ESPOIR D'ALLEN wins Champion Hurdle
London – The shoe is on the other foot now. Farrier-cum-part-time trainer Gavin Cromwell thought he was shoeing a Cheltenham Festival Champion Hurdle winner last week when he changed the footwear on the brilliant jumper Apple’s Jade. Little did he know his own “no-hoper” would win the race by lengths, the widest margin of victory in the history of the event.
The Champion Hurdle was the main event on Tuesday’s Day 1 of the Festival – the biggest jumps racing meeting in the world.
Cromwell is suddenly in the big time thanks to a ferocious five-year-old named Espoir D’Allen, who became his first Cheltenham Festival winner. It was the 55th for owner JP McManus.
“Gobsmacked” was the first word to come out of winning rider Mark Walsh’s mouth afterwards. He was speaking for most racing followers.
The “three amigos” for punters beforehand turned into the three stooges. Apple’s Jade won the battle for favouritism and was sent off at 7-4, but her war was over very early as she back-pedalled from 1600m out before plodding on in her own time into sixth.
The two-time champion Buveur D’Air came down at the third jump, while Laurina lacked the tactical speed of a top-notch two-miler and could take only fourth. None of the big three finished in the first three.
The winning trainer was bemused by it all.
Cromwell reflected: “What can you say? It’s unbelievable. And he’s only five. It was a brilliant performance. I had no idea he was going to do that.
“Apart from the day he was beaten, when he was all wrong, he’s never had a hard race. He’s won the rest of them easily.
“I was watching them all come under pressure one by one and he was still travelling. I couldn’t believe it. I knew he’d stay very well, so I had no fear of him stopping.
“I shod Apple’s Jade last week and she’s an absolutely amazing mare. I thought she’d win. She might learn from it and then maybe win a Champion Hurdle somewhere down the line. For Espoir D’Allen to do that was just amazing.”
For Cromwell, this was a third Grade 1 winner from just 11 runners, Jer’s Girl having provided the other two in 2016, while Walsh was celebrating only his second Festival winner.
Will the shoeing stop now, Gavin?
“I train 45 horses; you need to train 145 horses to make a decent living out of training,” he replied. “It’s all about getting the horses.”
Perhaps McManus might be more generous with his distribution now he knows Cromwell can cut the mustard on big days. The legendary owner loves nothing more than winning the Champion Hurdle. Brownie points have been earned.
Jockey Walsh is not known for using a lot of words when one will do and remarked: “I don’t know what to say, I can’t believe it. I was riding him for a place.
“He took me everywhere. I was in front soon enough and he was having a look around. I heard the horses coming but it was only after the last I realised it was a loose horse coming to me. For a five-year-old to do that is very good.” – www.racingpost.com