Aubusson and Lizzie Kelly win the Neptune Hurdle trial at CheltenhamPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Joy for Lizzie Kelly as Aubusson bags opener
Report: Cheltenham, Wednesday
Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle 2m4f110y, 4yo+
THE first race of the year in Britain went the way of Aubusson as the Nick Williams-trained winner handled atrocious conditions at Cheltenham best of all to give jockey Lizzie Kelly the biggest victory of her career.
As the wind howled across the rain-lashed course, officials changed the going for a second time - to soft, heavy in places (from soft) - just before the off and the trial for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle in March developed into an attritional test.
Regardless of the weather, the race will linger long in the memory for Kelly, a 7lb claimer who was gaining her fifth career victory.
Rank outsider Regal Diamond, who stayed on to finished second, cut out the early running with Racing Pulse, the pair sensibly setting a moderate pace given the testing conditions.
Around the halfway point Kelly took up the running on the 9-1 winner and it proved a decisive move as the five-year-old fought off the attentions of his rivals turning for home before blasting up the hill.
Kelly, who punched the air in delight after crossing the line, said: "I was pretty nervous about riding against the likes of AP [Tony McCoy], who is a god, and Dickie [Richard Johnson] and this is probably the only time I'll win at Cheltenham so I'm definitely going to make the most of it."
Of the conditions, she added: "It's wet but the main problem is the wind as it proved hard to stay in a straight line."
Aubusson was introduced at 25-1 in Paddy Power's Neptune market, but the festival looks like it could be off-limits.
Jane Williams, the winning owner and Kelly's mother, said: "That must make him one of this season's top novices. I was waiting for a Warwick race next month but Nick said we should come here to see how he handles Cheltenham, although I doubt he'll run at the festival.
"Nick will put a huge amount of pressure on me but the festival isn't for me as I have a feeling young horses don't come out of it very well."