Espoir D'Allen springs surprise in Champion Hurdle


London (AFP)

Espoir D'Allen gave owner JP McManus rich compensation in the Champion Hurdle after his two-time winner Buveur d'Air fell in the feature race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.

For McManus it was his eighth win in the race but for both jockey Mark Walsh -- who gave the 16/1 shot a sublime ride -- and trainer Gavin Cromwell it was a maiden victory.

Poignantly the riderless Buveur d'Air -- who was bidding to become only the sixth horse to win three Champion Hurdles -- accompanied the winner past the post.

"The Champion Hurdle has been very kind to us," said McManus, who was welcoming back his 55th Festival winner since landing his first in 1982 with Mister Donovan.

"I got involved first because I liked gambling... now it is just a great excuse to get all the family together."

For Cromwell it is an astonishing success after taking up training only a couple of years ago, mixing it with being a farrier, largely for Irish training powerhouse Gordon Elliott.

"It is just brilliant, I am lost for words," said Cromwell, who has built up a stable of 50 horses.

Walsh, who had his first Festival winner on a chance ride last year, said he had expected a place at best.

"Never did I think we would win," he said. "I was really riding him for a top three finish to be honest.

"For a five-year-old to perform like that in one of the best Champion Hurdle fields in recent memory is unbelievable."

Elliott had the favourite in the race, Apple's Jade, but the mare was beaten a long way out, not enjoying having her normal front-running tactics challenged by Melon.

Indeed it was Melon who filled the runners-up spot for the second successive year at 20/1 while wide outsider Silver Streak, trained in Wales by Evan Williams was third.

Laurina, the third of the market fancies and a mare like Apple's Jade, was in contention approaching the final hurdle but then faded into fourth.

"She was never really going, she gave a false impression she was but she was not herself," said jockey Ruby Walsh.

"He ran his heart out, what a brave lad," said Silver Streak's jockey Adam Wedge.