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Cheltenham Festival 2016: Vautour and Thistle just far too sharp

By Richard Forristal

Willie Mullins felt vindicated in his shock decision to swerve today's Gold Cup with Vautour after his stunning young chaser defied stable concerns about his well-being to soar to Ryanair Chase glory in stunning fashion.

The Cheltenham Festival's newest championship event had never been won by an Irish-trained horse in its 11-year history. Michael O'Leary has been trying desperately to win the race that his airline sponsors and ran Valseur Lido and Road To Riches here.

Had Mullins not had that contentious late change of heart, O'Leary would have got his wish.

Instead, on a sun-kissed St Patrick's Day in the Cotswolds when the raiders plundered six of the seven races to lead 11-10 overall, he was reduced to the runner-up berth for a third time.

His Mullins-trained Valseur Lido nabbed Noel Meade's Road To Riches late to ensure that he at least hoovered up the place money, a consolation he also endured when Alpha Des Obeaux chased home Thistlecrack in similarly futile style in the Ryanair World Hurdle in which Ulster-bred veteran Bobs Worth was third.

Nothing could cope with Vautour's unadulterated superiority under the ever sublime Ruby Walsh who had a hat-trick on the day, extending his record Cheltenham tally to 52.

We should probably be glad that Vautour at least graced this grandest of equine arenas with his presence at all and, if this is him at 90 per cent, how good could he yet be?

"I think he is a Gold Cup horse but he wasn't working like one," Mullins explained of what was the second leg of his second hat-trick of the week.

Asked if, having witnessed such a demolition, he regretted in any way not charging Vautour with securing him that hitherto elusive Gold Cup success, Mullins was unequivocal.

"No," he said with a straight bat, "because he has won."

"That was breathtaking considering what he had been doing at home."

The champion trainer went on to say that he wouldn't rule out a trip to Aintree for one of the marquee Grade Ones, but suggested a direct route to Punchestown might be more likely.

Mullins and Walsh had taken the JLT Chase when the dogged Black Hercules rallied to see off its 4/1 joint-favourite Bristol De Mai.

Limini then brought their running tally to seven with a bloodless odds-on rout in the inaugural Dawn Run Mares Novices Hurdle, in which Ulster's 66-1 outsider Danielle's Journey - trained near Larne by Stuart Crawford and ridden by Armagh's Brian Hughes - finished in 12th place.

The superb 16/1 treble ensured that Walsh has equalled his 2009 record of seven Festival wins, and leaves Mullins one shy of last year's eight with a day to spare.

Belfast Telegraph

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