COTSWOLD star Holywell followed up last year’s win in the Pertemps Hurdle Final with a game victory in the Baylis and Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase on the first day at Cheltenham Festival.
Ma Filleule took a narrow lead over the final fence, but the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Holywell (10-1) battled stoutly up the hill to get his head in front and keep the mare at bay by a length-and-three-quarters.
The Package was seven lengths away in third with Green Flag fourth.
Richie McLernon was the lucky rider for the second year running as Tony McCoy was aboard Temple Guiting-based O’Neill’s other runner, the 7-1 favourite Alfie Sherrin, who was successful in the race for owner JP McManus in 2012.
Jockey McLernon said of the victor: “He was dynamite. He jumped brilliantly and travelled. He has a great trainer, the best in England and Ireland.”
O’Neill said: “He’s a great little horse to come back and do that. Early on in the season, he slipped into a fence at Carlisle and lost his confidence a little.
“It took him a while to get going and then we thought we had him going at Catterick. Then he was fairly average at Doncaster, I know he won but he was disappointing and I thought, ‘The fences are going to look very big on him at Cheltenham’.
“He’s gutsy and Richie had him in the right place. He gave him a great spin and I only saw him miss one fence. I’d say a big field and a good gallop suits him down to the ground. It’s magic (to get a Cheltenham winner).”
Meanwhile, jockey Barry Geraghty won the top race of the day, the Stan James Champion Hurdle, on the Irish-trained and owned Jezki.
Owner McManus landed a notable 1-2 after the 9-1 chance produced a gutsy performance to win by a neck from My Tent Or Yours.
Ruby Walsh’s 11-4 favourite Hurricane Fly was denied a third Champion Hurdle victory, finishing fourth, behind The New One, trained by Naunton’s Nigel Twiston-Davies, who was hampered by a fatal fall for Our Conor.
Twiston-Davies said: “In the Christmas Hurdle he was unlucky and he was unlucky here. Let’s hope we can stop it. If he’s OK, we’ll certainly go to Aintree.”
Pendra, trained by Chipping Norton’s Charlie Longsdon, finished third in the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase.