By Jordan Norris
Dungarvan’s Niall Houlihan has become a Grade 1 winning jockey, having led the Gary Moore-trained Editeur Du Gite (14/1) to capture the Albert Bartlett Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Editeur Du Gite was seen as the dark horse in the field, but had plenty on his plate taking on Willie Mullins’ Champion Chase winner Energumene, and last year’s Arkle hero, Edwardstone.
Houlihan had the greatest day of his career to date over the festive period when Editeur Du Gite capitalised from Edwardstone’s early departure to land the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on December 27th, but the partnership took their stock to newfound heights with a victory for the ages.
Houlihan dictated the pace throughout having settled his mount at the front, jumping his fences with measure, before Editeur Du Gite battled back valiantly in the home straight to shrug off Edwardstone by a head, blowing the two-mile chasing division wide open in the process.
Editeur Du Gite is now as short as 5/1 with some bookmakers for a repeat success in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. The nine-year-old wasn’t declared within the original field for Saturday’s contest, but connections paid the supplementation fee of £2,250 - a decision that has paid off in spades, given the prestige of the win and accompanying £52,280 pot.
It was just the 59th win of Houlihan’s fledgling career. However, it was one he described as one of the greatest days of his life.
“What a horse. He didn’t put a foot wrong. He gave me his all, he just jumped every fence. I can’t describe the feeling, it’s unreal. He always does it here. He just loves the Cheltenham hill. He’s a beautiful horse, and the best that I’ve ever sat on.”
The young Dungarvan jockey admitted he was apprehensive to celebrate, before the result was officially called by the judge.
“I thought we’d nearly got there. We were against the two top two-mile chasers in the world, really. He came alive for me though, at the top of the hill, he just stuck his neck out and kept going. They’re lovely owners, the Prestons, and I’m delighted to be able to do it for them. They kept the faith in me and it’s great to be able to reward it. I’m over the moon.”
Editeur Du Gite’s chances were underestimated by many pundits throughout the course of the week, given the calibre of performances produced by the market leaders earlier this season. Houlihan was always confident that he could put it up to the pair, and knew four fences out that this could be his crowning moment.
“I thought we could win from the back of four out. He’d had a lovely lead for himself and jumped brilliantly. I thought they’ll come to me now. He’s so quick on his feet, and I knew we had a sniff of glory then. The success won’t hit me for another two hours time.”
Connections have confirmed that Editeur Du Gite will bid to cap off his stellar campaign by earning the champion chaser crown on March 15th.
“He’s put himself in the mix now for the Champion Chase, so that will become the target”, said Josh Moore, son of trainer Gary Moore. “The target was going to be to go to Newbury for the Game Spirit, then miss Cheltenham and try for the Celebration Chase at Aintree. That plan has probably changed now.”
“It’s brilliant for Niall. It’s his first Grade 1 win and that’s a big moment for any jockey”, said Moore, a twelve-time winner himself in Graded company. “Hopefully, he’ll have many more.”