American Sniper helped lift the spirits of part-owner Andy Pryce just days after losing his mum to cancer when securing a poignant success in the opening Lycetts Insurance Brokers Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham today, Countryside Day at The November Meeting.
The Tiverton-based owner, who is one of six people involved in the David Pipe-trained five-year-old, was left as ‘high as a kite’ after the Malinas gelding ended a recent spell in the doldrums in the two miles and five furlongs prize.
One of two runners in the race for Grade One-winning handler Pipe, alongside eventual third Paricolor, the 16-1 chance moved effortlessly into contention after the second last before making his challenge on the run down to the final flight.
After seeing off High Stakes jumping the last flight American Sniper was then faced with the task of seeing off recent Carlisle scorer White Rhino.
However, despite the best efforts of White Rhino it was not enough with American Sniper, who was sporting a first-time tongue tie, prevailing by three quarters of a length to give jockey Fergus Gillard his first Cheltenham winner.
Pryce said: “I lost my mum Linda (Pryce) on Monday following a short illness with cancer. This was a tonic I needed and I think she was probably looking down on me today.
“It was a difficult decision to come here today. I’m as high as a kite. I’ve never been at a race meeting when our syndicate has had a winner and for the first time for that to have happened at Cheltenham is brilliant.
“My emotions have been up and down all week. It was a difficult drive in, and it was a difficult decision to come here today with what has been going on, but I needed something and he has certainly given me that something.
“My heart went through the roof. Coming down the hill he looked like he was doing hand stands and I thought we have a chance here. He then stayed on well after the last which was fantastic.
“It was just what we needed and all the family were watching at home.”
Joe Tizzard hailed jockey Brendan Powell for giving Triple Trade what he described as a ‘peach of a ride’ after the pair went one better than on their previous visit to the track in the Mucking Brillant Paddy Power Handicap Chase.
After finishing second over course and distance 20 days ago the gelded son of Norse Dancer built on that effort in the two-mile prize when coming with a telling late effort after the last to open his account for the season.
Still faced with work to do on the climb to the line the well backed 100-30 Favourite reeled in long-time leader Calico in the closing strides before prevailing by three quarters of a length.
Tizzard said: “He is a horse that jams on when he hits the front. In his races before when he has hit the front he has jammed on at the last.
“I said to Brendan today we will try and sit a little bit closer than last time and he has given him a peach of a ride. The horse deserved to win after his last piece of form, and he is improving all the time.
“He has been sharper since his last run as a lot of my horses have been needing a run. I expected a big performance, and it came off. I thought it was a lovely race for him today.
“I’m terrible at watching it, but I think he thought he was going to get there as he didn’t go for him until after the last. It was a proper performance.
“He totally lost his confidence early on (last season) then he gained it and he had some smartish form as a hurdler but he has gone on again over fences.
“He is one of the cheapest horses we have purchased and we picked him up for about twelve thousand pounds. He is owned by three good lads (SJS Racing).
“Dad (Colin Tizzard) said he was a Gold Cup horse when we got him then we couldn’t get him on the track for 18 months! He loves saying that about horses though!
“I’d be half tempted to take him to Newbury in a couple of weeks as there is that nice handicap on the last race of the day on the Saturday and we did that with Amarillo Sky. That is in the back of my mind if it is nice and soft.”