DOUBLES ALL ROUND AS TWISTON-DAVIES'S TEAM UP WITH BALLYANDY
Ballyandy iced the cake on a wonderful day for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies by landing the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. The winning jockey was the trainer's son, Sam, and Nigel admitted: "It is lovely when your boys are riding - it is double the excitement."
Both men were recording doubles, for Sam won the previous race, the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle, on the Paul Nicholls-trained Diego Du Charmil, while his father saddled Blaklion to take the RSA Chase under Ryan Hatch, completing a 53/1 double for the stable. Ballyandy, a 5/1 shot, kept a trio of Willie Mullins-trained horses off the top spot - he beat Battleford by a nose, with Bacardys two lengths back in third, just ahead of Castello Sforza.
Locally-based in the Cotswolds, Nigel has a terrific Festival record of 17 winners, dating back to Tipping Tim's Ultima Handicap Chase victory in 1992.
After welcoming in his first Weatherbys Champion Bumper winner, Twiston-Davies Snr said: "It was close at the finish, but I was confident during the race. Sam got into a bit of trouble coming down the hill, but said the leading horses were dropping back and knocked him back. Despite that the horse gutsed it out.
"He is better than Imperial Commander was on the Flat, so maybe he will be better over jumps. He will go hurdling next season.
"We bought him from a great source, [Northern Ireland-based] Wilson Dennison, who also supplied Blaklion and once had Yorkhill [who won today's Neptune Investment Hurdle for Willie Mullins]. This horse has jumped at home and is brilliant. It would be lovely to take him to Aintree for the bumper, but we'll see how he is, we'll not tell him how he is.
"It's great to have winners at Cheltenham - it's what we are in this job for."
5.30pm Weatherbys Champion Bumper
1) Ballyandy (Options O Syndicate) Nigel Twiston-Davies 5-11-05 Sam Twiston-Davies 5/1 2) Battleford (Andrea & Graham Wylie) Willie Mullins IRE 5-11-05 Mikey Fogarty 25/1 3) Bacardys (Shanakiel Racing Syndicate) Willie Mullins IRE 5-11-05 Ruby Walsh 16/1
7/2 Fav Augusta Kate (7th)
BetBright Cup latest - GREAT BRITAIN - 9; IRELAND - 5
BALLY GOOD SHOW
Sam Twiston-Davies rode his second consecutive winner of the day on Ballyandy, trained by his father Nigel.
The Kayf Tara five-year-old, a 5/1 shot, met trouble in running and just held on to win by a nose from Battleford.
Sam Twiston-Davies, for whom it was a sixth Festival winner in total, said: "It was nearly a disaster! The start was perfect, and we had a beautiful position until we went down the hill. I thought I was fine tracking the ones I did, but it turned out they stopped quite quickly, and I was obviously wanting to make a move to go forward and then I was stuck behind the ones I didn't want to be following.
"I followed Patrick Mullins [on Avenir D'Une Vie] through and then got a good split all the way to the line.
"He had to be tough to win from that position. To quicken up the way he did, it was a hell of a performance. Please God he'll get to next season healthy and sound and we'll have a lot more fun yet.
"At the last set of wings he was flying and I couldn't believe how well he picked up. I knew he was straightforward and had loads of gears, but every time I gave him a reminder he went again, and again, but the trouble was I was using up so much petrol and that's probably why he got so tired. If we'd had a smooth run round I think he would have won well.
"I thought I'd got there, but when you look around and the crowd go 'oooh', you think 'oh no...'"
When told that before the race, Nigel had compared the horse to his Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, Sam replied: "He gets so excited. To be fair, he wears his heart on his sleeve. [Brother] Willie's the same, he's been dancing round here like a lunatic. It's a pleasure to be related to the pair of them; I'm a little bit boring and quiet compared to them!
"Days like today are magic - it's great for Hatchy [Ryan Hatch, who rode Blaklion to win the RSA Chase for Nigel], great for Nige and I've been lucky enough to win on one for Paul and one for my family."
MULLINS RUES PLACED FINISHES
The Willie Mullins-trained Battleford finished a game second by a nose to winner Ballyandy in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper with the County Carlow handler also saddling the third-placed Bacardys and fourth, Castello Sforza. Battleford looked the most likely winner half a furlong out but Sam Twiston-Davies, registering his second winner of the day, galvanised Ballyandy to thwart Mikey Fogarty.
Mullins said of the Andrea and Graham Wylie-owned gelding: "They [the Wylies] had had it every which way today; they have had a winner [Yorkhill], a horse coming to the last looking like it was going to win then falling [Voix Du Reve] and now this horse finishing second. I thought it was a fantastic ride from Mikey Fogarty. He rode Don Poli here [2014 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle] and it is beginning to be a lucky track for him."
Mullins said of third and fourth-placed Bacardys and Castello Sforza: "They ran very well."
Of some of his other runners, the Irish champion trainer remarked: "Avenir D'Une Vie (12th), I don't really know why he ran so disappointingly. He was in a good position and looked to be going well but just didn't seem to see it out, but I know he stays this trip which maybe suggests that the ground is a little bit too fast for him. Augusta Kate (7th) was running a fantastic race and just got knocked over coming into the straight, which knocked her back a few places, but I thought she ran well and we are pleased with that performance."
As for the next destination for some of his bumper runners, Mullins said: "I'd say most of them will now go down to Punchestown for the bumper. They will probably go along with a few others we did not get ready for Cheltenham."
The Irish handler was disappointed by the way some of his luck has gone so far this week, despite registering four winners. He added: "We are just not getting the bounce of the ball like we did last year. They were jumping the last hurdles and fences and winning the photo finishes last year at Cheltenham, but this year we are not having the same luck in those big moments. That makes the difference between a record-breaking Festival and a very good Festival."
The Champion Bumper is the only Grade 1 National Hunt flat race run in Great Britain. It is also the only flat race run as part of the Cheltenham Festival. The race is run over a distance of two miles. It was introduced to the meeting in 1992 and currently slots into the meeting as the last contest on the second day.
If you have a fancy for this years race share your tip on the Champion Bumper thread.
Champion Bumper Stats
Age: Only one four year old has won since 1995
Trainer: Willie Mullins has trained 4 of the last 11 winners
Irish trained horses have dominated but 3 of the last 6 went to GB based trainers
Jockey: Patrick Mullins has ridden 2 of the last 8 winners
Form: The last 10 winners won last time out
Fate of the Favourite: 0 1 0 8 3 3 0 6 2 2 1
Market Position of the Winner: 2 1 0 2 5 2 0 6 0 0 1
Champion Bumper Winners 2006-2015
Champion Bumper Trivia
Ruby Walsh recorded his first Festival success in the race on Alexander Banquet in 1998 and has had 3 wins in the bumper.
Irish-trained horses have dominated. Dato Star (1995, Malcolm Jefferson), Monsignor (1999, Mark Pitman), Liberman (2003, Martin Pipe), Cue Card (2010, Colin Tizzard) and Cheltenian (2011, Philip Hobbs) are the British-trained winners.
The first winner was Montelado, who achieved what is thought to be the unique feat of winning two consecutive Festival races. The Bumper, now run on Wednesday, was originally the last race of The Festival. Montelado went on to win the opening race of the The Festival in 1993, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Willie Mullins has saddled 8 winners. He also rode his first winner of the race, Wither Or Which, while his son Patrick was in the saddle when both Cousin Vinny won in 2008 and Champagne Fever scored for the stable in 2012.
Four jockeys have ridden two winners a piece - Richard Dunwoody (Montelado (1992), Florida Pearl (1997) ), Charlie Swan (Mucklemeg (1994), Joe Cullen (2000)) plus current riders Paul Carberry (Rhythm Section (1993), Hairy Molly(2006)) and amateur Patrick Mullins (Cousin Vinny (2008), Champagne Fever (2012)).
The Champion Bumper is restricted to horses aged four to six and five-year-olds boast the best record with 13 wins. Six-year-olds have struck on four occasions, while Rhythm Section (1993), Dato Star (1995) and Cue Card (2010) are the only four-year-olds to be successful.
This has been a poor race for favourite backers, with only three winning in 20 runnings. Liberman is the shortest-priced winner, obliging at odds of 2/1 in 2003.
Monsignor is the longest-priced winner, scoring at 50/1 in 1999, while Hairy Molly (33/1 in 2006) and Cue Card (40/1 in 2010) have also landed long odds.