Fresh from a double on Thursday, Fergal O'Brien stole the headlines on the first day of Cheltenham's showcase meeting with a treble. However, the highlight on Friday's card was the two miles novices' chase, which was won by Al Dancer. Nigel Twiston-Davies' Betfair Hurdle winner hadn't been seen since disappointing in the Skybet Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March but he made a winning start to his fencing career with a four lengths win. Refitted with a hood, the six year old overcame an early mistake and stayed on well after the second last. He looked in trouble approaching the penultimate fence but responded well to pressure. The eventually third Getaway Trump shaped with plenty of promise until tiring after the second last. Paul Nicholls had warned beforehand that his charge would need the run and so it proved. Indeed, the champion trainer's runners have yet to hit fever pitch with French import Cap Du Mathan running a similar race in the two miles maiden hurdle later on the card.
Nigel Twiston-Davies indicated afterwards that Al Dancer may head to Newbury at the end of November rather than contest the Grade 2 novice at Cheltenham a couple of weeks earlier. While he is likely to continue over two miles for the time being, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him tried over further at some stage this season.
Mulcahys Hill (12/1) provided One Jump Ahead with its second winner of the day in the three miles novices' chase. Warren Greatrex's seven year old was having his fifth race over fences and got off the mark in determined fashion. Runner-up in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury nearly two years ago, he ran on strongly after the last to reel in Wholestone to win by a neck with six lengths back to third. I thought Minella Warrior shaped well in third, although it was surprising to see him come off the bridle so far from home. Prior to that, Kim Bailey's gelding had jumped beautifully. Beaten six and a quarter lengths, it is possible he is a better horse on a flatter track. He will win his fair share of races over fences.
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