Cheltenham Showcase: Pied Piper leads his rivals in a joyful dance

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Pied Piper stole the show at the Showcase Meeting in Cheltenham as he avenged his Aintree defeat to former rival Knight Salute at the home of the jump races.

The Showcase is Cheltenham’s annual racing season curtain raiser as coaches from both sides of the Irish Sea make their way to the Festival in March.

It was Irish dominance with five seven-race card winners coming from the Emerald Isles.

The history of today’s big showdown in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle dates back to the 4YO Juvenile Hurdle at the Grand National meeting in April. The two horses were neck and neck and could not be separated as the race was declared a tie.

But Milton Harris’ Knight Salute took the win in the steward’s room as his opponent was judged for causing interference in the line race.

This time around, Gordon Elliott’s impressive four-year-old stormed past the final hurdle to justify odds favoritism among bookmakers. The horse, who finished third in the Triumph Hurdle last season, has now been downgraded to 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle after a strong showing on Saturday afternoon.

“He won well and got a lot stronger since last year,” Elliott said. “I loved the way he put his head down and galloped to the line. I’m very happy.

“He’s a beautiful horse. We’re going to dream for a while (of the Champion Hurdle), but it’s a hot division and he’s going to have to keep improving. He’ll be trained like a Champion Hurdle, but he’s a very, very hot division and he’s going to have to improve, but if you’re not in it, you can’t win.

In the first race of the day Shearer, coached by Paul Nicholls, was on target again as the 10/3 shot, which won a minor event at Worcester last time out, prevailed in the Novices’ Hurdle.

Birthday boy Richie McLernon celebrated a welcome winner by landing the Is Made To Play Handicap Chase in style for Neil Mulholland’s 15/2 shot Lord Accord.

Brian Hayes picked up his first Cheltenham winner over Willie Mullins’ Dads Lad (7/2). The seven-year-old was too strong as he ignored Effornock Fizz in the second handicap chase of the day in an Irish one-two. Mullins’ son Patrick, who represented the stable in his father’s absence, revealed the Grand Annual will be on the radar for the horse.

Shoot First (9/4) landed a big gamble climbing the famous Cheltenham hill in the Handicap Hurdle as Philip Byrnes picked up a handsome winner on his first trip to the historic course.

And that combination of banker Elliott-Davy Russell struck gold again as Chemical Energy beat Mahler Mission (15/8) and Life In The Park (10/11) in the Jim Wilson Memorial Novices’ Chase.

Encanto favorite Bruno (2/1) delivered a breathtaking afternoon for the Irish contingent as Tom Scudamore won the final race of the day in the 11-rider 2-mile flat.

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds are subject to change

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