Espoir D’Allen wins Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival after two-time winner Buveur D’Air falls
- Espoir D’Allen won a dramatic Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival
- Gavin Cromwell’s five-year-old, ridden by Mark Walsh, won by some 15 lengths
- It gave victory to owner JP McManus despite Buveur D’Air falling
- Buveur D’Air had been aiming to win the great race for the third straight year
- Melon finished second and Silver Streak third in the Cheltenham showpiece
Blacksmith-turned-trainer Gavin Cromwell nailed the biggest win of his career as 16-1 shot Espoir D’Allen romped to a record 15-length win in the Champion Hurdle.
It was a first success in the race for jockey Mark Walsh and a remarkable eighth for owner JP McManus — but not with the horse he had expected.
That had been Nicky Henderson-trained dual champion Buveur D’Air, who was trying to become only the sixth three-time winner of the race.
Espoir D’Allen jockey Mark Walsh is presented with the Champion Hurdle trophy by Liz Hurley
Walsh gets a kiss from Hurley before she presents the Champion Hurdle trophy
Espoir D’Allen won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday afternoon
Trainer Gavin Cromwell shows off the trophy after his horse romped to victory at Cheltenham
Buveur D’Air did cross the line in front but without jockey Barry Geraghty, who hit the deck when his mount crashed out at the third flight, bringing down Sharjah.
With favourite Apple’s Jade fading after the third last and fellow mare Laurina beginning to feel the heat by the home turn, it looked like developing into a duel between Espoir D’Allen and 20-1 shot Melon, with 80-1 chance Silver Streak staying on in third.
However, as Melon faded to claim second place for the second year running, Espoir Allen streaked clear to suggest that his victory should not be dismissed as a fluke.
Cromwell, saddling his first Champion Hurdle runner, is farrier to top Irish trainer Gordon Elliott, though 50 horses of his own in his stable in County Meath mean he spends less time than he did shoeing Elliott’s horses.
Espoir D’Allen shocked Cheltenham with a stunning victory in the Champion Hurdle
Ironically, he had fitted the racing shoes to Apple’s Jade but left one of his staff to fit the footwear to five-year-old Espoir D’Allen.
An emotional Cromwell said: ‘It’s unbelievable. I shod Apple’s Jade last week and she’s an absolutely amazing mare. I genuinely thought she would win. I thought she was the one — and if we could get a place this year, we could maybe do it in the future.
‘It was a complete shock when he went clear. I lost my mother in November and she loved her racing. It would have been brilliant if she was here.’
Cromwell’s five-year-old claimed victory by a commanding 15 lengths in the showpiece
Espoir D’Allen is a rare five-year-old to win the Champion Hurdle. He is the first since Katchit in 2008. The outstanding See You Then (2005) and Night Nurse (1976) were others and if Espoir D’Allen can emulate them he has an illustrious career ahead of him. Betway make him 6-1 to win the 2020 Champion Hurdle.
McManus said: ‘Espoir D’Allen is only five and with a bit of luck has a good future. When you win the Champion Hurdle you have to be happy. What happened to Buveur D’Air was his own making.’
Buveur D’Air’s exit was a bitter pill for Henderson, who earlier landed the Ultima Handicap Chase with Jerry McGrath- ridden Beware The Bear.
Henderson, whose two other runners, Verdana Blue and Brain Power, were fifth and pulled up respectively, said: ‘We have to take these things on the chin. When you are jumping like he does — I have always said he is only leaving an inch of margin — you are dangerously low. The margin of error is so small.’
Walsh celebrates on Espoir D’Allen after claiming victory in the Champion Hurdle