Bardenstown Lad jumps the last in front (David Davies/PA)Bardenstown Lad continued his progression with a gutsy success for County Meath-based John McConnell in the 888Sport What’s Your Thinking Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham’s opening meeting of the season.

Following the dominance of the Irish-trained runners at the Cheltenham Festival, their British-based counterparts might have hoped it would take longer than just three races for the Irish to open their account this season.

But McConnell, who won the corresponding race 12 months ago with Streets Of Doyen – who went on to be third in the Albert Bartlett in March – had other ideas.

Bardenstown Lad (85-40 favourite) also sported the same colours as last year’s winner with the only difference being Sean Bowen was roared home this time around by a crowd of over 10,000 as Cheltenham got back to normality.

Bowen said: “That was a good performance. He raced a touch lazy early on but when I gave him a reminder at the top of the hill, to be fair to him he came back on the bridle.

“He winged the last three hurdles and he’s gone and done it well.

“You wouldn’t have a clue how much is under the tank. I was all out on him when he was 1-10 at Cartmel and I thought we were beat halfway round, he’s that type of horse.

“He might need headgear later on, but John is thinking of the Albert Bartlett and you need a really strong stayer in that and this lad is certainly that.”

Strictlyadancer was a poignant winner for trainer Christian Williams
Strictlyadancer was a poignant winner for trainer Christian Williams (David Davies/PA)

Christian Williams poignantly won the Andy Stewart Memorial Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase with Strictlyadancer (7-1).

Williams was due to ride Stewart’s legendary staying hurdler Big Buck’s, who paraded before the race, in a novice chase at Warwick in February 2008 but unfortunately broke his leg in the proceeding race and was replaced by Liam Heard.

“It’s great to win this. I didn’t train one for Andy but him and his family always made a fuss of me when they saw me,” said Williams.

“I was supposed to ride Big Buck’s one day but I broke my leg in five places the race before. I tried to get on him but couldn’t get my leg in the iron, so I had to get taken off him.”

Annual Invictus in full flow
Annual Invictus in full flow (David Davies/PA)

Annual Invictus jumped like an old hand on just his second outing over fences in the 888Sport Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

Tom Cannon set Chris Gordon’s six-year-old alight and the 11-4 chance ate up his fences, gaining ground at each one before staying on strongly to beat Danny Kirwan by three lengths.

Gordon said: “That was lovely, the owners have had a great day and they are now very happy.

“I’m thrilled with the horse, he jumped very well. Obviously it will be harder for him next time and hopefully the way he jumps will stand him in good stead.

“We always thought he’d improve for a fence, he was a decent hurdler but he’d prefer softer ground than it was today.

“If it gets very soft we could run him in one of those graded races, if it is soft we could bring him back to two miles as his jumping would stand him in good stead.”

Guard Your Dreams defied top weight at Cheltenham
Guard Your Dreams defied top weight at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Guard Your Dreams (16-5 favourite) defied top weight in the Abu Dhabi Digital Exchange Handicap Hurdle under a strong ride from Sam Twiston-Davies.

Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: “That was very good to carry all that weight first time out, but he’s done it nicely.

“Now we’re in a real pickle because we don’t know whether to stay hurdling, because the plan was to go chasing before Sam spotted this race.

“Who knows what we’ll do. He’s probably got a future over hurdles but you’d imagine he’d take quite high-rank over fences. It’s a nice problem to have and he’s very exciting.”

Camprond returns after winning the opener
Camprond returns after winning the opener (David Davies/PA)

Philip Hobbs’ Camprond (1-3 favourite) landed the odds in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, following up his Grade Two win in the Persian War at Chepstow.

However, it was relatively hard work for a while to see off Mars Harper.

“It was half-mentioned we could to take him to Ireland for the Royal Bond because I gather they are still novices until the end of November, so that’s an option – otherwise it will likely be handicaps,” said Hobbs.

“We’ll see what the options are but he got the job done – just!

“He hasn’t jumped fences at home yet and that is an option as well, but not the most obvious at the moment.”