Labaik and Jack Kennedy hold off Melon to take Supreme
The 17-year-old Irish jockey took his first victory at the festival on 25-1 outsider
Jack Kennedy celebrates winning the 1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle on Labaik at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
The notoriously recalcitrant Labaik put his best foot forward to claim a brilliant victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Having refused to race twice in succession on the Flat, Gordon Elliott’s grey looked to have been reformed by a switch to the jumping game when scoring in impressive style at Punchestown and Navan in the autumn.
However, his old problems resurfaced as he failed to jump off in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse and the Navan Novice Hurdle in December.
And while he did eventually take part on his latest start at Naas just over a fortnight ago, he raced solo at the rear and finished 100 lengths behind the winner.
Elliott has not made any secret of the regard in which he holds the six-year-old, though, and the 25-1 shot showed true colours to clinch the Festival curtain-raiser.
Labaik jumped off on terms and was always travelling strongly in the rear half of the field in the hands of 17-year-old riding sensation Jack Kennedy.
The masses in the grandstand roared as Ruby Walsh moved 3-1 joint-favourite Melon towards the front end after jumping the second from home, but Labaik cruised alongside on the run to the last and sprinted up the hill to run out a comprehensive two-and-a-quarter-length winner.
River Wylde was third, with the other joint-favourite, Ballyandy, back in fourth.
“Words can’t describe what it’s like,” Kennedy told ITV Racing.
“I was probably a little bit far back but they went a good gallop.
“It couldn’t have gone any better.”
Elliott said: “He could have gone to Naas on Sunday and I said to the lads it wouldn’t be as embarrassing if he refuses there.
“It just all worked out today. I told Jack if he jumped off to just hunt around and ride him for a place.
“I’ve always said he’s our best work horse in the yard.
“It’s unbelievable to win a Supreme, he’s got an engine but I don’t know where we go from here.”
It was a first Festival winner for Kennedy.
“Jack is a great talent but Keith Donoghue was supposed to ride this horse so a lot of thanks go to him,” Elliott added.
“Keith is just struggling with his weight at the moment but he’ll be back and when he is we’ll support him.
“Jack is going to have loads of days but this was Keith’s day.
“You can use the long tom here down at the start but you can’t in Ireland and I think that made a big difference.
“I’ve always said how good he is. We can’t get a horse to work with him at home.
“I don’t care if he never jumps off again!”