Vautour dazzles in JLT
Vautour bounced right back to his brilliant best to win the JLT Novices' Chase by a wide margin at the Cheltenham Festival.
An impressive winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last season, the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old had a question to answer having been beaten at Christmas, but the market vibes were strong.
He never missed a beat under Ruby Walsh and put in some spectacular leaps on the way round, having the rest of the field in trouble from some way out.
Stablemate Valseur Lido briefly looked a threat, along with Apache Stronghold and Ptit Zig, but Vautour sprinted clear off the home turn and the 6-4 favourite put 15 lengths distance between himself and the rest.
Apache Stronghold just upheld the form with Valseur Lido from the Flogas Chase, but in truth there was only one in it.
Walsh said: "He wasn't right at Christmas, but from the first time we started schooling him I was taken with him.
"This lad has it all. He was going his own speed - I'm taken with him. There's some summer dreaming to be done with this one."
Owner Rich Ricci said: "I can't ever remember seeing a novice jump like that at Cheltenham.
"He's a different horse round here, for some reason. It was unbelievable, breathtaking, actually.
"We'll step up in distance next season and see where we go."
Mullins said: "I've loved this horse all the time, but I had to really work hard at him for the last three weeks.
"We were probably minding him too much earlier in the season.
"I thought the race was over turning for home, it was just a case of jumping, and he absolutely flew over the last two."
Mullins, bagging his sixth winner of the week, went on: "He was good the first day, but then things went wrong at Christmas. He won the last day and then I've been very hard on him to try and get him back in last year's form. He's just turned a corner, but he needed all that hard work.
"We've managed to keep the good horses apart this year, we might come to England a bit more and France.
"Dermot, who looks after Vautour, is a fluent Japanese speaker and went over there with Blackstairmountain so we may even look at that again, that's another option."
Mullins confirmed he sees his star as a horse for the blue riband.
He said: "He's that good (Gold Cup), he was like the one yesterday (Don Poli, winner of RSA Chase), but I think he'll stay, we're definitely going down the Gold Cup route.
"You need plenty, it's hard to get chasers to that standard every year. You hope you might get one Gold Cup horse out of 100 horses.
"When you get one near that mark you go for it.
"He's strong enough for soft ground, but probably better ground suits him."
Walsh continued: "He jumped like a gazelle. He was flawless. He just ran them ragged."
Paul Nicholls was happy enough with the efforts of Irish Saint and Ptit Zig, but feels both will benefit from a step up in trip in due course.
He said: "They both really want three miles. We weren't going to come here with Irish Saint but we thought there's a month between now and Aintree and he will now go over three miles there.
"That was the fastest going Ptit Zig's run on, he was going OK until he made a mistake and that put him on the back foot."