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Cheltenham 2017: Kennedy comes of age as hot Elliott hits treble top

By Johnny Ward

It was a day when accepted norms needed challenging, the harsh reality of Cheltenham losers having to be stomached by those who greeted the crisp dawn air high on expectation.

Gordon Elliott might have accepted one winner at the Festival given his yearning for a trainer's championship at home that nobody thought possible seven months ago. In snaring three of the seven races, he had a day - while surprising in its bounty - that befitted his dominance in the Irish campaign, in which he's had over 1,000 runners.

Elliott managed to take the four-miler with a Triumph Hurdle winner and the Supreme with a horse which looked long odds-on to plant himself. In between, his victory with Apple's Jade will have hurt Willie Mullins, battling tenaciously to defend his Irish crown and who used to train this mare.

Then we had Mark Walsh, who got the leg-up on Yanworth in the Champion Hurdle, which went to the apparent JP McManus second-string, Buveur D'Air.

If you are asked at a quiz to name the Supreme winner which ran on the beach Laytown, the answer may be the result of a stewards' enquiry, as that was one of the occasions Labaik refused to race (last September).

This was all hugely unorthodox - but the outcome was no fluke. Labaik (25/1) was ridden quietly, but Melon was perfectly placed from gate to wire and lacked his class.

Jack Kennedy, 17, was enjoying his second Grade One winner. He said: "Words can't describe what it's like. I always enjoyed watching it (as a boy)."

If one ignores his three days when he either planted himself or began tailed off, Labaik is three from three hurdling.

"He could have gone to Naas on Sunday and I said to the lads it wouldn't be as embarrassing if he refuses there," Elliott admitted, adding: "I told Jack if he jumped off to just hunt around and ride him for a place. I've always said he's our best work-horse in the yard."

It was tough for Mullins to again suffer defeat in a race he has dominated this decade, but he was magnanimous, stating that Melon had no excuses.

If he had been the king in the Supreme, he has been a dictator in the Mares' Hurdle, winning every renewal bar the first. He had the jolly and second-favourite in Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag, the only viable market alternative Apple's Jade (7/2).

Both appeared to be moving better than the mount of Bryan Cooper two out and attempted what was described as a "pincer movement" at the last, but Apple's Jade pulled out more in between, holding Vroum Vroum Mag, which edged Limini for second.

Cooper said: "She's all heart. Gordon's a genius; I'm very lucky to ride for him."

Altior got the job done at 1/4 in the Arkle but few were too impressed. When the gutsy Charbel fell two out having negotiated the fence fine, Altior was making hard work of going by him, though he eventually eased away.

Alan Fleming and his main trainer, Barry Connell, have endured a frustrating axis, with precious few runners this season to show for the Dubliner Connell's considerable investment. That was briefly forgotten as Tully East (8/1) won easily in the finale under a beautiful Denis O'Regan ride.

Elliott would have happily retired to the bar after the mares' race but his winning was not over and Tiger Roll's 16/1 victory in the four-miler had the 39-year-old trainer in dreamland.

David Pipe has had an unremarkable campaign. His gamble with Moon Racer (pulled up in the Champion) blew up in smoke. However, his production of Un Temps Pour Tout to win the staying handicap for the second year running, Tom Scudamore steering the 9/1 chance to a game success over Singlefarmpayment, showed that he can still be relied upon.

Battles can be lost, the war won. Joseph O'Brien looked to have a fatality in Edwulf, which broke down up the hill when chasing home Tiger Roll. Remarkably, he rose, and returned to his stable.

Both he and Mullins will be happy that today is another day. Elliott may have a mild hangover.

Belfast Telegraph

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