It was day two of The International at Cheltenham on Saturday, 14 December, with a tremendous seven-race programme.
There were thrilling finishes to the two feature contests, with Call Me Lord handing trainer Nicky Henderson a sixth victory in the G2 £140,000 Unibet International Hurdle and Warthog rallying close home to give David Pipe a second success in the £130,000 G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
The going started out as Soft, Good to Soft in places and was changed to Soft following the third race.
The crowd came to 14,794 (up from 14,118 in 2018), with many racegoers attired in Christmas jumpers in recognition of Christmas Jumper Day.
Today was the final Cheltenham fixture of 2019 but racegoers do not have to wait long for the next fixture with action returning to the Home of Jump Racing on New Year's Day, Wednesday, January 1, 2020.
12.10pm JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle 2m 179y £25,000, 8 ran
Favourite backers got off to the perfect start when 8/11 market leader Botox Has (Gary Moore/Joshua Moore) comfortably landed the opening JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle.
The son of Dream Well made all the running and, despite drifting left on the run in, had five lengths to spare over runner-up Langer Dan (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton) at the finish.
Botox Has is now a winner of two of his three starts for the Moore stable. His only reversal came at The November Meeting at Cheltenham when he was the two and a half lengths runner-up to Allmankind in the G2 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle.
Gary Moore said: "Botox Has is still a baby. It was only the fourth race in his life and he has never run on the Flat. He is learning and growing up all the time and is going the right way. It's hard to make the running out there with the strong headwind being a baby as well.
"His jumping is excellent - he is very French that way - and he has been a good jumper from day one. That is always a big advantage at this stage of their careers. His stamina has won it today. He was only a length up going to the last and jumped it like it was on fire - he took in too much daylight, and he has won by five lengths, which is testament to his stamina.
"It depends on where I go with Goshen because I want to keep them apart as long as I can. Whether he comes back here for Festival Trials Day or goes to Huntington for the Chatteris Fen. To keep them apart, it wouldn't worry me to go to Huntington with Goshen."
Winning rider Joshua Moore said: "Botox Has is a horse we like a lot but he is quite babyish still. There was no obvious pace today but he is a galloper - I didn't want to make my own running but we were kind of forced to as I didn't want to be sitting off a slow gallop. We had to see whether he had the mind for it yet and he did.
"He had his ears pricked out in front the whole way and the only time we struggled a bit was up the straight. It's a very strong crosswind today and it was blowing him everywhere. He was a bit lonely on his own but got down and did it well.
"He jumped well - he was having a good look and measuring his hurdles nicely. I went to let him pop at the last and he came up out of my hands, so it probably shows that he might have had a bit left.
"He and Goshen have done a bit of work together in the early autumn. Goshen seems a lot more forward because he has run on the Flat but this lad is now starting to catch up on his homework. They are both good jumpers and both go in soft ground, so it will be interesting - they would be quite different types but are both progressing the right way.
"He is quite small and weak still. All he has done through the season is gradually strengthen up and grow up. Chepstow [for the G1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle] might come a bit soon but something along those lines would be right for him down the line, we hope.
12.45pm Ryman Novices' Chase 2m 4f 127y £25,000, 6 ran
Nicky Henderson enjoyed his third winner at The International in 2019 when Mister Fisher (Nico de Boinville, 15/8 Fav) landed the Ryman Novices' Chase.
The five-year-old moved up into second two fences from home and overhauled long-time leader Good Boy Bobby (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies) on the run-in to register a comfortable length and a quarter success.
A G2 winner over hurdles last season, Mister Fisher was making his second start over fences today after finishing runner-up to Torpillo at Warwick in November.
Nicky Henderson said: "You would be pleased with that, and even more pleased because I don't think that it is his ground. It has got softer overnight and that's not his surface. Nico said that he wasn't travelling like he wanted to be at the top of the hill but his jumping held up very, very well.
"He had that one run at Warwick and I think that was a good race. He learned a lot from it and had that one shot to get to the leader today and Nico was dead right to wait until after the last. It was a good performance and we are very, very pleased with him.
"He has gears and is always a horse that I have loved. We bought him as a youngster by Jeremy, who we are going to miss a lot as he is sadly no longer with us and gets some lovely horses. I think this is one of them.
"He is not going to get into the Close Brothers, so I think you can take that one out of the equation. We will go somewhere else, have a look-see, and hope that he might be a JLT horse. It might depend on the ground because, if you get into those sorts of races, you will want conditions in your favour.
"I think he is very progressive, as he was over hurdles. He is a lovely, quality horse, who has always looked the part - it's quite nice when they look the part and can do it as well."
1.20pm Cheltenham Club Handicap Chase 2m 62y £30,000, 8 ran
Northern Beau (Michael Scudamore/Brendan Powell, 12/1) reaffirmed her liking for Cheltenham when winning the Cheltenham Club Handicap Chase, her second success at the Home of Jump Racing.
The six-year-old mare was always in a prominent position and went into a clear lead two fences from home. She kept on resolutely to score by two and a quarter lengths from Eamon An Cnoic (David Pipe/Tom Scudamore, 5/1). Northern Beau's previous Cheltenham success came in April of this year, when she defeated subsequent BetVictor Gold Cup heroine Happy Diva in a mares' handicap chase.
Trainer Michael Scudamore said: "She is not the biggest or the flashiest to look at and you could see through the race that she wasn't necessarily enjoying the ground. Her heart and a great ride from Brendan has just about got her there.
"We train only half an hour away and I rang the owners this morning, who were staying in Cheltenham. It poured with rain with us and we thought whether to run or not - we pulled her out of the last meeting on the ground - and we nearly didn't. All her form before today has been on better ground but she was so well in herself and looked fantastic, so we thought that we had to run.
"Because she is not the biggest, she doesn't like to be crowded by horses and it helped being a bit wider. It just gives her that bit of room and light that she enjoys. You could see during the race that she was trying to back off a few times but Brendan was brilliant and very strong on her.
"Richie McLernon normally rides her but he was up at Doncaster today. Brendan has been riding for this owner since the middle of last season - Lynne Maclennan has 10 horses with me now and it's great that he can ride the majority of them now. It's great to see him riding so well."
Brendan Powell added: "She is tough and gutsy, and she seems to like it round here. Richie McLernon won on her round here a while back, so she knows where the winning post is.
"We thought that, with a light weight on her back, we wanted to make a bit of use of her without behind too aggressive. She jumped straight into the bridle over the first couple and I just found that she was going half a stride quicker than I wanted.
"Once I sat off her, she went the other way and was a bit behind it but, at the same time, I felt that if she kept responding, at least she is going forward. Thankfully, we got a few good jumps down the hill and I was able to get her rolling.
"I thought I was here a bit soon again over the second-last but she has kept finding a bit more. She was getting tired but you couldn't blame any horse for that because it is hard work out there. The one thing that was in our favour was that she has a nice, light weight on her back and I wanted to utilise that a bit as well."
1.55pm Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (Grade 3 Handicap Chase) 2m 4f 127y £130,000, 13 ran
Trainer David Pipe landed a second victory in the G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup when Warthog (David Noonan) rallied in the shadow of the post to register a 7/1 success.
Having always been in a prominent position, Warthog looked booked for second place as the 40/1 complete outsider Spiritofthegames (Dan Skelton/Bridget Andrews) went into what appeared to be a decisive lead after the last.
However, David Noonan was able to produce a renewed effort from Warthog in the final half -furlong and the seven-year-old got up in the final strides to score by a head. Irish challenger Robin Des Foret (Willie Mullins/James Bowen) was another three-quarters of a length away in third with 5/1 favourite Cepage (Venetia Williams/Charlie Deutsch) in fourth.
On his seasonal debut Warthog contested the G3 BetVictor Gold Cup at The November Meeting, when he ran well to take third behind Happy Diva.
Pipe, who previously landed the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with Tamarinbleu in 2007, said: "In the past, Warthog has been a bit of a weak finisher and he was in the two-mile race as well. We weren't sure which one to go for but luckily we have picked the right one.
"Last season, he started off really well first time out and then it all went wrong. We wanted two good runs together and he has certainly done that."
David Noonan added: "Warthog has been a weak finisher but today he found extra when it mattered from somewhere. He ran very well here in the BetVictor and just finished weakly but I was probably able to hang on to him a little bit more today.
"Every time he jumps, he is filling himself up, and it's great for everyone at Pond House. I'd like to thank David, Bryan and Caroline for having the faith to let me ride the horse."
Warthog is owned by Professor Caroline Tisdall and Bryan Drew.
Drew commented: "As he came past us, we thought we were booked for fifth or sixth and then he has found something near the end, come in and just pipped the other horse on the line - it's phenomenal.
"We were worried about the trip because he struggled a bit over two-four last time and this is two-five on a galloping track, so we are on cloud nine at the minute. He is obviously keener, fitter and has enjoyed the day. That was a fabulous win.
"I think his jumping has won it because he has almost been immaculate and it has kept him in the race at the end. He was on fumes and then he has seen a chink of light and has gone for it.
"David has done a great job with him. He has a bit of a lacklustre season last year and David has brought both our greys - Warthog and Champers On Ice - back to top form.
"David Noonan gives him a nice quiet ride, he lets get on and gets him jumping, so he thoroughly deserved the ride today and he has repaid us. It's wonderful and I am so pleased."
Tisdall, celebrating her 74th birthday today, added: "It's the best birthday present you could possibly have, with all these people to share it with. I think some of it must be mental because we have sometimes thought that he wasn't quite the bravest - certainly the most beautiful and possibly one of the largest, but maybe not the bravest. Today, he was very brave.
"David Noonan won on Warthog at Sandown and it's great for a young jockey to have a big chance like this on the big stage."
2.30pm Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 7f 213y £32,000, 8 ran
Redford Road (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Jamie Bargary) made it three wins from four starts over hurdles with a battling victory in the G2 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
The 14/1 chance was towards the rear of the eight-strong field before making headway two flights from home. He led the field turning for home before being headed by 5/2 favourite Champagne Well (Fergal O'Brien/Paddy Brennan) approaching the last.
On the run in, Redford Road found a renewed effort and rallied in the last furlong to get up and score by half a length from Champagne Well. Kiltealy Briggs (Jamie Snowden/Adrian Heskin) was another six lengths away in third.
Nigel Twiston-Davies said: "It was lovely to watch him go round there and quicken up that hill like a proper Cheltenham horse. We have done a lot of schooling with him and his jumping has always been good. Sam had the choice between riding Redford Road or Mossy Fen (who finished fourth) - he actually rather preferred the winner but I put him the wrong way. What do I know?
"We will obviously have to think about the Albert Bartlett at The Festival for Redford Road. That will be his Gold Cup for the season. The ground today didn't upset him and I expect he will have one run and then come back here.
"Mossy Fen ran really well. He is only a four-year-old and was bang there at the last but didn't quite get home the same as Redford Road."
Jamie Bargary commented: "He has only had a handful of starts and was as green as grass. Halfway up the run-in, when he faced that big hill, he didn't know whether to go out for another lap or go home. He was as honest as the day is long and I am delighted.
"He really switched off for me today and it was the same the last day, when he fell asleep, but he was quite keen the time before. I was adamant to switch him off over this longer trip and he did. It mattered in the latter stages of the race.
"He has plenty of speed as well. When he found that gap turning in, he really did take off, and I found myself there a lot sooner than I wanted. He has only had the handful of runs but he was brave as a lion after the last.
"We went a nice gallop, we didn't go mad, so there was a lot with chances turning in, which stopped my run a little bit. Once I got him rolling and once we straightened up, I couldn't stop his momentum so I left him to roll on. One of Nigel's horses is always going to be tough and genuine, so I am delighted.
"I have never really ridden a proper horse, so he is one of the best that I have ridden. The dream of The Festival is always there and he has beaten some horses who had intentions of coming back here in March, so I assume that we will have that intention as well.
"He is a bit of a yard favourite. He does everything that you ask of him and is just a star. Hopefully, he can go very far in his career."
3.05pm Unibet International Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 179y £140,000
It was a sixth win in the G2 Unibet International Hurdle for trainer Nicky Henderson as 2/1 favourite Call Me Lord took the contest under James Bowen.
Racing in the familiar green silks of owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, Call Me Lord raced keenly as Elixir De Nutz (Colin Tizzard/Harry Cobden) made the running.
As the field turned for home, the race looked wide open and Call Me Lord moved into a challenging position at the final flight. The six-year-old ran on to well to take the lead a furlong from home and kept on finding more to hold off the persistent challenge of Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies) by a neck. Ch'tibello (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton) was another length and a quarter back in third. The disappointment of the race was the previously unbeaten Pentland Hills (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville), who after looking to hold every chance at the last faded into fifth.
James Bowen came in for the ride on Call Me Lord as Daryl Jacob, retained jockey to Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, broke his hand at Musselburgh on 9 December.
Call Me Lord had previously shown his best form over longer distances, with his biggest prior success coming in the G2 bet365 Select Hurdle over an extended two miles and five furlongs at Sandown Park in April, 2019.
Nicky Henderson said: "You are probably wondering what I have been doing with Call Me Lord for the last three years but it (going right-handed) was a trait that he was doing the whole time at home - it's funny but he hasn't been doing this year. That's why we decided that we would give him one try this way round and see if he could. It gives us more options.
"It looked as though Pentland Hills got a touch tired in the end. He over-raced a little early on for me. He looked as though he was travelling supremely well through the race and, luckily for once, it was a good idea to run two in the race.
"Call Me Lord is a good horse and ran a great race as Ascot the other day. He is very versatile in terms of distance and now that he is versatile over left and right, it helps us a lot.
"The horse you want to look out for is Fusil Raffles, who is also in the green colours. He is in good form and goes for the Christmas Hurdle along with Verdana Blue and Epatante, so we will probably be treble-handed there. Then we will sort out the Champion Hurdle."
James Bowen added: "We have gone quite slowly. I have probably thought early on that Call Me Lord gets further and he might not have the speed to get down to the last in front but the turn of foot that he has shown was really good. He has got to the last in front and battled it out from there, so he has done it well.
"He was straight as an arrow. You can't say that he can't go left-handed until he has tried and he has put those sorts of rumours to bed. He has been very straightforward.
"Daryl Jacob has helped massively with every horse that I have ridden in these colours. I can't thank Anthony Bromley, Simon Munir and Isaac Souede enough for putting me on, and even the boss as well. They have kept the faith and I can't thank them enough.
"A couple of months ago, I wasn't riding whole lot of winners but it has picked up again now. I can't thank all the people who have been supporting me. It's all about the horse you ride and most jockeys probably struggle a bit after losing their claim."
3.40pm Park Mares' Handicap Hurdle 2m 4f 56y £30,000
The International ended as it began with a win for owner J P McManus, trainer Nicky Henderson and jockey Barry Geraghty as 2/1 favourite Dame De Compagnie comfortably landed the concluding Park Mares' Handicap Hurdle.
The six-year-old made smooth headway to hit the front after the last and pulled away for a comfortable four and a half-length victory over Indefatigable (Paul Webber/Gavin Sheehan).
It was a 24.88/1 treble for Henderson on the day following the earlier victories of Mister Fisher and Call Me Lord.
Barry Geraghty said: "I was having to look for it a little bit turning in and was having to give her a squeeze. It was hard work at the finish and she needed the line. She was half-empty going to the last and I wasn't going there full of running - I was hanging on to what I could. She picked up after but I felt like I was a sitting duck from the last to the line. It's hard work out there and she battled well."