Ballyalton's battling victory in the final race of the day was a first at The Festival for trainer Ian Williams.
Ballyalton, owned by golfer Lee Westwood's father John, was second to Faugheen in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at the 2014 Festival, but has struggled since. He carried joint top weight and beat Bouvreuil by half a length.
An emotional Williams, who trains at Alvechurch in Worcestershire, said: "That wasn't bad for a poor jumper, was it?! He's so good this horse, so good!
"For a horse that has a reputation for not being a great jumper, Brian [Hughes] has given him a great ride. He's ridden him with a lot of confidence; he threw him at one or two fences and the horse came for him.
"He didn't deserve to be here off a mark of 140, which gave me a lot of confidence, but he did have to jump, and jump he did.
"I thought we were beaten - I've been second here so many times and I was gutted to see one head him on the run-in. But he's fought back bravely."
When congratulated by Francois Doumen, to whom Williams was assistant trainer, he said: "It's not a Gold Cup yet but it's my Gold Cup!"
"Ballyalton made a terrible mistake at Ascot [when he fell on his last run] - it was a brave shout to come here and it was a brave ride from the jockey, and it's paid off really well.
"The beginning of this season was a disaster for him, and it was a bit of a shock to find he was still qualified to run in a 0-140 at the beginning of the Festival. It's great to have him here and I couldn't ask for a better result.
"He'll without doubt have another run this year. He loves better ground and he's been waiting for this time of year."
Ballyalton still holds an engagement in Friday's Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle.
HUGHES STEPS IN AS BALLYALTON LANDS CLOSE WIN FROM BEUVREUIL
Ballyalton's chasing career blossomed in one race when he landed today's closing event on day one of The Cheltenham Festival, the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.
"The Ian Williams-trained nine-year-old, joint top-weight for the race, chased home mighty Faugheen in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle at this meeting two years ago, but in four chase outings this season his form line gained an unseat, plus a heavy fall on his latest start at Ascot. Will Kennedy (twice), Richard Johnson and Aidan Coleman had all failed to get the best from the horse, but Brian Hughes made no mistake today, achieving his second Festival victory following a win two years ago in the Fred Winter Hurdle on Hawk High.
"Hughes said: "I probably didn't appreciate the last one, but I'm older now and I'll appreciate this one today.
"I spoke to Aidan, Dickie and Will about the horse, and Aidan said the horse jumped the first five or six fences really well until his fall [at Ascot]. He obviously learned from it, and when you look back at his form, especially against Faugheen, he had to have a chance today off a mark of 140.
"Ian said, 'pop him out to get a good position and go as easy as you can without putting a gun to his head'. It's probably not surprising that a horse of his ability travelled as well as he did. He had a look at the last when Sam [Twiston-Davies on runner-up Bouvreuil] came alongside but I always felt I could get back past him. Once in front he pricked his ears a little bit. He had to stick his neck out and did it well."
1) Ballyalton (John Westwood) Ian Williams 9-11-10 Brian Hughes 12/1 2) Bouveril (Chris Giles & Potensis Bloodstock Ltd) 5-11-08 Sam Twiston-Davies 14/1 3) Double Shuffle (Crossed Fingers Partnership) 6-11-08 Paddy Brennan 8/1 4) Bridgets Pet (Barry Connell) Alan Fleming IRE 9-11-05 Shane Shortall (5) 33/1
3/1 Fav Aloomomo
Distances: ½, 4 ½, 2 ½
1st win at The Festival for trainer Ian Williams 2nd win at The Festival for jockey Brian Hughes
The Centenary Novices Handicap Chase was introduced to the Cheltenham Festival in 2005 and is a handicap for novice chasers run over a distance of about 2 miles and 4½ furlongs.
Conditions were changed for the 2011 race and it is now restricted to horses with a handicap rating between 0 and 140 at the time of entry. In practice the handicap has been compressed with a minimum rating of 131 needed to make the cut in 2014. The cut off for 2015 was at a rating of 134 and this year it could be as high as 137.
Novices Handicap Chase 2006-2015 Stats
Winner's Market Position: 2 1 0 3 2 5 4 1 0 3 7
Fate of the Favourite: P 1 7 F 0 7 5 1 5 0 2
4 of last 6 winners won last time out
8/10 winners finished in the first 2 last time out
7 year olds have won 6 of the 10 renewals
6/10 won by horses running in first handicap chase
Tom Taaffe has the best record of Irish trainers with a win and a third
Nicky Henderson trained winner in 2013 and the the runner up 3 times
JP McManus owned horses have finished second on 3 occasions ( and third in 2014)
Only one horse getting in under a penalty has placed - they finished 670502P6PP
Novices Handicap Chase Winners 2006-2015
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