Garde La Victoire (Richard Johnson) holds off all challengers at Cheltenham
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Report: Cheltenham, Sunday
StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m110y, 4yo+
GARDE LA VICTOIRE gave the all-conquering team of trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson their sixth success of the Open meeting with a gutsy charge up the Cheltenham hill.
Topweight Vaniteux and Clondaw Warrior, who snuck into the bottom of the handicap on 10st, laid down the challenge to Garde La Victoire at the last but the 10-1 winner kept finding more to cap a fabulous three days for one of racing most long-lasting partnerships.
With no-one keen to set the pace as the tape went up, Johnson took up the responsibility on the Diana Whateley-owned five-year-old and maintained a prominent position throughout before staying on strongest of all at the finish.
“The plan wasn’t to make it and he doesn’t like the ground so yesterday he was only 50-50 to run,” said Johnson, who has enjoyed a tremendous start to the season with big-race victories in these colours on Wishfull Thinking (Old Roan Chase) and Menorah (Charlie Hall Chase).
Following Dunraven Storm’s victory in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial, the rider took his – and his trainer’s – tally at the meeting to six and he went on to make it a magnificent seven when winning the bumper on the Steve Gollings-trained Definitly Red.
“One winner here is great, anymore is a bonus and I’m living a dream,” he added.
As well as concerns about the ground, there were question marks against Garde La Victoire’s jumping after he surrendered any chance of winning by clattering a number of hurdles on his comeback at Aintree.
He was much more polished at the obstacles and had enough in the tank to pull clear of 7-2 favourite Vaniteux, who ran a promising race under the burden of 11st 12lb.
Hobbs, who has won the Greatwood with stable stars Detroit City, Rooster Booster and Menorah since the turn of the century, said: “He was a little bit keen over the first two but after that he settled and jumped beautifully.
“I didn’t think he would like the ground but Richard went wide and it was worth it. He jumped better, which helped his overall performance.
“We’ll stick to hurdles this season but I’m not sure he’ll be good enough to become a Champion Hurdle horse.”
Vaniteux was having his first start since finishing third, 11 places in front of Garde La Victoire, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and trainer Nicky Henderson was delighted with his return.
“He ran a great race,” he said. “He travelled well, jumped well, took a blow going to the second-last and ran on well. He handled the ground but didn’t exactly like it. My horses aren’t quite there yet. He’s done nothing wrong and will come on a lot for the run.”
Third place went to the Willie Mullins-trained Clondaw Warrior (5-1), whose rider David Casey said: “He ran a cracker. He made a small bit of a mistake at the second-last, landing on Richard’s heels which didn’t help but I thought I’d win going to the last but the winner pulled out more. Hopefully he might win a nice pot over hurdles during the season.”
Blue Heron, whose form received a boost when Parlour Games won the Neptune Hurdle Trial on Friday, finished fourth at 20-1 for Dan Skelton.
“I’m chuffed to bits and he just lacked a bit of big-field experience,” the trainer said. “We’re delighted and if he’s okay we’ll run in the Christmas Hurdle next. He’s next year’s chaser and I don’t fancy shouldering top weight in handicaps for the sake of it.”
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