SAINT Calvados exorcised his Cheltenham ghost when making the most of a drop in class to provide Harry Whittington with his first winner at the track in the Randox Health Handicap Chase.
Having suffered defeats in the 2018 Arkle and last year’s Champion Chase on his previous two visits to the track, the talented six-year-old made it third time lucky when carrying top weight to glory on his seasonal return in the two-mile contest.
Taking up matters just before the last, the 5/2 favourite, who had undergone a wind operation over the summer, was forced to pull out all the stops to defeat Vaniteux by a length.
The Randox Health Handicap Chase goes to the @Harry_Whitt trained Saint Calvados, who wins very impressively carrying top weight in these testing conditions, with a change of tactics under @GavSheehan to beat the running on Vaniteux pic.twitter.com/3lRiVdrz8Q— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) October 26, 2019
Whittington said: “That was my first Cheltenham winner and it is very special. It’s just great. What can I say? He handled the track. He loved those conditions, we know that.
“You can safely say it was a classy performance in those conditions off top weight. It was a big drop in class.
“He was able to breath today and he was in his comfort zone the whole way. Gavin (Sheehan) said he jumped the last and he was a little bit lonely and needed something to come to him.”
The day was made all the more special with it being the first time the Lambourn handler’s recently-born daughter Penelope had been in attendance at the races.
He added: “It means an awful lot as my daughter Penelope is six weeks on Monday and it is her first day racing today.
“She is down in the marquee and has been passed around like pass the parcel. It just couldn’t be any more special. I think her being here has made all the difference.”
Watching videos of Ruby Walsh riding around Cheltenham paid dividends for Harry Cobden as Quel Destin (5/2) left his odds-on defeat on the flat at Bath 10 days ago well behind him when taking the Masterson Holdings Hurdle by three-quarters of a length.
Nicholls said: “We planned to do that (go wide) and pick that better ground. Ruby (Walsh) used to do that and I’ve been getting him to look back at some of those old videos Ruby use to ride round here.
“He used to go as wide as you like and when the ground is like that, you have nothing to lose.”
Of last season’s Triumph Hurdle fifth, he added: “I thought it might be a tough task under the penalty, but he loves that ground and he won here last year.
“He beat Torpillo comprehensively at Haydock before, but we needed to improve from the Bath run. That was the ideal prep for today.
“It is hard for four-year-olds, but you would have to look at those sort of races (International Hurdle at Cheltenham on December 14th). He would have to keep improving to run in races like that, but in testing ground you never know.”
Heavy ground proved to be no problem for The Conditional, who opened his account for David Bridgwater with a hard-fought one-and-three-quarter-length success in the “Matchbook Betting Exchange” Handicap Chase.
Bridgwater said of the 14/1 winner: “Without sounding confident, I thought he would win today as he has come on so much for his last run. He had a nice a light weight, which you want in this ground.
“Peter Cave (owner) has had about 12 or 13 horses with me and they’ve all been useless. He gave me a lump of money to buy a Saturday horse and this is it.”