Cheltenham round-up: Rachael Blackmore has sweet start to festival as Honeysuckle blossoms in Mares' Hurdle
Much of the build-up to Cheltenham had centred around the battle to be leading jockey of the festival, with favourite Paul Townend knowing he would be pushed all the way by Rachael Blackmore.
And it was first blood to Blackmore as she steered Honeysuckle to victory in the Mares' Hurdle, leaving Townend to contemplate just what had gone wrong on strong favourite Benie Des Dieux, sent off at odds of 4-6, and eventually running out of time as the two went head to head towards the line.
Blackmore was on cloud nine after the win. “I got some kick out of that. To be in the position I’m in, with the rides I have, is every jockey’s dream. I’m going to try to make the most of it,” she said.
Earlier, in the Champion Hurdle Challenge, favourite Epatante did what everyone expected and gave owner JP McManus his best birthday present as Barry Geraghty steered the 2-1 favourite home.
Concerns around coronavirus are thought to have contributed to an opening-day crowd of 60,664, significantly down on recent years.
But Cheltenham chief Ian Renton was happy in the circumstances: "We are very happy with the crowd considering the uncertainty of the last fortnight," he said.