Espoir D’Allen caused a seismic shock in the Unibet Champion Hurdle as none of the first three in the betting made the frame in the opening day highlight of the Cheltenham Festival.

While Gavin Cromwell’s five-year-old brought with him a progressive profile having only lost once in his 10 races under rules to date, he was expected to find things much tougher up against dual winner Buveur D’Air, and crack Irish mares Apple’s Jade and Laurina.

Those three dominated the market, but Buveur D’Air - bidding to become just the sixth horse to win two-mile blue riband three times - fell at the halfway stage and not long after that Apple’s Jade was soon giving out distress signals.

Ruby Walsh still appeared to be going well on Laurina behind last year’s runner-up Melon, but at the third-last Espoir D’Allen loomed up as a huge threat for Mark Walsh.

Cromwell, a former farrier who won the Welsh National with Raz De Maree last season, now has 50 horses and owner JP McManus obviously saw something early in him to support his venture.

And although McManus was lamenting the fall of his champion, he had a thoroughly able 16-1 second-string and he powered clear for a 15-length success from Melon, who was second again, with 80-1 chance Silver Streak in third.

Espoir D’Allen became just the second five-year-old to win the Champion Hurdle since 1985 after Katchit in 2008.

Cromwell found it hard to put his feelings into words, saying: “I’m just lost for words. It’s brilliant, unbelievable.

“He’s been winning Grade Threes this year, so to win this is fantastic. I’m shell-shocked to win anyway, but to win like that - I’m lost for words.

“When Buveur D’Air fell, we nearly got brought down. It’s unbelievable, I’m completely lost for words.”

He went on: “I have three horses for JP McManus and about 50 in total, but not many graded horses.

“Charlie Swan (who won three Champion Hurdles on Istabraq for McManus) found the horse in France and he came to me after winning a juvenile bumper over there.

“I had a call from JP’s team to say I had a horse coming to me, and it was this one. JP has been very good to me and sent me Jer’s Girl, who won a couple of Grade One races - it’s great to be able to repay him.

“I started training a few point-to-pointers and enjoyed it, and it went from there. We’ll still do a little bit of farriery because it’s the only way to make it pay. You need (to train) 145 horses otherwise.

“The game is full of talented trainers and better trainers than me - right the way through from the point-to-point ranks to the top of the game there are some brilliant trainers in Ireland.”