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CHELTENHAM 2017: Pauling holds court in the Neptune
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CHELTENHAM 2017: Pauling holds court in the Neptune
on 15 March 2017
"Every option is open now" for Willoughby Court who gives Ben Pauling a first festival success

Trainer Ben Pauling scored his first Festival victory when Willoughby Court took the Grade 1 Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle in a thrilling battle to the line with Neon Wolf.

The David Bass-ridden Willoughby Court, a 14/1 shot, made the vast majority of the running but in the end only scored from 2/1 favourite Neon Wolf by a head in a photo-finish.

The six-year-old gelding became trainer Ben Pauling's first festival winner and was sweet consolation for David Bass who was bang in contention on Charbel in the Arkle Trophy yesterday before falling two out.

It was also a first Grade 1 win and first Cheltenham Festival win for Court Cave who stands at Boardmill Stud, County Meath.

Willoughby Court held off 2/1 favourite Neon Wolf by a head, with Messire Des Obeaux (8/1) a further three and three-quarters of a length back in third. Bass was riding his second winner at The Festival, following Darna's 2015 success in the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate for trainer Kim Bailey.

Pauling, who trains in Gloucestershire, said: "I can't believe it, honestly. It feels as good as I ever hoped it would and better. To do it for Paul [Rooney, owner], who has been a great supporter of mine since my second season when I literally had 12 horses, means a huge amount.

"Jason [Maguire - the owner's racing manager] has been a big part of the whole thing and my wife Sophie supports me day in, day out. It is fantastic, even down to Greg Walters who rides Willoughby Court every day because he is not an easy horse. I suppose Bassy did an all right job as well!"

"We set out with a plan. There weren't any confirmed front runners apart from ourselves, and I said to David [Bass], 'get him into a rhythm and then let him do what he can from there on in. He settled beautifully, didn't miss a beat on any of the hurdles, and I saw Neon Wolf coming there between the last two and I admit I was slightly concerned, but I hoped we'd get him off the bridle and we did. He was gutsy as you like and I think that was an absolutely exceptional ride from David.

"Willoughby Court was an impossible horse to train for two years because he was so fractious and nervous, and this time he has just been a different kettle of fish.

"This means everything and more. We've had a fantastic start to my training career, and the yard, my support and my staff are exceptional, but this is really is the icing on the cake.

"Every option is open now, but I don't think we will be seeing Willoughby Court at Aintree. Never say never, but this could be the end of his season."

Bass, who rides a lot of Pauling’s horses, said: "Yesterday was a massive disappointment for me and Kim [Bailey, Charbel's trainer], but today was brilliant. It all went to plan, he was tough on the run-in, he stays very well and it worked out.

"He has form over two miles five furlongs on heavy ground, and my worry was that I hadn't ridden him on decent ground. I feared his stamina might not come into play, so I rode him positively and he really got into a lovely rhythm. We respected Neon Wolf, and when Noel [Fehily, on Neon Wolf] got to me turning in I thought it would be a close-run thing.

"He [Willoughby Court] is a three-mile chaser in the making and I think he's got a big future over fences.

"I went home last night and watched the replay [of Charbel] quite a few times and it hurt - we'll never know what will happen. I woke up today and said 'right, you've got two good rides today, so focus on that'. Ben is a really good young trainer, very ambitious and with good staff. It will mean a lot to him."

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