LIZZIE Kelly became the 12th woman to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival following the victory of the well-supported 5/1 favourite Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase on Tuesday.
Trained by her step-father Nick Williams, the six-year-old son of Assessor was always well positioned throughout the three-mile and one-furlong contest and after a fine leap at the last, Kelly and her mount kept on tenaciously up the Cheltenham hill to fend off the challenge of Richard Hobson's Shantou Flyer (14/1) to score by a neck.
The Sue Smith-trained Vintage Clouds (7/1) was six lengths back in third, with a further two and three-quarters lengths back to Nicky Henderson's Beware The Bear (14/1) in fourth.
Coo Star Sivola justifies favouritism in the Ultima Handicap Chase @CheltenhamRaces and provides Lizzie Kelly with her first Festival winner. #TheFestival— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) March 13, 2018
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A delighted Kelly said: "I came here today and it was like I had grown up five years. We feel all the pressure but I think last year here with Tea For Two falling in the Gold Cup and picking the wrong horse in the Fred Winter, it was an educational year.
"After last year, I made my peace with never being a Cheltenham Festival winner and now I am. I am shocked and don't really know what to say for the first time in my life!
"Thank you so much to guys at home, who put in work like dogs, and the owners Marcus and Karen.
"Coo Star Sivola has been crying out for three miles and fences, and he had it today. My boyfriend Ed, who is not here today, has been banging on and on about this horse for months and he was right. I am just thrilled.
"The people behind me are one in a million and I have several of them. My mum has a hell of a lot to play as part of the gang and so does Nick who, at 62, still rides out this horse nearly everyday.
"This time around, I was much more relaxed and I had a dream ride. Coo Star Sivola travelled really well and jumped from fence to fence. He made a slight mistake coming down the hill and so he wasn't travelling as well as he was before the mistake, so that forced my hand to go on.
"I knew he would gallop all the way up the hill, but that was like the longest hill in the world. I was half-watching the camera so I could see what was coming, but he felt it too and it just feels so surreal.
"Although it was a horrendous Cheltenham for me last year, you learn from that and I'm delighted that the owners have been so good to me. They have never thought about using other jockeys and that gives you so much confidence entering a race like this.
"I'm just thrilled, we've always felt a lot of the horse and maybe he could run in a Ladbrokes Trophy and possibly even a Gold Cup in time.
"I've got a nice ride on Esprit De Somoza in the Fred Winter and Tea For Two in the Gold Cup, so hopefully he doesn't fall at the second fence again, but I'm excited about the rest of the week."
Winning trainer Nick Williams said: "For a six-year-old novice that was fantastic, but he has always run well here in the past, having been third in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle and then fourth last year. He's a beautifully balanced horse - I ride him every day, so I know that - and he's suited by the undulations here."
Williams was denied a victory in this race when Maljimar was caught near the line in 2009. He said: "Maljimar was three lengths ahead jumping the last and we were five lengths ahead today, so it would have been heart-breaking to have been beaten again. We were getting caught on the run-in and we only just held on.
"Lizzie had to be in a perfect position - she needed to be close up but not actually making it. I told her just get a good place at the tape and jump the first fence in the first three or four - and she did.
"After Coo Star Sivola won at Exeter, which he had to do to justify coming here, I thought this was the right race for him. That was his first start over three miles at Exeter and the way he won there gave him an outstanding chance in this.
"I have no plans for him - whether we now go for a three-mile conditions race I'm not sure, but longterm he could well make into a really good staying chaser, and possibly a National horse. That good balance would help him in a race like that."
This was Williams' second winner at the festival - his first came with Flying Tiger in the 2017 Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
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