably just helped him to get a lead and give me a chance to fill his lungs up - that is probably why he finished so well. He had a lot of racing last year which maybe flattened him out a bit, but it toughened him up. It could be he doesn't want much racing.
"I think he's very good, and certainly as good as any I've ridden. If the ground was right for him he could be good enough for The Festival.
"He was brilliant everywhere and I just kept sending him. At two out, he didn't know what to do but did well to stand up. Credit to him, to battle back and win.
"He is an incredible horse because he has been doing all the donkey work over hurdles and actually loved getting a lead today - I was able to fill him up everywhere. That's probably why he won because he had loads left. Hopefully, he is very smart.
"For me, to ride a winner here is quite amazing. It's my first winner at Cheltenham - everyone in racing wants to win here - and it's amazing."
LE BREUIL OUT FOR THE COUNT
The Ben Pauling-trained Le Breuil (8/1) finished second to Nigel Twiston-Davies' Count Meribel (4/1) in a thrilling finish to the Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase.
Ridden by Daryl Jacob, Le Breuil made most of the running and jumped well throughout the extended two mile and four furlong event.
He engaged in a thrilling battle in the closing stages with Count Meribel, partnered by Mark Grant, going down by a neck.
Pauling said: "Le Breuil ran really well. He jumped nicely and kept on well in the closing stages - it was a great effort and we're really pleased with him."
The Nicky Henderson-trained Mr Whipped, the well-backed 15/8 favourite was a half-length behind in third and rider Jerry McGrath was pleased with the effort.
McGrath commented: "Mr Whipped ran very well - he's a cracking horse. It's a big ask coming to Cheltenham first time out over fences in a novice chase and he jumped brilliantly.
"I took a lead and I jumped two out well. He was a bit novicey and very careful at the final fence.
"He lost a bit of momentum, but he galloped all the way to the line and I think there will be a few winners come out of that race."
2.25pm Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase 2m 4f 44y
1 Count Meribel (Charles Walker) Nigel Twiston-Davies 6-11-07 Mark Grant 4/1
2 Le Breuil (Emma Palmer) Ben Pauling 6-11-07 Daryl Jacob 8/1
3 Mr Whipped (Grech & Parkin) Nicky Henderson 5-11-02 Jeremiah McGrath 15/8F
Distances: nk, ½
Tote Win: £4.90 Exacta: £31.50
MERIBEL A REMINDER OF OLD TIMES