Paul Nicholls saddled a one-two in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle last year, and he matched that feat today, thanks to 13/2 chance Diego Du Charmil and 20/1 hope Romain De Senam.
The pair were separated by just a head, with Coo Star Sivola, from Nick Williams' stable, half a length back in third. It was a fine piece of training by Nicholls, for Diego Du Charmil was making his debut for the stable after three starts in France - the most recent at Auteuil in November - while the runner-up had not been in action since January.
Of the Sam Twiston-Davies-ridden winner, Nicholls said: "We've liked him since we got him, and we have some nice juveniles at home to judge him with. We were worried he hadn't run in England before, and it's not easy coming straight here from Auteuil - he was second that day but should have won because he was given a very ordinary ride. I knew that if he ran somewhere over here he would win and then we would be in trouble - a win at Taunton could have put him up 10lb and I felt 133 was a good mark today.
"The second [under Nick Scholfield] has been difficult to settle all winter, but he did so today. He hasn't run since January because of the winter ground, but he stayed on really strongly. He's a decent animal too, and we have some really nice four-year-olds, which are the future for us.
"I don't often have a bet, but I did on the winner - not a massive amount, but I got 16/1 three weeks ago. He's a big horse and I was worried he could run green, and Sam said the minute he hit the front and heard the crowd he did look up. He could have done with a lead for longer, but it's a great result for us.
"Depending on how our horses run in the JCB Triumph on Friday, these two could go to Aintree, and some of our horses will be going to France in the spring - it's been such a wet winter."
1) Diego Du Charmil (Mrs Johnny de la Hey) Paul Nicholls 4-11-01 Sam Twiston-Davies 13/2 2) Romain De Senam (Chris Giles & Dan Macdonald) Paul Nicholls 4-11-04 Nick Scholfield 20/1 3) Coo Star Sivola (Babbit Racing) Nick Williams 4-10-09 Lizzie Kelly (5) 16/1 4) Missy Tata (Simon Munir/Issac Souede) Gordon Elliott IRE 4-11-00 Bryan Cooper 10/1
6/1 Fav Jaleo
Distances: hd, ½, 3 ¼ BetBright Cup latest - GREAT BRITAIN - 8; IRELAND - 5
Twiston-Davies gains first 2016 Cheltenham Festival winner
Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies registered his first success of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival courtesy of the well-backed 13/2 shot Diego Du Charmil, trained by Paul Nicholls in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Having travelled nicely throughout, Twiston-Davies took disputed the lead rounding the home turn on the four-year-old who was then left out in front following the separate final-flight falls of Campeador and Voix Du Reve. Despite looking green up the hill, the son of Ballingarry responded to Twiston-Davies' urgings to repel the late challenge of stable-mate Romain De Senam, who stayed on stoutly to finish a head second.
Nicholls' stable jockey said: "It was a massive relief to win and his homework has been very good. The way the race worked out it was perfect. Obviously, I wanted to go forward and I was dead green in front which meant I only just lasted home. It was definitely greeness which was evident at the end.
"He has only had three runs in his life and had never been in front. It is a big open place, with a lot of people cheering and shouting so it is great for the horse to have kept going all the way to the line and great for the boss [Paul Nicholls] to have the one-two.
"It sometimes is a nightmare to find your way round on a well-fancied runner in the Fred Winter but thankfully, he jumped well and hopefully he will be a good horse for the future. He was bit a like Aux Ptits Soins [2015 Coral Cup winner], where because you are travelling so well, things do happen much easier for you than they would otherwise, so it was one of those. I could switch him out down the hill just to get a view of the third and second-last and then from the bend to the line, it was about keeping him in a straight line and going as fast as possible."
Twiston-Davies also highlighted the need to register a winner at The Festival. He remarked: "It is important to get on the board here and when you are riding for the champion trainer you are expected to have winners and when you don't, you know about it. That will leave us off the cold list for a bit and keep everyone happy at home."
The jockey also heaped praise on his father Nigel Twiston-Davies who trained Blaklion to win the Grade One RSA Chase earlier in the day. He added: "I can't believe how he [Nigel Twiston-Davies] does it. He is a massive help. If you had told me before that Blaklion would have won the RSA Chase, I would not have believed you but it is a great training performance by Dad and we have Ballyandy [Weatherbys Champion Bumper] to come."
SCHOLFIELD: 'GREAT FOR THE TEAM TO BE FIRST AND SECOND'
Nick Scholfield rode the Paul Nicholls-trained Romain De Senam, a 20/1 chance, to be second in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle, just beaten a head in a thrilling finish by his stable-mate Diego Du Charmil.
Scholfield said: "It's great for the team to be first and second. We nearly got there; he probably wants a bit further, but it was a good run from him. I knew I hadn't got there - I pulled up and said 'well done' to Sam [Twiston-Davies, who rode Diego Du Charmil] straightaway.
Half a length back in third was 16/1 hope Coo Star Sivola, trained by Nick Williams and ridden his step-daughter Lizzie Kelly.
Kelly said: "I had a great ride, a great spin. They told me to be really positive, and I was. He was absolutely brilliant and was coming back at them. We'll probably come back here next year over a further trip, and Bob's your uncle."
The Fred Winter is a Handicap Hurdle run on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival and restricted to 4 year old horses. The race is run over two miles and was introduced to the meeting in 2005.
The lowest rated horse to gain entry in 2014 had an official rating of 127. The official rating of 4 of the last 5 winners was 127 or less. Trainers need to balance the need to protect favourable rating marks with the danger of missing the cut. This has made the Fred Winter a tricky puzzle to solve since its introduction to the meeting. Five of the ten winners have been priced at 20-1 or more with the last 3 returned at 40-1, 25-1 and 33-1 respectively.
Fred Winter Novices Hurdle Stats
Paul Nicholls has targeted this is recent seasons providing the 1-2 in 2015
Nicholls also won with Sanctuaire in 2010 and saddling the runner up in 2013 and 2014
The Pipe runners should also be respected. 1 winner and 4 places from 12 runners
Gordon Elliott, Gary Moore and Alan King trained runners have also performed well
Willie Mullins 11 runners have all finished unplaced
Fillies have won 3 of the last 7 renewals
Fillies have won 4/11 of all renewals from an overall representation of about 10%
10 /11 winners were rated between 124 and 133
7/11 winners ran on the flat
The top rated flat horse has won the race on 3 occasions and been runner up once
Irish Bred horses have won 5 renewals and filled 6 places from 91 runners.
French Breds finished 1-2-3 last year
9/11 winners had a prep race less than 32 days beforehand
6/11 winners won last time out
9/11 were making their handicap debut
Horses getting into the race by carrying a penalty have won on 2 occasions (50% strike rate)
Fred Winter Novices Hurdle Winners 2006-2015
We have been tracking trainer quotes, market moves and general news on the Fred Winter Hurdle Thread on our Cheltenham Festival forum.