Al Dancer did what was asked of him in returning to winning ways with victory at the first time of asking over fences in the squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
Beaten when joint-favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival in March, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained six-year-old saw his class prevail on his return to the Cotswolds.
Last season’s Betfair Hurdle winner warmed to the task after surviving a bad mistake at the third fence, putting the race to bed when asked for an effort from the back of the last to cross the line four lengths clear of the running-on Not That Fuisse.
Twiston-Davies said of the 10-11 winner: “There was just one slightly noticeable sketchy jump. He was brilliant and I was really pleased with him.
“He is a good jumper. A faster pace would suit him again. He is just a lovely horse. It’s a relief to us, as you think they are going to win, but he had 12 fences to jump.
“He will improve for the run. It is exciting. We will stay at two (miles) for the moment.”
Assessing future plans, Twiston-Davies said: “It’s only three weeks (Arkle Trial) and that could be a bit too quick, so I think there is a novice chase at Newbury, we may do that. Something like that (Henry VIII) would be a good target.
“He came here for the Supreme Novices’ having won at Ascot, it was quite close and it definitely showed on him and we don’t want to do that again. He has put the marker down for the Arkle.”
Al Dancer was cut to 12-1 from 20-1 for the Arkle by Paddy Power, while SkyBet went 14-1 for the same race.
Champagne Well sparked wild celebrations from trainer Fergal O’Brien with a triumphant return to action in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
Never one to hold back, the Ravenswell Farm handler was left jumping for joy after the six-year-old gained a long-overdue first success over hurdles in the two-mile-five-furlong prize.
Having been stripped of victory by the stewards at Ludlow last season, the 13-8 favourite suffered no such issues on this occasion, pulling out just enough to hold Braid Blue at bay by half a length.
O’Brien said: “It’s fantastic. I’m so lucky to have such a lovely horse. Today we came here really confident. He was meant to run in the Persian War (at Chepstow), but he had colic on the day and this was Plan B.
“It was a bit frustrating at the time at Ludlow, but that has probably been the making of him as he is a novice for the rest of the season.
“He looks a proper Albert Bartlett horse and that’s what Paddy (Brennan) said, as he is a year stronger.”
Paddy Power introduced Champagne Well at 33-1 for the Albert Bartlett in March.
O’Brien was reduced to tears when Benny’s Bridge completed a famous treble for his yard when running out an eight-length winner of the “Matchbook Betting Exchange Podcast” Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
O’Brien said: “It’s my first Cheltenham treble. We are in between bases. Petite Power is at Ravenswell, this fellow is at Naunton, and Champagne Well is at Naunton.
“I can’t put it into words. The last four months have been incredibly hard.”
On the 5-2 winner, he said: “The plan was always to come here. Connor (Brace) has given him a peach of a ride. I think he is one of the best conditionals riding.”
Petite Power (12-1) formed the middle leg of O’Brien’s haul as he gave Liam Harrison his first Cheltenham winner with a dour staying success in the Ryman Stationary Cheltenham Business Club Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase.
The winner was making his 516 days, and Harrison said: “It’s brilliant, I’ve only had my licence 14 months and this is my third winner of the season. It’s my fifth ride for Fergal and second winner, so long may it continue.
“He has done plenty at home and I knew he would have him ready. He showed a lot of guts, as I was a long way back at the top of the hill.”