THE feature of Cheltenham’s April fixture is the Grade 2 Matt Hampson Foundation Silver Trophy Handicap Chase, and it saw the Sam Thomas-trained Stolen Silver (Sam Twiston-Davies) run out an 11-length winner from Simply The Betts (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden), the race in the balance until the runner-up blundered at the second last.
The winner – sent off favourite at 11/5 – beat Coole Cody (Evan Williams/Adam Wedge) by 25 lengths into third this time, having finished an eight-length fourth to that rival in the Craft Irish Whiskey Co. Plate over course and distance last month; there was a bit more to the big turnaround than an 8lb swing at the weights, with an end-of season feel to the result, as is often the case at this meeting.
Coole Cody led until headed four out, and could only plug on up the hill to be beaten 25 lengths into third. The placed horses are both previous winners of the Festival Plate, in which Stolen Silver had finished fourth on his latest start.
Thursday was dedicated to fillies and mares, but the fact that the best races for mares are now part of the Festival itself makes for a rather subdued affair, albeit one in which smaller operations have a chance to shine.
The main contest on Thursday was a Grade 3 handicap hurdle for juvenile fillies, and it was won by Malakhana (Ian Williams/Charlie Todd), who got first run on her rivals after six of the runners approached the final hurdle separated by no more than two lengths. The winner grabbed the favoured rail at that point as the placed horses rather got in each other’s way, and although hanging left up the hill, she held on to beat La Renommee (Dr Richard Newland/Charlie Hammond) and Addosh (Stuart Edmunds/Ciaran Gethings).
The winner certainly deserves credit, and although twice unplaced in listed company earlier in the season, those runs came on soft or heavy ground, and she is now unbeaten in four starts over hurdles on quicker ground. She may progress again, and is a straightforward ride who finds for pressure, but it’s worth noting that none of the runners in this race, despite its status, would have made the cut for the Fred Winter last month.
There were a trio of listed contests for mares earlier on the card, with Theatre Glory not needing to better the form of her Kelso win to take the opening novices hurdle at 4/9 for Nicky Henderson and James Bowen.
The EBF Novices’ Handicap Chase Final saw the bad-tempered 9/4 joint-favourite Precious Eleanor (Henry Daly/Richard Patrick) literally kick one of her rivals out of the race before running away from the others for a 15-length win, although the fact that the 75-rated Well Briefed almost snatched second shows how one-sided the race was.
Panic Attack landed the listed handicap hurdle over two and a half miles for the in-form David Pipe, with Tom Scudamore’s mount getting on top in the last few yards after a protracted struggle with topweight Eglantine du Seuil.
The 9/4 favourite – a listed bumper winner for Willie Mullins – has not hit the heights she promised, but was back to her very best wearing both blinkers and a tongue tie for the first time; she was one of only two runners for Pipe at the fixture, with both winning to underline the fine form of the Nicholashayne stable.