It was proper jumping weather for the first day of the Jump Season Opener, with the going becoming soft, but the quality of the competition more than made up for it.
The meeting got under way with the Grade 2 Persian War Novices Hurdle over two and a half miles. It was a stiff task for a horse having its first run over obstacles, but Philip Hobbs’s Thyme Hill (9/4 fav) passed the test with flying colours. A good third in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, he was held up by Richard Johnson for a late challenge and took over from Fiddlerontheroof on the run-in to win by two lengths.
Colin Tizzard and Robbie Power, responsible for the runner-up in the first race, went one better with Ofalltheginjoints (9/2) in the 2m novice hurdle that came next. They led soon after the last and just held on from the rallying long-time leader Flic Ou Voyou and the close third Proschema. These and the fourth, Harry Senior, and the final fence faller Sir Valentine should all win their share of races.
Two three-mile hurdle wins last season marked Dan Skelton’s Ardlethen (15/2) as useful, yet it was a surprise that he beat the higher-rated Lisnagar Oscar today. Both were making their debuts over fences. Harry Skelton, riding confidently, tracked Oscar into contention and capitalised on his rival’s mistake at the last to go a length and a half up. Oscar fought back and Ardlethen was all out to hold on by a neck.
The veterans chase over 3m was sponsored by Professor Caroline Tisdall, and it was fitting that her Vieux Lion Rouge (9/2) came back to form. He looked held in fourth at the final fence, but soon after that the leader Joe Farrell began to run out of steam. Vieux Lion Rouge charged past him in the closing stages, with On Tour following just a neck behind him. Conor O’Farrell rode the winner for David Pipe.
After exciting finishes in the first four races, with the lead changing hands on the run-in in each case, the 2m hurdle for four-year-olds resulted in a facile win for Torpillo (3/1). Daryl Jacob, in the familiar double green colours of Messrs Munir and Souede, had an armchair ride once he’d hit the front at the third last. The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained top weight loves this kind of ground and was value for much more than the five lengths he won by. Caswell Bay, who led them into the straight, kept on well to retain second place.
Still Believing made a bold bid to win the 3m mares chase for the second year running, but had no answer to the finishing effort of Silent Steps (6/4 fav), who was having her first outing since wind surgery. Once she had poked her nose through a gap on the rail between the last two fences she shot clear and her jockey Bryony Frost had ten lengths in hand at the line. Neil King trained the winner.
A disappointing day for the Paul Nicholls stable ended on an upbeat note with the victory of course bumper winner Silver Forever (8/13 fav) in the mares novice hurdle over 2m4f. Though Queens Cave made a race of it for a long way, the grey took the lead halfway between the last two flights and won easily in the hands of Harry Cobden. The official verdict of four lengths understates her superiority.