Cheltenham Festival: Lizzy Kelly cries tears of joy with surprise victory

Cheltenham Festival: Lizzy Kelly cries tears of joy with surprise victory
By Sportsbeat

13/03/2018 at 19:23

Lizzie Kelly surprised even herself as she landed her first ever Festival winner on board Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase.

Last year, she became the first female jockey to compete in a Gold Cup for 33 years, but her race ended at the second fence as she was thrown from Tea for Two.

However, it was tenth time lucky for the 24-year-old whose journey of recovery, aided by sports psychologist Michael Caulfield at the British Racing School, left her wiping away tears of joy.

"I can honestly tell you, after last year I made my peace with never being a Cheltenham Festival winner and now I am," she said.

"I'm shocked and don't really know what to say for once in my life. I thought my speech would be better than this!"

There was a thrilling end to the race as Kelly drove Coo Star Sivola past Shantou Flyer in the final furlong, much to the delight of her step-father and winning trainer Nick Williams.

"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 said.

"He's a beautifully balanced horse – I ride him every day, so I know that – and he's suited to the undulations here."

Ruby Walsh claimed two winners on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival Williams' second winner at the Festival was followed shortly after by Mullins' second of the day, as Benie Des Dieux took up the running to land a shock victory in the Mares' Hurdle.

Ruby Walsh picked up a two-day ban to be served later this month for overusing his whip driving the seven-year-old past the relatively unconsidered Midnight Tour to win by half a length.

This was Willie Mullins' ninth victory in 11 years in this race, six of which coming through Quevega, and he expressed his delight at the developing Mares' programme.

"We decided to come for this race because there's no mares' chase. What else could she have run in? The Ryanair maybe, but this was the only race worth sending her back over hurdles for," he said.

"After she'd won her first race for us we did a couple of pieces of work and I texted Rich [Ricci] to say she was like ‘Benie Des Douvan – that was the vibe she was giving us.

"Ruby was brilliant on her but she only just got home. She really needs a trip and will go way back up in trip and back over fences now. She really could be anything."

The Irish Champion trainer secured his opening day treble through Rathvinden in a thrilling instalment of the National Hunt Chase.

Given a patient ride by Patrick Mullins, the ten-year-old held off the gallant Ms Parfois by a head after steadily progressing through the field on the testing round.

Not to be outdone by the drama in the Champion Hurdle, the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap capped off the day with an enthralling ending.

Mick Channon's Mister Whitaker edged a thrilling photo finish with Rather Be, who gallantly led the running alongside Tom George's Rocklander.