The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Punjabi wins Champion Hurdle horse race at Cheltenham
CHELTENHAM, England - Punjabi held off stablemate and favourite Binocular to win the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Ridden by Barry Geraghty and trained by Nicky Henderson, the 22-1 shot hit the front at the last hurdle and withstood the challenge of the fast finishing 6-4 favourite Binocular, who was nipped at the wire for second by Celestial Halo in the 2.1-mile race.
"(Punjabi) ran on really well, he was all out. It was a great performance," Geraghty said.
Henderson, who trains Punjabi and Binocular, was not surprised at the result.
"Punjabi has always been a very talented horse and Barry gets on very well with him," he said. "Both of mine have run tremendous races. It's very special to see them both there with Celestial Halo in between them."
Tony McCoy, who won the previous race and is the only jump jockey to ride more than 3,000 winners, said the ground was softer than expected and hindered Binocular.
"He ran a great race and if the ground had been a bit better, it would have helped him," McCoy said. "He did stay on after the last (hurdle)."
The large field of 23 included the winners of the previous five Champion Hurdles - Hardy Eustace (2004-05), Brave Inca (2006), Sublimity (2007) and Katchit (2008).
Irish-trained horses won the first two races of the four-day meet to thrill the thousands of race fans who fly over to the picturesque English course every year.
Go Native, a 12-1 shot ridden by Paul Carberry, won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, while Forpadydeplasterer, ridden by Geraghty, held off Kalahari King in the final few strides to capture the Arkle Challenge Trophy.
On 5-1 favourite Wichita Lineman, McCoy recovered from a blunder early in the William Hill Trophy to make up four lengths in the race to the line and beat Maljimar by a neck.
Celebrating his 58th birthday, Wichita Lineman's owner, J.P. McManus, followed that up with the first three finishers in the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase, won by Garde Champetre and ridden by Nina Carberry.
"That was nice," McManus said. "I didn't know which one to fancy but thankfully for me the right one won as I had a few (pounds) each way. But the problem is I didn't have enough on."
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