Three years in a row, those familiar green and gold colours of JP McManus, were first across the Champion Hurdle line, but on Tuesday, it was Espoir D’Allen, at 16-1, recording a success as easy as it was unexpected.
Espoir D’Allen was up against runners from three bigger stables of Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson, who had claimed a majority of prizes at previous festivals.
Buveur D’Air, Henderson’s runner, was out at the third flight, where he fell and brought down Sharjah. Apple’s Jade 7-4, faded prematurely.
Laurina (Ruby Walsh), running towards the head of the field with Melon, could feel Espoir D’Allen, moving smoothly into contention for his jockey Mark Walsh.
The pair then passed Laurina and Melon, to steadily draw clear with 15 lengths credit. Silver Streak, 80-1, slotted into third place.
For Espoir D'Allen, at 5, to do that in what was one of the best recent Champion Hurdles, means he is a right light horse.
For Gavain Cromwell, who started out in racing as a farrier, and still shoes horses in County Meath as well as training a string of around 50, it was a first bite at Cheltenham. He definitely found it difficult to absorb this major league title.
A very troubling spectacle occurred during the final event, with twice as many fallers as finishers, ending with the euthanisation of Ballyward (Patrick Mullins 9-4).
In the review of safety at Cheltenham, carried out by the BHA, after seven equine deaths in 2018, this race was identified as presenting “the highest risk of incident”.
But the review panel evidently struggled to see obvious scope for a change, noting that shortening the race would be likely to produce a faster pace, which has its own dangers.
After the National Hunt Chase, three sets of screens were erected at different points on the course, as vets scrambled to save lives of fallen horses, providing a shocking scene for spectators leaving the site.
Eventually, the screens at the second-last were taken down to reveal that Atlanta Ablaze and Mulcahys Hill, had struggled to their feet. Moments later, Just Your Type emerged from behind screens at the final fence to prove that he had just been winded, and all three horses were able to walk away, homeward bound.
Finian Maguire was the only jockey taken to hospital, following his fall on Whisperinthebreeze.
Stewards were kept busy with the fallout for two hours, suspending three riders for continuing in the race when their horses were visibly fatigued.
Those punished included Robert James, who received a 12-day suspension for this offence, plus an additional week for misuse of the whip.
Noel McParlan, was given eight days, and, Declan Lavery ten, both for proceeding, when the stewards felt they should not have done.
The National Hunt Chase is a historic race which has become an oddity, being a marathon contest restricted to novice chasers and amateurs. The combination of factors that might be calculated to produce spills and thrills, could mean its existence is under threat.
Supreme Novice's Hurdle - Klassical Dream (Ruby Walsh 6-1)
Arkle Chase - Duc de Genievres (P. Townend 5-1)
Ultima Handicap Chase - Beware The Bear (J. McGrath 10-1)
Champion Hurdle - Espoir D'Allen (Mark Walsh 16-1)
Mare's Hurdle - Roksana (H. Skelton 10-1)
National Hunt Chase - A Plus Tard (Rachael Blackmore)
Novice Handicap Chase - Le Breuil (JJ Codd 14-1)