Solwhit completed his remarkable return from injury to gain a fairytale success in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Charles Byrnes’ charge was sidelined for the best part of two years with leg troubles before returning to action on New Year’s Eve last year.
One of the few to really serve it up to two-mile king Hurricane Fly in the past, Solwhit was tackling three miles for the first time here and benefited from a classic Paul Carberry waiting ride.
Bog Warrior and Bryan Cooper, replacing the injured Davy Russell, set out to make all, taking over from Reve De Sivola very early on while Carberry was content to settle at the rear of the field.
As they came down the hill all the big guns were in trouble, with Oscar Whisky and Peddlers Cross particularly disappointing.
It briefly looked as though Celestial Halo could provide owners the Stewart family with an unexpected win in the absence of their perennial winner Big Buck’s, but it was Solwhit who found a turn of pace to put the race to bed. He triumphed by two-and-a-half lengths, with Smad Place filling third spot again, just as he had done 12 months ago, a further three lengths adrift. It was a stroke of luck for Carberry, who only became available when his intended mount Monksland picked up an injury last week.
Carberry was out of action on Wednesday as he recovered from a fall on the opening day.
The win took Ireland’s tally to nine for the week and was the first Irish-trained success in the race since Dorans Pride in 1995.
Carberry said: “Solwhit was idling a bit, I was always afraid to take it up too early. Charles said to attack at the last so I timed it as well as I could. Celestial Halo made a bit of a mistake at the last, he pricked his ears a bit but kept going to the line.”
Byrnes said: “It’s brilliant. A lot of work went into him, everyone at home has looked after him so well and it’s a big thank you to the owners for sticking with it.
“He had a bit of heat in his leg, we tried to bring him back last year but we weren’t happy so we had to give him the rest of the year off. He’s a serious horse. He’s the only horse that could run Hurricane Fly close and he hasn’t lost it.
“He rode him exactly the way I wanted him to ride it. I couldn’t get Davy Russell [claimed for Bog Warrior], it was bad luck on him because that’s his ride.
“I felt someone like Paul would suit the horse. He was plenty of jockey for him when I couldn’t get Davy. We knew he was coming back, but I kind of felt in the last few weeks that it had come together and I was very happy coming here.”
Earlier Bryan Cooper partnered his first Cheltenham Festival winner as Benefficient (20-1) produced a gutsy performance to deny hot favourite Dynaste in the Jewson Novices’ Chase.
Richie McLernon broke his Festival duck last year and he doubled his tally as Holywell (25-1) landed the Pertemps Final.
Liam Treadwell also celebrated his first Festival victory, executing an excellent front-running ride on Carrickboy (50-1) in the Byrne Group Plate to cap an excellent season for trainer Venetia Williams. But the race was marred when the David Pipe-trained Matuhi suffered a fall at the last and, despite the best efforts of the veterinary staff, had to be put down.
Ryan Hatch was another to score his first win at the meeting as the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Same Difference (16-1) outgunned Super Duty by a head in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.
JT McNamara suffered a nasty fall from Galaxy Rock and the amateur had to be airlifted to hospital, which meant the closing Glenfarclas Handicap Chase was delayed by 30 minutes.
Held over from Tuesday’s due to a frozen track, it was worth the wait for Big Shu as he won at 14-1 for trainer Peter Maher and jockey Barry Cash.