Hillcrest lands Listed honours in Cheltenham opener

Hillcrest made just about all the running to remain unbeaten this season in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – the first race at Cheltenham in 2022.

Trained by Henry Daly, the seven-year-old lacks nothing in size and clearly has his fair share of ability as well.

Having won at Aintree and Wetherby this season, he was sent off a 3-1 chance to handle the step up to Listed company.

Richard Patrick bounced him out into an early lead and he appeared to be going well within himself for much of the contest.

The Nicky Henderson-trained favourite I Am Maximus, who had sweated up beforehand and raced on and off the bridle, looked a threat entering the straight but Hillcrest towered above him.

While the favourite briefly hit the front for a few strides, Patrick had not asked his mount for everything and when he did there was still plenty left in the tank and he pulled two lengths clear.

Betfair introduced the winner at 25-1 for the Ballymore in March and 16-1 for the Albert Bartlett.

“He’s taller than my measuring stick will go, and when he arrived at the yard he weighed in at 693 kilos. Most of mine are 520 (kg), which puts it into perspective,” said Daly.

“He’s big and he’s very talented. He’s had a lob round and Richard never had to pick up his stick.

“He doesn’t have to make the running and he’s got a great mind on him. I just wanted to see what he was like on an undulating track.

“When you think what a chaser looks like, it will look like him. He’s a real Trevor (Hemmings) horse.”

Gary Moore’s Full Back stayed on dourly to win the New Four Eighty Restaurant At Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chase.

Full Back (left) jumps the last in front
Full Back (left) jumps the last in front (David Davies/PA)

Sent off the 9-2 joint-favourite, he may have been slightly fortunate as Venetia Williams’ Destinee Royale was going great guns in front before coming down before the turn for home.

The Wolf stayed on after the last to challenge but was still two and a quarter lengths down at the line.

“I thought he ran well in the Hennessy (Ladbrokes Trophy) in which he made a few careless mistakes, but the slower ground helped him with his jumping today,” said Moore.

“We had luck on our side as it started raining heavy when we reached Lambourn and I rang the owner about pulling him out, but he said we should run.

“It’s good for him to get his head in front. He has one or two issues but they didn’t show themselves today.”

Vienna Court stayed on strongly to win for the Twiston-Davies team
Vienna Court stayed on strongly to win for the Twiston-Davies team (David Davies/PA)

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Vienna Court (10-1) travelled supremely well before staying on strongly to win the Paddy Power New Year’s Day Handicap Chase.

With plenty of pace on as Coole Cody once again attempted to make all, Sam Twiston-Davies was able to drop the mare out early on.

She appeared going ominously well coming down the hill but then had to be game to see off the attentions of Paul Nicholls’ Simply The Betts, winning by a length and three-quarters.

“After her previous win we had to decide whether to go for another mares’ race or a decent handicap,” said the winning trainer.

“We called it right, but Sam was last early on and when he switched her on, he couldn’t stop her.

“She’s still a novice and will be odds-on next time, but if she wins again we will need to think about the mares’ chase at the Festival.

“It’s always good to win here. I’ve had more winners here than at any other racecourse.”

Amateur David Maxwell got his fractions spot on as Dolphin Square (28-1) reeled in Kansas City Chief after the last in the Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle.

“It’s a fabulous place – just look at it – an amazing place like it is today and in March. How often does a middle-aged man get to come here and do this?” said Maxwell.

“But I know this horse well. I’ve ridden him since his pointing days and at the top of the hill I thought if I can hold onto him, he might just get home.”

Paddy Brennan was another to come with a late rattle in the concluding bumper as Fergal O’Brien’s Poetic Music (7-2 favourite) maintained her unbeaten record.

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