Conditions made to order for Pipe's Make A Stand
Fast ground, which is relatively rare at the shrine of National Hunt racing in March, literally paved the way for the record-breaking success of Make A Stand in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Champions in their own right, trainer Martin Pipe and brilliant young jockey Tony McCoy, combined to ensure that thousands of punters who heeded the advice about drying ground had a day to remember on Tuesday when Make A Stand made all in the opening day showpiece. Make A Stand pinged off the ground, zipped over the hurdles and made victory look a formality half-way round - barring accidents. And the icily calm, nerveless McCoy is not prone to mistakes. Nor is Make A Stand, who beat 33-1 Irish outsider Theatreworld by five lengths, with the latter's heavily supported compatriot Space Trucker (9-2) finishing three-parts of a length further back in third.
There was early drama in the 3,300-metre race when favourite Large Action was pulled up after taking just two flights of hurdles to be followed, one flight later, by defending champion Collier Bay. The stewards inquired into both runs but accepted explanations that Large Action completely lost his action and pulled up partially lame while Collier Bay, as was known, hated the ground and refused to act on it.
Make A Stand, the 16th Festival winner for Pipe, set a new course record and completed a superb double for the trainer, who had earlier saddled up Or Royal to win the Guinness Arkle Chase in which raging favourite Mulligan (evens) fell while bounding along in the lead.
It was not a good day for punters with favourites all failing but the Festival opened in glorious sunshine and with a crowd of 50,000 on course.
The race that really typified the jumping creed was the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase for amateur riders, which resulted in a finish that had hats in the air.
Topweight King Lucifer and Irish challenger and favourite Time For A Run came up the hill locked together, as they had been from before the last fence.
There was a head in it and it went King Lucifer's way with 15 lengths back to the third horse.
Horses and riders had nothing left and it came down to a head after 4,900 metres plus 19 demanding fences. Heroic stuff - but that's what Cheltenham is all about.