Belfast Banter has loudest cheer in County Hurdle

Belfast Banter was yet another winner for Ireland when springing a 33-1 surprise for County Kildare trainer in the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Ridden by Kevin Sexton, who has having his first Festival winner, the six-year-old came with a terrific run after jumping the last in fourth place to hit the front in the last 100 yards and claim the prize.

Global Citizen, Mengli Khan, Gowel Road and Fifty Ball were among the leaders in the early stages, but there was all to play coming to the second-last where Third Time Lucki made his bid.

That was covered by Milkwoodm with Petit Mouchoir, Eclat De Beaufeu, Edwardstone and Ganapathi also in the mix.

Belfast Banter made his challenge in the centre of track to land the spoils by one and a quarter lengths from Petit Mouchoir with Milkwood a length away third and Eclair De Beaufeu a head back in fourth.

Sexton said: “I’m in shock and it hasn’t sunk in. I was second here a couple of years ago and I never thought I’d get the chance again.

“I came here to ride a favourite yesterday (Royal Kahala) and when she disappointed I thought it would never happen.

“This lad has tended to finish second a lot, I have a love hate relationship with him!

“I thought if we were in the first five we’d be delighted, but he jumped and travelled and took me everywhere.

“I planned on switching out, but I didn’t get the chance and I was lucky that I never got stopped down the middle and he stuck it out really well.”

Sexton was quick to pay tribute to winning trainer Peter Fahey.

He added: “It was unbelievable when we jumped the last, I got quite emotional. I’d actually given up two years ago, but through the support of my family I gave it one last go and I haven’t looked back since.

“I might have given up, but lucky enough no one else had given up on me. Peter got me back in love with racing and put me on Peregrine Run who I won plenty of races on. Otherwise I might have gone to America.”

Porlock Bay just denied Billaway in a terrific finish to the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase.

The pair crossed the line virtually inseparable after a ding-dong tussle on the run to the line, but it was Porlock Bay who got the verdict.

Porlock Bay is usually ridden by his trainer Will Biddick, the most prolific winner of point-to-points in the UK and a winning rider at the Festival, but with amateurs unable to ride due to covid restrictions, he booked Lorcan Williams for the ride.

The conditional jockey proved an able substitute as he got the better of Paul Townend on the Willie Mullins-trained Billaway, was also second 12 months ago.

Staker Wallace was third and Latenightpass fourth.

Williams said: “He jumped the last really well and I’m delighted for Will, who was always sort of an idol of mine growing up. It’s been a pleasure to ride for him.

“We weren’t sure he would stay the last day, but I felt he did stay and I wasn’t overly hard on him. He’s come out fresh today and in really good form.

“I was always one or two off the rail and going down the back I gave him a bit of light and I wanted to make our ground and be handy at the top of the hill.

“He sort of just came alive and I was probably going too well.

“I managed to fill him up and his jumping was so accurate, which has probably just got him there.”

Galopin Des Champs clinched the trainers’ title at the Festival for Willie Mullins when winning the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

It was Mullins’ sixth success at the meeting, the same as Henry de Bromhead, but the Closutton handler got the nod on countback.

Galopin Des Champs (8-1) was always travelling well for Sean O’Keeffe and bounded up the hill to beat Langer Dan by two and a quarter lengths, denying Dan Skelton’s runner a £50,000 bonus should he have won at Cheltenham following his victory in the Imperial Cup a Sandown last weekend.

Floueur was nine lengths away in third place, with Whatsupwithyou fourth.

Mullins said: “Sean just bided his time and gave him a very good ride.

“I had this horse entered up in a lot of handicaps and we divided them up as best we could.

“We had two jockeys on the horses we thought had a chance. Gentleman De Mee was just too keen, but he’s obviously a good horse.”

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