Sun shines on Fondmort

Low-lying sun meant no fewer than six fences were omitted from the Unicoin Homes Chase at Cheltenham as thousands of racegoers packed the stands on New Year’s Day.

Low-lying sun meant no fewer than six fences were omitted from the Unicoin Homes Chase at Cheltenham as thousands of racegoers packed the stands on New Year’s Day.

But that did not stop the Nicky Henderson-trained Fondmort keeping punters happy as the course specialist and top-weight was booted to a deserved success by Mick Fitzgerald.

Brought down when going nicely in the Robin Cook Memorial Gold Cup on his previous start, the 100-30 favourite was backed to make amends and did so in style.

With the final two fences dolled off, it was a run-in of more than half a mile from the last and Fitzgerald, who completed a double when Burnt Oak took the concluding bumper, pushed him clear from the final jump.

His rivals were closing up the final climb to the line but Fondmort had done enough, beating Too Forward by three-quarters of a length, with Made In Japan a further couple of lengths back in third.

“He really is a smashing horse,” said Henderson. “All you need is Cheltenham and two miles and five furlongs and you know he’ll give his best.

“There is another race for him at the trip at the end of the month and then we will come for the Ryanair Chase.

“Mick raised his eyebrows a bit when they decided to miss all those fences out because really it is the thing he does best. He was worried that if there wasn’t something to keep him interested for half a mile we might be in trouble so he decided to fire him out of the fence and kick on – I’d say he got it about right!”

The Listener maintained his unbeaten record over fences with a brave victory in the Unicoin Homes “Dipper” Novices’ Chase.

The imposing grey (8-11) was always in the front rank under Andrew Thornton and took the lead from Billyvoddan approaching the second-last fence in the Grade Two contest.

Robert Alner’s seven-year-old then kept on well to beat the strong-finishing Napolitain by three-quarters of a length.

Cashmans make The Listener second-favourite for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase and cut him into 7-1 from 12s. But VC Bet went the other way and pushed him out from 8-1 to 10-1, with Ladbrokes also going 10-1 and William Hill 8-1.

Christian Williams, rider of the runner-up, received a two-day suspension for using his whip with excessive frequency.

Paul Nicholls’ challenge for a first trainers’ championship suffered mixed fortunes as he enjoyed a double before seeing stable jockey Ruby Walsh give up his remaining rides after escaping serious injury in a crunching fall from Sporazene in the Steel Plate and Sections Hurdle, which saw The French Furze roll back the years to make all.

Nicholls had initiated his brace in emphatic style when Denman destroyed his rivals in the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle.

The 5-2 favourite travelled strongly all the way as he disputed the lead under Walsh before stretching clear to beat The Cool Guy by 21 lengths.

Denman is as short as 5-1 to take the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle, but Nicholls warned going conditions would affect running plans.

“He would only run there on proper ground – he’d be the wrong horse to run on quick ground,” he said.

“This race was his target and next year he will go novice chasing. He’s my sort of horse, a big chasing type with lots of scope – he looks the part.”

Nicholls was back in the winner’s enclosure after the following High Sheriff of Gloucestershire’s ’Crime Beat’ National Hunt Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

But it was only after a 15-minute wait for the result of a stewards’ inquiry that Nicholls knew exactly which horse had been responsible for the victory.

It was Armariver and Christian Williams who were first past the post for the two-mile one-furlong contest, but they were ruled to have hampered stablemate and runner-up Pirate Flagship on the run-in, forcing Walsh to snatch up the reins.

And the stewards reversed the placings, much to the delight of punters who backed the better-fancied stable representative at 7-1.

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