Co. Meath-based trainer and farrier Gavin Cromwell trained his very first winner at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday when taking the £450,000 Grade 1 Unibet Champion Hurdle with Espoir D’Allen (16/1).
Espoir D’Allen, in the colours of J P McManus and ridden by Mark Walsh, became the first five-year-old since Katchit in 2008 to claim Europe’s most famous hurdle race as he scored by 15 lengths and a neck from last year’s runner-up Melon (20/1) and Silver Streak (80/1).
The winning trainer couldn’t believe he had won the day’s feature race, admitting:
“I am lost for words. Espoir D’Allen is French-bred and they do mature earlier. He has been winning Grade 3s this season, so to go and do that is fantastic. He wouldn’t stand out in the string on his work, but he’s a gorgeous-looking horse.”
The five-year-old son of Voix Du Nord travelled menacingly into contention approaching the turn for home and ran on strongly in the home straight, producing a superb leap at the last to register an easy 15-length success under Mark Walsh, who claimed his second victory at The Festival overall.
The Willie Mullins-trained Melon (20/1) was back in second with a neck back to 80/1 shot Silver Streak, trained by Evan Williams in third.
In a dramatic championship race, Gordon Elliott’s favourite Apple’s Jade (7/4f) was sixth, while the Nicky Henderson-trained defending champion Buveur D’Air (11/4) fell at the third hurdle and Willie Mullins’ Laurina (5/2) could only finish fourth.
Winning rider Mark Walsh admitted he had luck in running, stating:
“Everything went well for me on Espoir D’Allen. When Buveur D’Air fell at the third hurdle, I luckily avoided the fall and got a lovely run through the whole way. For a five-year-old to do that against what we thought was one of the best Champion Hurdles run in the past few years, he is a right little horse. It is unbelievable.”
Winning owner J P McManus was recording an eighth victory in the Champion Hurdle following the victories of Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000), Binocular (2010), Jezki (2014) and Buveur d’Air (2017, 2018), and this was the Limerick man’s 55th success at the Cheltenham Festival.
3:30pm Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) 2m 87y £450,000
1 Espoir D’Allen (FR) 5 11 10 Gavin Cromwell Ireland Mr John P. McManus Mark Walsh 16/1
2 Melon p 7 11 10 Willie Mullins Ireland Mrs J. Donnelly Paul Townend 20/1
3 Silver Streak (IRE) 6 11 10 Evan Williams Mr L. Fell Adam Wedge 80/1
Time: 3m 59.07s
Distances: 15, nk, 1½, 7, 6, 45