Cheltenham at a glance: Brian Hughes wins thrilling finish in final race of the day

Brian Hughes delivered Mister Whitaker in the final strides to beat Rather Be in a thrilling finish to the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

A winner for Mick Channon at the track in January, he scraped into the race as the 20th of the 20 runners.

Settled in mid-division, Mister Whitaker's backers would not have been getting their hopes up as Rocklander led over the last, only for Jerry McGrath to sweep by on Rather Be.

Hughes had just managed to save a bit on Mr Whitaker (13-2), however, and in a driving finish managed to come out on top by a head.

5.30 Final Result:

1 Mister Whitaker (B Hughes) 13-2

2 Rather Be (J McGrath) 12-1

3 Rocklander (A P Heskin) 25-1

Willie Mullins saddled his third winner on the opening day of this year's Cheltenham Festival as son Patrick steered Rathvinden to a thrilling victory in the National Hunt Chase.

The 10-year-old was among the market principals at 9-2 and was given a patient ride by Mullins junior, who was bidding for his second victory in the race following the success of Back In Focus five years ago.

The front-running Sizing Tennessee and Ms Parfois led the field into the straight, but Rathvinden was travelling ominously well in their slipstream and moved to the front after the second-last.

Ms Parfois ultimately refused to go down without a fight under Will Biddick, but the Mullins runner won the argument by half a length.

4.50 Final Result:

1 Rathvinden (Mr P W Mullins) 9-2

2 Ms Parfois (Mr W Biddick) 11-2

3 Sizing Tennessee (Mr B O'Neill) 8-1

Benie Des Dieux provided Willie Mullins with his ninth victory in 11 years in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The Irish champion trainer memorably claimed the prize six times with the remarkable Quevega and has since struck gold with Glens Melody - who profited from the final-flight fall of stablemate Annie Power in 2015 - and Vroum Vroum Mag.

Apple's Jade was ridden forcefully by Jack Kennedy and looked to be travelling well before the home turn, but she was mastered by relatively unconsidered 33-1 shot Midnight Tour on the run to the final flight.

Ruby Walsh was hard at work in behind aboard Benie Des Dieux, but she responded to his urgings to get up and score by half a length.

4.10 Final Result:

1 Benie Des Dieux (R Walsh)

2 Midnight Tour (D N Russell) 33-1

3 Apple's Jade (J W Kennedy) 1-2 Fav

Buveur D'Air was made to pull out all the stops to successfully defend his crown in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Nicky Henderson's charge had sauntered to success on his previous three starts this season and was the 4-6 favourite to become the first horse to win back-to-back renewals of the race since Hardy Eustace in 2004 and 2005.

The winner's stablemate Charli Parcs was ridden forcefully, challenging 2015 Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen for the lead for much of the two-mile journey.

It was clear some way from home Faugheen was not travelling with his old zest and in the end it was his stablemate Melon who proved the biggest threat to the reigning champion.

There was little to choose between the pair jumping the final flight and both fought tooth and nail all the way up the hill, but it was Buveur D'Air and Barry Geraghty who emerged victorious by a neck.

3.30 Final Result:

1 Buveur D'Air (B J Geraghty) 4-6 Fav

2 Melon (P Townend) 7-1

3 Mick Jazz (D N Russell) 25-1

Coo Star Sivola clung on grimly to provide jockey Lizzie Kelly with her first Cheltenham Festival success in the Ultima Handicap Chase.

Having opened his account over fences at the fifth attempt at Exeter less than three weeks ago, the Nick Williams-trained six-year-old was a well-backed 5-1 favourite for this three-mile-one-furlong contest.

Conditional jockey Kelly kept things simple aboard the market leader, settling just in behind the leading group, before allowing him to stride to the front before the home turn.

He was getting weary as the post loomed and Shantou Flyer came home to good effect, but Coo Star Sivola had just enough in the locker to hold him at bay by a neck.

2.50 Final Result:

1 Coo Star Sivola (Lizzie Kelly) 5-1 Fav

2 Shantou Flyer (James Bowen) 14-1

3 Vintage Clouds (Danny Cook) 7-1

Footpad, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, won the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase at Cheltenham today.

2.10 Final Result:

1 Footpad (R Walsh) 5-6 Fav

2 Brain Power (Nico de Boinville) 14-1

3 Petit Mouchoir (D N Russell)

Earlier today, Summerville Boy recovered from at least one shuddering error to claim a last-gasp victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle in the opening race of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.

Tom George's charge was beaten on his first three starts over jumps, but was a 9-1 shot for the traditional curtain-raiser at the showpiece meeting following an impressive win in the Tolworth Hurdle back in January.

Noel Fehily cut a confident figure in the saddle throughout, but his mount looked to have lost all chance when ploughing through the second flight from the finish and almost coming to grief.

However, he was soon back on an even keel and given he was untidy again at the last, it is testament to his considerable talent that he managed to power up the hill and beat old foe Kalashnikov by a neck.

1.30 Final Result:

1 Summerville Boy (N D Fehily) 9-1

2 Kalashnikov (Jack Quinlan) 5-1

3 Mengli Khan (J W Kennedy) 14-1

On this week's Paper Talk podcast: A step on Limerick's journey, Kerry 'chastened' and Dubs put paid to The Savage Hunger

- PA


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