Lizzie Kelly wins aboard Coo Star Sivola
Last Updated: 13/03/18 3:29pm
Coo Star Sivola clung on grimly to provide jockey Lizzie Kelly with her first Cheltenham Festival success in the Ultima Handicap Chase.
Having opened his account over fences at the fifth attempt at Exeter less than three weeks ago, the Nick Williams-trained six-year-old was a well-backed 5-1 favourite for this three-mile-one-furlong contest.
Conditional jockey Kelly kept things simple aboard the market leader, settling just in behind the leading group, before allowing him to stride to the front before the home turn.
He was getting weary as the post loomed and Shantou Flyer came home to good effect, but Coo Star Sivola had just enough in the locker to hold him at bay by a neck.
Vintage Clouds and Beware The Bear finished third and fourth respectively.
Kelly was the first woman to ride a Grade One winner in Britain when Tea For Two won at Kempton in 2015 and was delighted to bag her Festival winner, after finding last season a difficult one, including when falling in the Gold Cup.
She said: "He's been crying out for three miles and he's had it today. My boyfriend Ed has been banging on about this horse for months and he was right. I am so thrilled, we've always thought a lot of the horse.
"I can't believe it. The people who are behind me are one in a million and I have several of them.
"I came here today and it was like I'd grown up five years. I felt the pressure of course, we all do, but I was just pleased to be here. Last year wasn't a great year, so I was just happy to be here. I felt relaxed and couldn't wait to get to the start.
"I had a dream ride, really. I knew he would gallop up the hill, but my goodness that was the longest hill in the world! It feels so surreal, it feels like I'll wake up in a minute."
She added: "I'm just delighted owners have been so good to me, there's been no suggestion of using a better jockey or more fashionable jockey and that does help you to relax. You know those people want you to be riding their horses."
Williams, Kelly's stepfather, said: "My heart was absolutely pounding. I was jumping up and down myself in the closing stages. I couldn't believe it halfway up the run-in when I thought we might get caught again (like Maljamar, beaten a neck at Cheltenham in 2009).
"The expectation for a six-year-old novice was massive, but he's always run well here. It's his track.
"It's fantastic to win, it had all looked to be going to plan up until the final fence and then the other horse started closing with every stride.
"It's fantastic for Lizzie - her first Festival winner. It couldn't be better. It was all perfection.
"To do it with Lizzie is great, family pride is up for grabs, but it also brings added pressure.
"Now the pressure has gone and it's all relief."