It was a dramatic opening day at Cheltenham's Showcase meeting with two horses running out after the last, Dan Skelton training the fastest ever 100 winners and Olly Murphy enjoyed his first winner at the home of National Hunt racing. Arguably the most interesting race on the card was the two miles maiden hurdle which went the way of the Murphy trained Thomas Darby (11/2). A gelded son of Beneficial who cost €160,000 as a three year old, he is a half-brother to the smart hurdler Muirhead. A two lengths winner of a Huntingdon bumper in May, he still looked inexperienced on his hurdles debut but warmed to his task as the race progressed. Given a patient ride by Richard Johnson, he quickened up between the final two flights and won going away by three and a quarter lengths. Bred to stay further, it would be no surprised to see him return to Prestbury Park next month for either the Graded two or two and a half miles novices' hurdles. His trainer stressed afterwards Thomas Darby may not want the ground too testing. In less than a week, Murphy has unearthed two above average novices in him and Kempton scorer Itchy Feet. Gordon Elliott's former assistant has made a terrific start to his second season with a licence.
I must confess to have been a bit disappointed with the run of Sebastopol back in fourth, although I don't feel he was given the most positive rides. A year younger than the winner, Tom Lacey's charge was held up and still had plenty to do coming down the hill - although it can be argued Thomas Darby was upsides him at a similar stage. A mistake at the second last didn't help his cause before he stayed on at the death. On this evidence, he doesn't look quick enough to develop into a high-class two mile novice hurdler and will benefit from a longer trip. In his defence, it was his first run over hurdles and he is likely to be much sharper next time and will be ridden more aggressively.
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