Bookmakers were rubbing their hands together when 16/1 shot Espoir D’Allen sprung a surprise in the Champion Hurdle.
Espoir D’Allen was a shock winner of an eventful Champion Hurdle and Willie Mullins claimed a double on day one of the Cheltenham Festival amid concerns Wednesday’s racing may be gone with the wind.
The feature race of the opening day was seen as a three-way battle between Buveur D’Air, Apple’s Jade and Laurina, but 16/1 shot Espoir D’Allen charged up the hill under Mark Walsh to claim a surprise victory.
Buveur D’Air, bidding to win the race for a third time, missed out on a hat-trick after falling at the third hurdle and Apple’s Jade flopped as Laurina could only finish fourth.
There was a sense of deja vu as Melon finished second – just as the Mullins-trained seven-year-old did last year – and 80/1 rank outsider Silver Streak took third spot.
It was JP McManus’ second string that handled the soft ground superbly to pull off an upset, the five-year-old – saddled by Gavin Cromwell – hitting the front two from home and staying on strongly to draw clear.
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“I was behind Barry [Geraghty] when he fell on Buveur D’Air and luckily wasn’t in his way. I was delighted when the rain came this morning as he goes so well in it. Gobsmacked.”
Wily trainer Mullins made an ominous start to the week by winning the first two races, Ruby Walsh steering Klassical Dream to victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Duc Des Genievres winning the Arkle with Paul Townend on board.
A treble looked to be on the cards for Mullins when Benie Des Dieux was cruising out in front in the Mares’ Hurdle, but fell at the last to open the door for Roksana to claim a first Grade One triumph for brothers Dan and Harry Skelton.
Beware The Bear – ridden by Jerry McGrath and trained by Nicky Henderson – took the Handicap Chase, while Rachael Blackmore rode A Plus Tard to her first win at the Festival and Le Breuil won the final race of the day.
There will be an inspection on Wednesday morning due to the forecast of high winds and the card will be moved to Saturday if racing is postponed.