Jockey Robert Thornton has tipped the exciting Pantxoa to improve again following his hard-earned victory on the first day of the April Meeting at Cheltenham today.
He was impressed by the way the seven-year-old returned from a winter break to get the better of Saint Roque by a short-head after carrying more weight than all his rivals.
The Guiting Power-based rider believes there could be better to come from Pantxoa (11-4), who is expected to be aimed at good races through the summer by trainer Alan King.
“That was a good performance and he’ll improve for the run,” said Thornton. “He’s just started jumping to his right at home and he’s done it on the track today, so maybe he’d be better going right-handed, but he battled on really well.”
Nick Slatter celebrated a “special” win on his home course aboard Franciscan (14-1) in the Endsleigh Insurance Pony Racing Authority Graduates’ Handicap Hurdle.
Originally from Cheltenham, Slatter is now based with Franciscan’s trainer Donald McCain in Cheshire, but he was delighted to be back in his home county.
“It’s always very special to ride winners at Cheltenham,” said Slatter, who has now ridden two at the course. “I knew I plenty of horse under me coming down the hill and he was pricking his ears at the last and done it nicely.”
Robbie Power hailed the tenacity of Rebecca’s Choice after he narrowly beat Sam Twiston-Davies in another close finish to the Rundle and Co Handicap Chase.
Twiston-Davies and his mount Major Malarkey looked favourites to win after heading Rebecca’s Choice narrowly at the last fence, but Rebecca’s Choice (8-1) regained the lead to win by a neck.
Power said the way the race panned out meant Rebecca’s Choice, who will be aimed at top staying chases by trainer Dai Burchell, had gone to the front earlier than he would have preferred turning into the home straight.
“I knew he’d battle all the way to the line, and thank God he said,” said Power. “I could see Major Malarkey coming down the last fence, but my lad kept pulling out just enough.
Tom O’Brien had been optimistic about his chances on Brother Brian in the Longcroft Building Services Handicap Hurdle with the ground drying out, and he was proved right as the Hughie Morrison-trained 11-2 shot outpaced his rivals to win by three and three-quarter lengths.
Trainer Philip Hobbs had feared Garde Le Victoire (13-8 favourite) had a fight on his hands to win the Citipost Novices’ Hurdle, but the five-year-old dug deep for Richard Johnson to land the spoils by one-and-a-half lengths.
“I thought we were in a bit of trouble coming around the bend, but he’s put the race to bed well in the end and done it quite nicely, though maybe one or two behind him disappointed,” said Hobbs.
“He’ll be among our novice hurdlers who will be going chasing next season, but he might start the season off in handicap hurdles.”
Liam Heard admitted he was surprised to win the Messier-Bugatt-Dowty Novices’ Handicap Hurdle aboard 33-1 outsider Tinker Time after he finished strongly to score by a length and a quarter for trainer Bob Buckler.
The jockey said the testing nature of the track had helped lead to a reversal in fortunes for Tinker Time, who was gaining the first win of his nine-race career, in front of yesterday’s crowd of 10,030.
“He’ll be a better chaser than a hurdler because of the way he jumps, and he was flat-out all the way because he kept losing ground at the hurdles,” said Heard.