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King rules as Hobbs scores Open treble

Grand National runner-up Balthazar King struck for the eighth time at Cheltenham on an opening afternoon of the Open Meeting which belonged to Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson.

There had already been a one-two for the Minehead combination among three in total, but the performance of the cross-country champion stood above the others for connections.

Twice a winner at the Festival itself, 10-year-old Balthazar King knows his way so well around the unusual track's twists and turns, he only really needed Johnson to sit tight during a couple of over-enthusiastic jumps and to weigh in afterwards.

After justifying 4-7 favouritism in the Glenfarclas-sponsored feature by a length and a half from his old adversary Uncle Junior, the gelding moved closer to the record number of Cheltenham victories - 10 - held by Silver Fame since the early '50s.

Champagne West (7-2) had earlier beaten 7-4 favourite Colour Squadron in the usually informative Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase. Due to the low sun, all the fences in the home straight were dolled off and Champagne West, fourth in the Albert Bartlett last season, held his stablemate by three and a quarter lengths on a long and flat home straight.

Their other winner came with Bold Henry (14-1) on only his third start over fences in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase.

John Ferguson, who spends much of his time as Sheikh Mohammed's principal advisor, continues to excel in the winter game with some of his boss's cast-offs. Barry Geraghty was as cool as a cucumber on Parlour Games (10-1), who tracked 13-8 favourite and front-runner Blaklion before showing off a devastating turn of foot to sprint right away with the Grade Two Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.