Irish raider Jeff Kidder caused the biggest shock at The Festival since 100/1 chance Norton’s Coin landed the 1990 Cheltenham Gold Cup, when he came home in front at 80/1 in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Despite a series of jumping errors he produced a strong finish to defeat 9-2 favourite Saint Sam.
Trainer Noel Meade, speaking from his base in County Meath, said: “I thought he had a chance. He worked the other day and I was very happy with what I saw. I said to Sean (Flanagan) you’ve got two good rides at Cheltenham for me this week and I think you will be thereabouts on this one.
“He is a stayer on the Flat and that’s what you need around Cheltenham. That is what he ended up doing, just outstaying them. I think the better ground helped as well.
“He won at Fairyhouse then we put in him a Grade Two at Leopardstown over Christmas which was a very good race. He had been running on the Flat and he was a winner on the Flat so he was use to the hustle and bustle.
“Colin Keane has been riding him on the Flat and he said he will win you a Cesarewitch one day and hopefully he is right. He will run on the Flat again but we will look at another race over hurdles and we might go to Punchestown with him.
“It was nice to get another winner at Cheltenham as it has not been the happiest hunting ground for me. It gets tougher and tougher to get winners at Cheltenham but it is the place we all want to have winners at and we think about it from one end of the year to the next.”
Sean Flanagan, celebrating a first Festival victory, added: “He’s come here in a good vein of form, and his form at home wouldn’t necessarily be the most solid. He won at Leopardstown last time out, and it was a good run but it was his first run after a bit of a layoff, and we nearly used it more for experience for him than anything else.
But when I got levelled up in the straight I knew he was going to stay quite well; he stayed really well the day he won his juvenile hurdle at Fairyhouse. He made one right mistake down the back, and it knocked me back into a pocket I wasn’t really happy to be in, but when I got out, he got to the line well. I’m delighted for the team and everyone at home. If it weren’t for Noel Meade, I wouldn’t be here, and you need the horses, the staff and everything – I’m delighted.
“To be fair to Noel, we were doing a bit of work the other day and had a chat afterwards, and he maintained the horse had a right chance, and generally when he says something like that you have to stand up and take note, and he was very right.
“I genuinely said when I passed the line, ‘I can’t believe it’. I was talking here yesterday with a few lads who have ridden winners here, and they said, it’s a feeling you can’t really explain, and even though there are no crowds here, I can only imagine what it would be like if there were.”
Willie Mullins, said of runner-up Saint Sam: “He ran a great race, he was just probably a little too far back early on and he had to work too hard to get through the field, but he coped with the big field scenario well and ran a great race.”
Fergal O’Brien said of third Elham Valley: “That was a great run. I’m over the moon. I said to the lads (owners) this morning that I hoped we’d finish in the first half dozen or so. They’ve been very patient but we thought he was in great form coming in and in better form than at Haydock last time, where we got dropped a pound which meant we nearly didn’t get in. I’m so proud of him. He’s a little warrior and today won’t be lost on him, that’s for sure.”
Paul Nicholls, trainer of fourth Houx Gris, said: “I thought he was going to win going to the last but the stride just wasn’t there. He’s run real tidy though. He’s still learning and there’ll be a lot more to come. He’ll stay hurdling next season but the other horse (Hell Red) will probably go chasing. He ran tidy too.”
1st – Jeff Kidder – Noel Meade IRE 4-10-08 Sean Flanagan 80/1
2nd – Saint Sam – Willie Mullins IRE 4-11-08 Paul Townend 9/2 Fav
3rd – Elham Valley – Fergal O’Brien 4-10-07 Paddy Brennan 66/1
4th – Houx Gris – Paul Nicholls 4-10-11 Harry Cobden 11/2
Distances: 2, ½, 1¼
Time: 3m 57.77s
Winner owned by Jeff Kidder
Breeder: Jennifer & Evelyn Cullen
Breeding: b g Hallowed Crown (AUS) – Alpine (Rail Link)
Noel Meade – 6th winner at The Festival™ supporting WellChild
Sean Flanagan – 1st winner at The Festival™ supporting WellChild
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