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Willoughby Court clings on to win Neptune at Cheltenham

CHELTENHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 15: David Bass riding Willoughby Court (C) clear the last to win The Neptune Investment Management Novicesâ Hurdle from Neon W
Image: David Bass and Willoughby Court (L) got the better of Neon Wolf in a thrilling finish to the Neptune

Willoughby Court held off the challenge of favourite Neon Wolf to win the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle and kick off day two of the Cheltenham Festival.

The 14/1 shot, who was completing a hat-trick, was providing trainer Ben Pauling with his first Festival winner and jockey David Bass with a second.

He jumped the last hurdle just ahead of 2/1 favourite Neon Wolf, who made a bad mistake and lost a little bit of momentum before staying on again and going down by a head.

Messire Des Obeaux filled third spot at 8/1 with Burbank (50/1) staying on from a long way back to claim fourth - he had been badly hampered by the fall - sadly fatal - of Consul De Thaix down the back straight.

Consul De Thaix's jockey Mark Walsh will miss the rest of the Festival after being hurt in the fall.

"My horse drifted right and drifted left again," said Bass. "It's brilliant for Ben and his team. I'm so grateful to him and his owners to ride a nice horse like this."

Owner Paul Rooney said: "Ben and his team got this horse on top form.

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Willoughby Court ridden by David Bass pulls away from the last flight before going on to win The Neptune Investement Managment Novices' Hurdle Race run dur
Image: Willoughby Court was providing trainer Ben Pauling with a first Cheltenham Festival winner

"You never know how things will work out, but he came here with a good chance."

Pauling added: "It feels as good as I ever hoped it would, if not better. It means a huge amount.

"I don't think he'll run again this season, he had a hard race. He'll definitely be going chasing next season, as you saw there his jumping is excellent and I'm sure he'll be electric over fences.

"Paul has been a supporter of mine since my second season. I literally had 12 horses when he joined me."

Noel Fehily riding Neon Wolf clear the last to win the Sky Bet Supreme Trail Rossington Main Novices Hurdle at Haydock
Image: Neon Wolf was a game second to Willoughby Court after a mistake at the final hurdle

Harry Fry was proud in defeat after the previously unbeaten Neon Wolf succumbed by such a slender margin.

The Dorset handler said: "He has ran a great race and all credit to the winner, who has just pulled out more and more.

"I'm absolutely delighted with the run. We had a certain Rock On Ruby finish second, beaten a short head, in this race and he didn't do too bad.

"We would have liked to have won, but all credit to Ben Pauling and his team as it was a fantastic performance. He was second best on the day but he ran a good race. We will get home and look forward to having an exciting young horse on our hands.

"He got the trip no problem and was coming back at the end, but the winner kept pulling out a bit more. The owner is very keen on Punchestown, so we will have a look and see. The first thing is to make sure he comes out of this OK."

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