Cheltenham Racecourse marked the start of a new year and new decade with a quality seven-race programme on New Year's Day, Wednesday, 1 January, 2020.
The official going description was Soft, Good to Soft in places. A crowd of 28,876 was in attendance, up 1,900 (6.5%) on the 26,976 who attended in 2019.
Following today's racing, the next fixture at the Home of Jump Racing will be Festival Trials Day on Saturday, 25 January. The Festival™ presented by Magners takes place from Tuesday, 10 March to Friday, 13 March.
A race by race account of the action on New Year's Day can be found below.
12.15pm £25,000 Listed Ballymore Novices' Hurdle 2m 4f 56y
The first race staged at Cheltenham in 2020 saw the honours going to Imperial Alcazar (Fergal O'Brien/Paddy Brennan, 3/1), who had passed the line a head behind Protektorat (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton) but was awarded the race after the stewards found the latter had interrupted Imperial Alcazar's running for three or four crucial strides in the final furlong. Given the interference caused Imperial Alcazar to lose momentum and that he was still staying on when going down by just a head, the decision was made to reverse the placings.
Imperial Alcazar wears the colours of ownership syndicate Imperial Racing, which were famously carried to success in the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup by Imperial Commander under the Our Friends In The North banner.
Ian Robinson of Imperial Racing said: "When I saw the race for the first time, I thought that we had no chance, but I watched it for a second time and thought that Imperial Alcazar did have to break his stride. It was close and hats off to the second horse - that was a tough race and they are both very nice horses. I guess it's better to be first than second.
"In the spirit of the sport, you don't really want to win races that way but on the other hand, if you are given it you have to take it. I am just delighted with the horse and I would have been delighted if he was second - he is such a nice horse for the future as a chaser.
"He is so tough and needs three miles - today was a bit short for him. We always knew that he was going to be under the pump early doors and, in fairness, he is just so tough and so brave. We are looking forward to the future now and going over fences.
"Whether the horse is man enough for the Albert Bartlett [at The Festival] is one thing but I don't think I am man enough for the Albert Bartlett. We might look at a Pertemps Qualifier and see how we go, see if the handicapper is nice to us."
12.50pm £25,000 Markel Insurance Handicap Chase 3m 2f 70y
Doing Fine (Neil Mulholland, 11/2) may have officially turned 12 today but was full of enthusiasm as he came home the decisive winner of the Markel Insurance Handicap Chase under 7lb conditional Philip Donovan.
After being held up, Doing Fine began to make significant headway three from home and took the lead approaching the last, where a fine leap set him up with a decisive advantage. Top-weight and course specialist Cogry (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies) was outpaced three out as the complexion of the race changed but stayed on strongly on the run-in to take second, four and three-quarter lengths behind the winner.
Trainer Neil Mulholland said: "For a 7lb claimer early in his career, it's fantastic that Philip Donovan has come back to a nice, big stage like Cheltenham to get his head in front. On his last three runs, Doing Fine has finished first, fourth here in a handicap, and won that void race (the Betfair London National at Sandown Park). He was an 11/2 shot off a nice, light weight today and I suppose he was a good each-way shot for any punter. He jumps, gallops and is a very solid, genuine horse.
"This horse has finished fourth in the Scottish National and has run well around Sandown in the bet365 Gold Cup, so races like those are hopefully where he can go towards the end of the season. We can have several other markers in between."
A delighted Philip Donovan added: "It's a bit of justice for the horse, for Neil and the owners, and especially the people who have put in the hard work at home. He is an old horse and is starting to become an old favourite of everyone, especially me. It's nice to see him get his head in front today.
"He has given me my first Cheltenham winner and is a great old spin. He is very uncomplicated and you couldn't get much better. I was always comfortable jumping and travelling - he is one of those horses that you can't force him to do anything and he has to warm up for you. He will let you know when he is ready to go and he is a very, very good horse.
"The lighter the weight he can carry, the better, because he is not getting any younger. He has done it today and deserved every bit of it."
1.25pm £35,000 G2 Paddy Power Broken Resolutions Already Dipper Novices' Chase 2m 4f 127y
All eyes were on the red-hot 4/9 favourite Champ (Nicky Henderson/Barry Geraghty) in the G2 Paddy Power Broken Resolutions Already Dipper Novices' Chase. Owned by J P McManus, Champ was a dual G1 winner over hurdles and had won both his starts over fences coming into today. The eight-year-old travelled well behind leader Paint The Dream (Fergal O'Brien/Connor Brace) before taking the lead at the eighth fence. Champ travelled well entering the home straight and held a four-length advantage at the second last, where he fell. Both horse and jockey were reported to be fine.
The departure of Champ left the way clear for Midnight Shadow (Sue Smith/Danny Cook, 4/1) who had appeared booked for second. Midnight Shadow stayed on well to hold off the renewed challenge of Paint The Dream by a length and a quarter. It was a second Cheltenham New Year's Day victory for Midnight Shadow, who landed the G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle exactly a year ago.
Sue Smith said: "We can do no more than jump round and he has run a nice race. Whether if the other horse had stood up, we would have beaten him up the hill because he is a confirmed stayer, but jumping is the name of the game.
"The horses seem to be coming to now thankfully and you can't ask for more from Midnight Shadow. We would like one or two more like him, that's the only problem.
"Cyril (Clarke) has been a great owner for us and loves to come to these big meetings. Thankfully, we have a horse that can manage to do the job when we get here, so it's great. I will speak to Cyril first and the horse will take a bit of time to get over this because it is quite testing ground out there."
Danny Cook added: "I am chuffed for everybody involved - the owners Cyril and Aafke Clarke, Sue and Harvey, for myself and Reece, the lad who led him up and rides him every day. It was a good team effort.
"I have got this lad beaten a few times by getting to the front too soon, so I went back to basics today and got a lead for as long as I could. I keep coming to the front looking like I am going to win the race and then finishing second and third. Today, I was keen in my mind to follow for as long as I could. To be fair, I don't think that I would have beaten Champ but I would have been a nice second. I have ended up winning, so I will take it.
"We were just trying to find our way through over hurdles. He won the Scottish Champion Hurdle in his first year over hurdles and we thought that we had a good horse. We were going to go chasing the following year but we gave him a couple of runs over hurdles and he ended up winning, so we said that we would see how high he could progress over hurdles. He ended up picking up an injury halfway through the season last year and missed the rest of the season.
"As soon as he came back this year, we have gone straight to chasing and have never looked back. I think he will get three miles in time but I am quite keen for the moment to stick to two and a half. He has a very forward way of going and, over three miles, he is probably not quite ready to see it out yet. Give him another year and then we will step him up in trip."
2.00pm £70,000 G3 Paddy Power Handicap Chase 2m 4f 127y
The most valuable contest of the day, the £70,000 Paddy Power Handicap Chase, saw a thrilling three-way photo finish.
It was Oldgrangewood (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton, 12/1) who came out on top. The nine-year-old took the lead at the last and was all out to repel the late challenge of Saint Calvados (Harry Whittington/Gavin Sheehan) by a nose, with longtime leader Lalor (Kayley Woollacott/Aidan Coleman) rallying well in third, another nose behind.
Chris Giles, who owns the winner in partnership with his wife Sandra, said: "It was a super race with good horses and I enjoyed it. Oldgrangewood is getting better - he had a wind op and it was good training from the Skeltons. He is improving and I think there is a little bit more to come - two miles and four is his trip, not three. I think it's nice for Dan and Harry, having lost out in the first race. It's a bit of compensation."
Harry Skelton commented: "It was very, very close. I just got left out on my own a little bit down the middle of the track and he normally goes left but went a bit right at the last. I was on my own and I thought that wouldn't have favoured me but it's funny what an hour can do and turn it around on its head. This horse has always had plenty of ability."
2.35pm £25,000 Paddy Power 69 Sleeps To Cheltenham Handicap Hurdle 2m 7f 213y
Favourite backers finally had something to cheer about in race five as 3/1 market leader Skandiburg (Olly Murphy/Gavin Sheehan) took the honours.
The six-year-old was driven to take the lead at the final flight and had to be kept up to his work to repel the challenge of the rallying Rapper (Henry Daly/Richard Patrick, 3) by a length and three-quarters.
Trainer Olly Murphy said: "He raced very lazily the whole way round and I couldn't say that I was happy at any stage but he has come home strong. He is not a bad horse and I really fancied him today - halfway round I was calling him all sorts of names but it was nice that he came home strong. We will come back here now for the Pertemps in March.
"He never really travelled with any zest but the one thing he has always done is see his races out really strong, so I always had that in the back of my mind. I thought he got a very, very good ride from Gavin, so big credit to him, and it's nice to have a winner on the first meeting of the year here.
"He has only raced over three miles twice now. I didn't race him over three as a five-year-old - I thought that I would just wait until he grew up a bit. He is a big improver and I probably wouldn't have been here today had he gone up another few pounds for winning at Aintree. He will definitely get into the Pertemps now and with the way he stays, I think he will run very well.
"He is a real good-moving horse and is by Sageburg as well - they tend to like a bit of nicer ground, so he is a horse to look forward to. He wears his heart on his sleeve every time he goes out and I am delighted."
Gavin Sheehan added: "I was fractionally beaten in the last race but I don't think there were many fractions in this lad winning. I got in tight at the second last and thought that it was race done, that was it. I got a lovely run down the inside but he just came alive in the last two furlongs.
"Well done to Olly Murphy and his team. They love this horse and Olly said that he was in great form. He told me to ride him with loads of confidence and it's brilliant for the team and the owners."
Andrew Brooks, the winning owner commented: "It's fantastic to have a winner, especially at Cheltenham, and I am really pleased for Olly and the team. This horse is a very, very nice horse.
"To be honest, Saint Calvados took the step up in trip brilliantly and I thought he ran a great race. All credit to Chris Giles and his horse - it's the highs and lows of racing. To back that up with this is fantastic."
3.10pm £50,000 G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle 2m 4f 56y
Three winners from The Festival in previous years were among the six runners in the G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle and the trio went on to fill the first three places.
It was the longest-priced of the three, 2018 G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Summerville Boy (Tom George/Jonathan Burke, 10/1) who came out on top after making all the running to see off 2019 G1 Mares' Hurdle heroine Roksana (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton) by two and a quarter lengths. The 2019 G3 Coral Cup winner William Henry (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) was third on his first run of the season, another length and a quarter adrift.
Tom George said: "Summerville Boy has had a few blips but he has done plenty of schooling and really enjoyed being back over hurdles. Jonny Burke gave him a great ride and we will enjoy the day. We have been good on the big days and have had a great Christmas - long may it continue.
"I am sure that we will probably stick over hurdles for the moment. There are no firm plans but we will enjoy today, that's the most important thing. I would have thought that we will be going further rather than shorter. He outstayed them in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and he is a good, strong stayer."
Jonathan Burke added: "Obviously, we were really disappointed at Sandown because we had high hopes for him over fences after he won at Uttoxeter. He is just not a natural chaser and jumped hurdles today much better than he has ever done. He has always schooled well and it was great to see him put it together today - he is still a very good horse.
"It's a massive effort by Tom and Singh, who rides him every day and has always believed in the horse. Noel Fehily played a massive part in this horse's career as well and I have to thank Roger [Brookhouse, owner]. All of Tom's staff have worked really, really hard and it's great."
3.50pm £25,000 Listed EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race 1m 5f 209y
The concluding Listed EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race saw the biggest priced winner of the day as Audacity (Warren Greatex/Gavin Sheehan, 16/1) made all to score by a neck from the staying-on Ocean Wind (Roger Teal/Harry Teal). Genola, ridden by Mlle Maryline Eon and one of two runners in the race for French trainer Alain Couetil, ran on well to take third, another neck in arrears.