Cheltenham Festival News

Faivoir strikes to hand Skelton more County Hurdle success

Fri 17 Mar 2023

Trainer Dan Skelton secured a remarkable fourth success in the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle inside the last eight years as 33-1 shot Faivoir downed Pied Piper in a thrilling finish to the big-runner handicap at Cheltenham.

Both horses came from out of the pack after Highway One O Two had kicked clear turning for home and there were plenty in with chances approaching the last.

However, Bridget Andrews’ mount, who had been pulled up on quicker ground in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on his previous start, kept responding in these easier conditions and got the verdict in a head-bobber.

Pied Piper, who had finished third in the Triumph Hurdle last year, was making his handicap debut mark off a mark of 154 and only just failed to reel in the winner, having nodded slightly on landing at the last.

Bridget Andrews speaks to Lydia Hislop after winning the County for the second time

The well-supported Filey Bay held every chance but could only finish third, while Sharjah stuck on for fourth, followed by Ballyadam.

Skelton, who won this race previously with Superb Story (2016), Mohaayed (2018) and Ch’tibello (2019), also saddled the favourite, but Pembroke, who had finished runner-up on Trials day in January, was well held after making a couple of minor jumping errors.

Bridget Andrews said: “Dan’s horses generally go for a bit of room and try to get a clear run round, but I actually had a really rough run round. But every time I thought I could switch out, I kind of felt like he was enjoying it - he’s that kind of character; stay in, stay brave, although I wasn’t feeling that brave at the time.

"He jumped great, and downhill I could just sit for a minute. Turning in it all opened up and I knew he would see it out well, although he can be a bit of a character. Dan would say don’t get there too soon, and I probably did get there too soon, but I was getting plenty of weight, so he could see it through.

“I know the horse is a monkey but I always felt like he was just keeping his nose in front and giving me everything. He’d never be a horse who would go on and go clear, but I always felt like I was just holding. He’s probably not the most natural jumper, but he keeps his head up and is very, very good with his feet. Even when he doesn’t see a lot he can kind of get his way out of trouble. He gave me his all today.

“Dan seems to be mastering them [big handicaps at Cheltenham]. I always felt so lucky that I had one winner here; there are far, far superior jockeys who have had no winners here, so to get a second one is pretty special.”

"Great run" - Patrick Mullins raises the possibility of the Aintree Hurdle for Sharjah next

Skelton said: “I was watching Pembroke the whole way around and for a novice in a field like that when he made the mistake two out that was it. He will have his day as he is a very good horse. Trusting a novice in a big field like this is hard but all power to Bridget.

“Once he went down to the last like that I just felt it was possible. It is pretty good. That was absolutely brilliant Bridget. I was watching Pembroke the whole way round and old Favoir nips in up the straight and pulls out one of them.

“It was a great bit of riding from Bridget. She doesn’t get many dances on the big stage because obviously Harry takes precedence but as you can see she is more than capable and I’m very proud of her. I said on television before he went out there we thought he would win one of those big handicaps this season and he went to Newbury the other day and he said no way not on that ground. She has won a Grade Two on him and she has done plenty on him.

"He is just a good horse on his day and understands the big fields and that is the one thing I had in the back of my mind about Pembroke, but he is a very good horse and I’ve not lost faith in him.”

Ian Lawrence, husband of owner Suzanne Lawrence, told ITV Racing: “My stomach is killing me from the shouting! She is a brilliant rider, absolutely brilliant. We knew he was well, you can see he is well. He was in the Betfair, jarred up, didn’t run, so we aimed him for this one – or rather Dan did. Brilliant job.

Gordon Elliott, trainer of the runner-up Pied Piper (12-1), said: “He ran well and I’d say a nod at the last cost him but he ran his heart out and we’ve no excuses – just a little nod at the last. We can mix him between jumping and the flat so he’s plenty of options moving forward and we’re very happy with him.”

Frank Berry, racing manager to J P McManus, owner of third placed Filey Bay, said: "We are pleased with the performance as he jumped well. If he remains in good form there is no reason why he will not go to Punchestown next mont

Willie Mullins, trainer of fourth placed Sharjah, said: "He ran a cracker with his big weight and ground that may have been a bit to tacky for him. If he comes out of this race in good form I think he will have a crack at the Aintree Hurdle which will be his first attempt at two-and-a-half miles and that step up in distance for the first time might well suit him these days."

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