• Racing/
  • Lac Gives Nicholls The County

Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 1f

  • (5yo+, 2m 1f, Class 1, 28 runners)
  • Winner £45,560 2nd £17,096 3rd £8,560 4th £4,264 5th £2,144 6th £1,072
  • Going: Good, Good to Soft in places
  • Surface: Turf
Weighed In:
  • Winning time: 3m 58.50s
  • Off time: 14:08:47
  • Last Updated: March 14 2014, 20:28 GMT

Paul Nicholls secured his first winner of the 2014 Cheltenham Festival when Lac Fontana came late to win the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle.

Lac Fontana: Paul Nicholls can finally celebrate a Festival winner
Lac Fontana: Paul Nicholls can finally celebrate a Festival winner

Nicholls' luckless run had continued when Calipto's tack broke in the opening Triumph Hurdle, but 35 minutes later he and jockey Daryl Jacob were able to celebrate an 11/1 winner.

As befits a 28-runner handicap, there were still more than a dozen horses in with a chance rounding the home turn, the field led by the strong-travelling former Champion Bumper winner Cheltenian.

Montbazon and Rainbow Peak soon had that one's measure and Arctic Fire came there with a strong challenge under David Casey, as champion trainer Willie Mullins looked for yet another winner.

But this time it was a winner for Ditcheat as Jacob brought the course and distance winner with a flying run up the stands rail to score going away.

Arctic Fire (7/1) finished second ahead of the fading Montbazon (20/1) with another Mullins runner Diakali claiming fourth place at 25/1.

Jacob, who was visibly deflated after the Triumph as he was when just touched off on Wednesday, said: "It's been a very testing week for us all. It's a good team effort from everyone and at the end of the day there can only be one winner. You can only keep looking forward.

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  • while Jim Culloty has his arms aloft having won the race as both trainer and jockey
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"We're all thinking about the guys that are injured, like Jason (Maguire), Bryan (Cooper), now Ruby (Walsh) and of course JP (McNamara) but this is the place we all want to win."

He added of the winner: "He's very, very tough and he kept finding all the way."

Nicholls said: "It's been so frustrating (trying to get a winner during the week). Daryl probably needed that more than anyone really, he was on a real down and that will be just what he wanted.

"I told him to just get out there, put everything behind him and that this will win, you have to be positive. I told him he'll stay on up the hill and he gave him a peach.

"He's quite an emotional guy and you need a bit of luck, he'll be a different rider now. That was magic, just what we wanted."

Nick Peacock owns the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Arctic Fire and Diakali, who finished second and fourth, and said: "It's frustrating to be second but he has run a blinder.

"He has been waiting for that sort of ground and hopefully there's something for him at Aintree or Punchestown. Diakali was conceding a lot of weight but ran a great race and just needs a bit further."

A trip to Scotland could be on the cards for Montbazon. "We've got to be happy with that run," said trainer Alan King. "The Scottish Champion Hurdle up at Ayr could be the plan for him now I think - we like our little trips up there."

The stewards enquired into the use of the whip by his jockey, Robert Thornton, from the penultimate flight and found that he had used his whip above the permitted level. The stewards suspended Thornton for four days from March 28 through to April 1.

There was a sad postscript for Jacob, though, as he fell from Port Melon while going down for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle and was stretchered away with a leg injury (clickhere for the full story).

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