Davy Russell showed little sign of his 40 years in prevailing on Samcro in a thrilling finish to the Novices Chase on the third day of Cheltenham FestivalDavy Russell showed little sign of his 40 years in prevailing on Samcro in a thrilling finish to the Novices Chase on the third day of Cheltenham Festival (AFP Photo/GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT)
London (AFP) - Rebecca Curtis's 14-week-old baby daughter Reeva had a memorable first visit to the Cheltenham Festival as her mother trained Lisnagar Oscar to a shock success in the Stayers Hurdle on Thursday.
The Welsh runner came in at 50/1 -- joining A Kinsman in 1983 as the longest priced winner in the race's history -- to give jockey Adam Wedge his first winner at the meeting.
Defending champion and odds-on favourite Paisley Park failed to sparkle and finished out of the money.
Curtis was ecstatic to be back in the limelight -- after a rocky patch -- and revealed she had returned to work as soon as she could following the birth of Reeva.
"I had a cesarean and had a couple of weeks to recover, then I was straight back on it, as I hate sitting home doing nothing," she said.
"It is absolutely amazing at a time when I need it, as I'm just trying to rebuild the yard.
"We've had four winners here before, but it has been five years, so it is just great to have another one."
Curtis had put a stop to dominance by Irish trainers who had won the first three races on the card -- Gordon Elliott won two of them and added the last for good measure to move on to six for the week.
Elliott had struck in the opening Novices' Chase with Samcro prevailing in the most thrilling of duels with Melon.
Melon edged in front just before the line but Davy Russell showing little sign of his 40 years forced Samcro's nose back in front on the line to deny Patrick Mullins by a nose.
Melon's stablemate, the Irish great Faugheen, had gamely kept in the picture after making a mistake three fences from the finish.
However, the veteran -- at 12 some four years older than the first two -- had nothing left in the tank and finished third.
Such was the disappointment of the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner's jockey Paul Townend that his roar of disappointment carried to the stands.
The Irish champion's despair contrasted to Russell's joy.
"Patrick's (Mullins) horse battled gamely, he headed me but my horse is as brave as a lion and he refused to be beat," said Russell.
Russell had to give second best to another 40-year-old in the next as fellow Irishman Barry Geraghty drove home Elliott's Sire Du Berlais for his second successive win in the three mile Handicap Hurdle.
Geraghty's fourth win of the meeting gave owner JP McManus his sixth, taking the former Irish bookmaker onto 65 career wins.
"He found loads after the last but it was like a game of poker between me and Davy throughout the race sitting alongside each other seeing who would play their hand first," said Geraghty.
- 'This one's for you' -
Elliott's great rival Willie Mullins had had a miserable first two days -- only allayed by a winner in the last race on Wednesday.
However, the genial Irishman fought back on Thursday with a double -- Min in the Ryanair Chase and Concertista in the Mares Novices Hurdle -- that took him to 68 career Festival wins -- one off Nicky Henderson.
Min at last sealed a deserved Cheltenham success, after two runners-up finishes, giving Townend a much needed Grade 1 success.
Owner Andrew Brooks had to be content with second behind Min with Saint Calvados.
However, he experienced the thrill of a Festival winner a few hours later as Simply The Betts triumphed under Gavin Sheehan in the Handicap Chase.
Sheehan punched the air in delight after a day that had seen him finish second and fourth in the two Grade Ones and give trainer Harry Whittington his first Festival winner.
"He jumped unbelievably and pulled it out of the bag," said Sheehan.
"I know my grandfather (who inspired him to take up riding) was looking down on me there."
For Brooks it was also an emotional moment.
"The horse is named after a friend of ours who died of cancer three years ago," he said.
"George I know you can't be here today but this is for you."