Neptune: Willoughby Court holds off Neon Wolf in thriller

Willoughby Court (right) jumps the last in tandem with Neon Wolf

PICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos) Willoughby Court holds off Neon Wolf in thriller By Andrew Dietz 1:38PM 15 MAR 2017

Report: Cheltenham Festival, Wednesday

Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m5f, 4yo+

WILLOUGHBY COURT edged out 2-1 favourite Neon Wolf in a dramatic finish to the day two opener to provide trainer Ben Pauling with a first festival success.

Ridden by David Bass, who suffered an agonising fall on Charbel in the Arkle on Tuesday, Willoughby Court (14-1) wandered around after the final flight but had just enough in reserve to fend off the fast-finishing favourite at the line.

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Messire Des Obeaux followed home the front two, who pulled clear, to make it a clean sweep of places for British-trained runners.

Pauling, former assistant to the Cheltenham Festival's all-time leading trainer Nicky Henderson, said: "I can't believe it. It feels as good as I always hoped it could be and even better.

"To do it for Paul [Rooney] whose been a supporter of mine since my second season means a huge amount.

"Jason [Maguire] and my wife and everyone who's been there day in, day out a huge thank you. He's not an easy horse to deal with, and I suppose 'Bassy' did a decent job as well!"

Bass adopted familiar tactics by taking along the field from the start as Noel Fehily settled Neon Wolf just off the pace in the early stages.

Being prominent was the place to be as leading contender Bacardys was hampered at the rear when Consul De Thaix suffered a fatal fall six hurdles from home, which resulted in jockey Mark Walsh being stood down for the rest of the day.

Turning for home Willoughby Court looked there for the taking as Fehily loomed up to challenge but an awkward jump at the last by Neon Wolf handed the advantage to the front-runner and he showed tremendous guts to grind out a sensational success.

Harry Fry, trainer of Neon Wolf, said: "We would have loved to have won, but all credit to Ben Pauling and his team for a fantastic performance by the winner, who pulled out more and more.

"I'm absolutely delighted with our run. A certain Rock On Ruby finished second in this too, beaten a short head, and he didn't go on to do too badly.

"We'll see how he comes out of this before deciding if he runs again, but the owner is very keen on Punchestown."

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