Although he was the leading trainer at the Cheltenham racing festival Willie Mullins was far from happy with the way things went.
Mullins and his horses suffered their share of reverses, including Hurricane Fly, who surrender the Champion Hurdle crown and On His Own, who finished an unlucky second in the Gold Cup.
The trainer got the meeting off to a flying start when saddling Vautour to take the opening Supreme Novices Hurdle in impressive fashion. Unbeaten in three runs over the minor obstacles on this side of the water, the 5-year-old went to post a well-backed favourite. Walsh threw down the gauntlet almost from the start by dictating the pace.
There were several likely challengers going to the second last, but in the end they failed to trouble Vautour as he sealed victory with a fine leap at the last before going away to defeat Josses Hill by six
lengths. This was one of the finest displays in the Supreme Novices’ in many a long day and many saw the winner as a Champion Hurdler in waiting.
However, Mullins threw cold water on the idea by revealing that his charge is likely to go chasing come
the autumn so the Arkle will be his race next year.
Champagne Fever, who was bidding to score for the third year in succession, failed by a whisker to hold the last thrust of Western Warhorse in the two mile Arkle Novice Chase after a battle royal. Starting joint favourite with another Irish runner, Trifolium, the Mullins runner looked all over a winner going to the final fence after making much of the running.
Western Warhorse gradually reeled him in and got up on the line for victory. For a horse having only his third outing over fences this was a highly commendable performance. He had not been seen in public since making a bad mistake at Leopardstown.
Being out of a Roselier mare, stamina should be his forte and a step up in trip is now likely.
Rarely have we seen such an eagerly awaited Champion Hurdle with the new pretenders poised to challenge Hurricane Fly. Although the latter ran his usual gallant race, he had to be content with fourth place as the Jessica Harrington trained Jezki powered up the final hill to hold off the challenge of My Tent Or Yours by a neck.
There was high drama as early as the third flight of hurdles when the leading fancy Our Conor crashed out, interfering with The New One. Sadly Our Conor suffered fatal injuries but The New One clawed his way back into the race and was finishing best of all only for the post to come too soon. Third place was
Having finished behind Hurricane Fly twice this season, Jezki was deserted by jockey Tony McCoy in favour of My Tent Or Yours. The rider felt he hadn’t the gears to succeed but the stiff Cotswolds circuit was right up his alley under a power packed Barry Geraghty ride.
Losses incurred on Hurricane Fly by followers of the Mullins yard were recovered somewhat as Quevega entered the history books by taking the two mile and four Mares Hurdle for a record sixty year in-a-row. On ground faster than she had encountered in previous runnings, the now 10-year-old looked in trouble
coming down the hill. However, once she met the rising ground in the straight her stamina came into play and she finished like an express train to collar stable companion Glens Melody inside the final 100 yards and land the spoils.
There was no post race chat about retiring this remarkable mare. Instead connections were talking in terms of returning next year in an attempt to record an amazing seventh festival success.
Faugheen, in spite of some indifferent hurdling, landed the two mile and five Neptune Novice Hurdle in the style of a very good horse for Mullins and rider Ruby Walsh.
Wash suffered a broken arm later when coming to grief at the second flight in the Fred Winter Novice Hurdle and both Briar Hill and Annie Power, who were considered bankers for the Mullins team, failed to deliver. Debate raged all winter long as to which race the latter would contest and when connections finally decided on the World Hurdle the Shirocco mare was immediately installed as favourite.
As matters evolved it was not the trip that beat her it was just a question of meeting a better horse. More Of That pulled out that little extra in the final half furlong.
When Mullins supplemented the dual Thyestes Chase winner On His Own for the Gold Cup he raised eyebrows. The gamble almost paid off as the son of Presenting was most unlucky to lose after being hampered by the eventual winner Lord Windermere on the run-in.
Jumping the last it was wide open but Lord Windermere got up for victory in a rough and tumble finish.