The International at Cheltenham Racecourse got underway on Friday when the highlights were a 1-2 for French trainer David Cottin in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase and back-to-back successes for Cheltenham regular Cogry in the G3 BetVictor Handicap Chase.
The going for the seven-race programme was Good to Soft, Soft in places (changing to Soft, Good to Soft in places after race two) on the Chase and Hurdle course, with the cross country course Good to Soft, Soft in places.
Below can be found a race-by-race account of all today's action.
The crowd today came to 12,355 compared to 12,333 in 2018.
The International continues tomorrow, Saturday, 14 December when the highlights are the £140,000 G2 Unibet International Hurdle and the £130,000 G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
12.10pm British Stallion Studs EBF 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle 2m 179y £15,000 8 ran
The famous silks of J P McManus were carried to victory in the opening British Stallion Studs EBF 'National Hunt' Novices' by 5/6 favourite Chantry House (Nicky Henderson/Barry Geraghty).
The five-year-old Yeats gelding, a winning point-to-pointer in Ireland, was sold for £295,000 a year ago at the Tattersalls Cheltenham December Sale and went on to land a bumper at Warwick in March.
Making his hurdling debut today, Chantry House was always in a prominent position and took the lead shortly after the final flight. He went on to record an ultimately comfortable length and three-quarters victory over long-time leader Stolen Silver (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies), with his stable companion Pipesmoker (Nico de Boinville) another half-length away in third.
Nicky Henderson said: "It wasn't a very satisfactory race in a funny way in that they haven't gone much of a gallop and then it was a bit of a dash. Both Chantry House and Pipesmoker finished their races well, which is the main thing. It was their first time and they will both come on a lot for it.
"Barry said that Chantry House will learn a lot from today. He was a bit gassy early on and they didn't go very quick - they all got muddled up and sprinted but he got there.
"You wouldn't want to go upstairs with Chantry House at the moment. I would like another bit of experience and practice, a bit more learning, and then we will see if he is going to have any lofty things to do this year.
"His future is bright but another year will help him a lot - he will know an awful lot more next time too. He has pace and plenty of gears, so I will stick to two miles with him for the time being.
"Pipesmoker finished his race very well and probably wants a bit further. I wouldn't be surprised to see him go up to two and a half miles next time."
Barry Geraghty added: "It was a nice performance from Chantry House. He jumped well but was still a big green. He travelled nicely, picked up well and will have learned from that - to come to Cheltenham for a novice hurdle is a big step for any horse.
"We went steady and there was a lack of pace but it was fine. He picked up well and it was a likeable performance. You could say that he will be a three-mile chaser in time but you don't need to go there yet and he is versatile.
"He will have learned a lot from that and some horses come to hand quicker than others. A horse like him will tell his own tale as they go through the season but you couldn't have been any happier as a starting point.
"The ground is just on the dead, slow side of good to soft. It's perfect winter jumping ground."
Chantry House, picture Cheltenham Racecourse
12.45pm International Decorative Surfaces Novices' Chase 3m 1f 56y £25,000 5 ran
A superb round of jumping from Pym saw the 2/1 favourite gain a decisive success in the International Decorative Surfaces Novices' Chase, handing trainer Nicky Henderson a quickfire 4.5/1 double.
Partnered by Nico de Boinville, the six-year-old made all the running and drew away after the second last to come home eight lengths clear of Imperial Aura (Kim Bailey/David Bass). Pym carries the colours of Patricia Pugh, owner of the outstanding Altior.
The 11/4 second favourite Stoney Mountain (Henry Daly/Richard Johnson) was a close third when unseating his rider four out while field was earlier reduced to four when Rockpoint (Colin Tizzard/Robbie Power) refused to race.
Nico de Boinville said: "We might have got a bit tight to a couple of fences but, on this ground, you can take your time and hunt away. I thought that when Imperial Aura came upsides, it was going to be the true test - whether we folded or got intimidated - but Pym's jumping has kept him in the game. In actual fact, it made him a bit slicker and more fluent.
"I think has just grown up, more mentally than physically. He had it all there physically but it was just a case of hardening up, I suppose. We decided to come here for his first run and then the weather went against us. I was quite happy that we diverted him to Huntingdon and gave him a nice time around there. He turned up at Ascot last time and has turned up again today.
"I think he is better being positively ridden. I remember in his first novice hurdle at Chepstow, he liked being ridden that way and he enjoys it.
"I don't know if he is good enough for the RSA Chase and I am sure that there are a few more to come out of the woodwork before I can definitively say that. Right now, he is a work in progress and is answering everything that we ask of him."
Pym, picture Cheltenham Racecourse
1.20pm Catesby Handicap Hurdle (0-140) 2m 179y £16,400 13 ran
Repetitio (Nigel Hawke/David Noonan) was the only three-year-old in the Catesby Handicap Hurdle but the 8/1 chance but up a determined display to take the honours in the competitive 13-runner contest.
Having jumped the final flight in fourth place, Repetitio came with a great run to take the lead in the last half-furlong and went on to score by a neck from Oakley (Philip Hobbs/Micheal Nolan) with 5/1 joint-favourite Never Adapt another length and a half away in third.
Nigel Hawke said: "We got the horse in the summer. He had four runs in Ireland for Jim Bolger and we quietly clipped through the summer - he won well at Newton Abbot at the back end of the summer and has improved from there. The run at Market Rasen was a bit disappointing but he is going the right way, loves his racing and jumps.
"He is bred to race as a two and three-year-old. He is big enough and strong enough for the job - he's not a big backward three-year-old but is bred to be racing now. He has got a stone off anything today and the 3lb allowance has got to be a great advantage. We won with a little mare called Guardia Top and Sandown the other day and it's exactly the same situation. I don't want to boast too much because everyone will be doing it but, if you have the right for the job, it has to be the way forward.
"To me, he is a Fred Winter horse through and through. That's the plan - he had to come here today and either win or run very well to vindicate that and obviously we have to look at that race now. What we do beforehand, let the horse tell us."
1.55pm CF Roberts Electrical & Mechanical Services Mares' Handicap Chase (0-125) 2m 4f 127y £16,400 5 ran
First-season trainer DJ Jeffreys, who is based at Stow-On-The-Wold, saddled his first winner at the Home of Jump Racing when Zara Hope came home the comfortable winner of the CF Roberts Electrical & Mechanical Services Mares' Handicap Chase.
Partnered by Kielan Woods, the eight-year-old and 5/2 favourite led throughout and at the finish had 18 lengths to spare over the runner-up - HRH The Princess Royal's Chequered View (Martin Keighley/Gavin Sheehan).
DJ Jeffreys said: "Her jumping was brilliant today and I think a lot of that credit has to go to Kielan. I think he is an under-estimated jockey and he is from the hunting fraternity. He really holds their hand, which I love, and it gives them the confidence to go through with it. He was very clever as well, which was great and you are just hoping at the last two fences that she will just get over.
"I think it wasn't necessarily a bold shout to come here because my opinion is that we all find out together how they come out of a race eight days later. It's all very well saying at home that they are in great form but the reality is that we all find out together. The owner was of the same mindset, so it made it a lot easier to make the decision.
Kielan Woods commented: "I set her alight at a couple of fences early but, as I tried to ride a race on her, she started coming out of my hands - she is so fit, well and fresh. She jumped fantastically today and she measured her fences really well.
"We bounced her out and made all at Market Rasen the other day, and we didn't see any point in changing it. We were dropping back in trip today, so we thought that we would make plenty of use of her and see how we got on. I didn't realise I was 18 lengths clear going to the last.
"She won off 98 at Market Rasen the other day and you don't normally see horses getting turned out quickly and winning at Cheltenham, so it is brilliant.
"The trainer rang me coming home from Market Rasen and said that he had found another race for her. He called me back two days later and said that is absolutely busting and mad to go again.
"We didn't really see it coming but I am absolutely delighted. I won the Grand Annual at The Festival and that was the best day of my life. I don't mind riding winners around here!"
Zara Hope, picture Cheltenham Raceourse
2.30pm BetVictor Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 2f £60,000 11 ran
Cogry (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies) became just the second multiple winner of the most valuable race of the day, the £60,000 G3 BetVictor Handicap Chase, when rallying to score by a short-head from Rock The Kasbah (Philip Hobbs/James Best).
The 5/1 chance made most of the running before being headed by Rock The Kasbah turning for home the final time. After the last, the 10-year-old battled gamely to get up and score on the nod from Rock The Kasbah. West Approach (Colin Tizzard/Robbie Power) stayed on take third, a further two lengths back.
The only previous multiple winner of the BetVictor Handicap Chase was triple scorer Yorkshire Gale, who was successful in 1995, 1996 ad 1997.
Nigel Twiston-Davies commented: "I really loved it because Cogry led the whole way - apart from when he was headed at the second-last - and out-jumped all the others. They had to dig deep to get to him and luckily he had a bit more to give.
"He has great character. He is stupid like his rider, so they don't know when they are beat! He is a bonny lad and is normally in good form."
Sam Twiston-Davies said: "When you want to become a jockey, I guess you enjoy watching horses like Cogry go round and jump like that. It's a lot of fun and a great day for the team - it has put a lot of smiles back on some not-so-happy faces.
"Cogry and Rock The Kasbah are incredibly tough and very likeable horses. It was a massive fight and that's what National Hunt fans love. As a jockey, when you come out on top is when you can really enjoy.
"It takes a very tough one to get by Cogry and he usually carries his head pretty low, so he can be the wrong horse to be in a photo with."
Cogry (8),picture Cheltenham Racecourse
3.05pm Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 3m 6f 37y £35,000 15 ran
The Glenfarclas Cross County Handicap Chase was an international affair, with runners from France and Ireland as well as the UK.
It was France who firmly came out on top, with exciting five-year-old Easysland (Jonathan Plouganou) coming home eight lengths clear of Amazing Comedy (James Reveley). Both horses are trained by David Cottin, who is based at Lion-d'Angers in western France. Irish raider Out Sam (Gordon Elliott/Keith Donoghue) was another six lengths away in third.
Easysland was always in a prominent position and was kicked into a decisive lead five fences from home. He never looked like being headed thereafter as he stayed on for a decisive success. This was a second French-trained 1-2 in a cross country chase at Cheltenham this season, with Emmanuel Clayeux saddling the first two home in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at The November Meeting.
Friday’s contest at Cheltenham was the final leg of the Crystal Cup, an 11-race series that features Europe's premier cross country chases.
Joint-owner David Futter said: "We enjoy every winner but it was great to come here. We bought Easysland at the Derby sale and the only shame is that Chris Edwards, who owns him with myself and David, is on holiday in Australia and couldn't be here. It's a great shame but we will party for him. It's super, really brilliant.
"We have had horses with David from when he started. When we bought this horse two years ago, David was there and he came up and asked for a share in him. It has been a great spin.
"He won at Pau and isn't over big. We wanted to sell him but no one wanted really to buy him and I said that we would keep on racing him. The rest has been history - to give us a journey like this, thank goodness we didn't sell him."
3.40pm CITIPOST Handicap Hurdle 2m 7f 213y £22,000 11 ran
Fergal O'Brien's fine season continued in the concluding CITIPOST Handicap Hurdle, with 13/2 chance Goodbye Dancer (Paddy Brennan) surviving a blunder at the last to hold on by a length and three-quarters from the staying-on 5/2 favourite Ask Ben (Graeme McPherson/Kielan Woods).
Paddy Brennan said: "Winning here never gets boring and I love it. Fergal O'Brien has got absolutely everything and I think he is going to be big. I am getting a bit older and I give most of my time to Fergal now but he is very good to me and my family."
Goodbye Dancer won in the colours of Noel Fehily Racing Syndicate 01. Former Jump jockey Noel Fehily retired at The Festival in 2019, after a glittering career that saw 1,352 winners, including seven at The Festival.
Fehily said: "It's fantastic and this is a great bunch of people. They have had an up-and-down time with the horses - Pride Of Lecale won first time but then sadly got injured. Fergal O'Brien has given us this horse as a free lease and fair play to him."
Goodbye Dancer comes home in front, picture Cheltenham Racecourse