Yorkhill peaks at Cheltenham for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh
Yorkhill gave Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh their fourth winner of the Cheltenham Festival when comfortably outpointing Yanworth in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.
Walsh made a decisive move on Yorkhill (3-1) by steering an inside path and getting a great run turning for home.
Pulling double to that point, the Graham Wylie-owned six-year-old had all of his rivals at full stretch, including Yanworth, who had been sent off the 11-10 favourite to maintain his 100 per cent record over hurdles.
Instead, it is Yorkhill who remains unbeaten over hurdles after beating his main rival by a length and three-quarters. Its'afreebee, who was always to the fore, stuck on pluckily for third, seven lengths behind the classy first two.
Mullins said: "Ruby gave him a super ride - he needed a bit of luck. It opened up, and he shot through. He jumped the last well.
"We seriously thought about going for the Supreme, but the more I looked at it, the more I thought Altior was hard to beat and that this race was the one.
"He can go novice chasing, but we've sort of abandoned that to go down the Champion Hurdle route - he looked very sharp going off that bend. He's a real smart hurdler."
Walsh admitted the race had not panned out as he had planned, but was full of praise for his classy mount.
He said: "I'd hoped to sit fourth or fifth down the inner, but he was rank going to the start so I had to go back a bit further.
"The last thing I said I was going to do was be upsides at the last and in front for too long, but when I got to the second-last I couldn't resist and the gap opened up.
"He's a very, very good horse. David Casey rides him every morning and he was pretty adamant he wanted two and a half (miles) with better ground, and he was right.
"He could have been the best of the bumper horses last year but we didn't get to run him until just before Cheltenham and then he went and won in Punchestown.
"Since he came back in, a lot of people have been impressed with him. He's a fine specimen."
Wylie said: "It was a great race. There was a big debate as to which race to put him into, Willie chose the right race.
"He loved that better ground - you could see him bouncing away - and he (Walsh) had a double handful all the way. I've had so many horses fall at the last, I don't get excited until after it. When he came and jumped the last I was just thrilled.
"When Willie bought him for me he said, 'I think I might have got you a Gold Cup horse'. I'm hoping that's the case as it's such a great race to try and win. Let's see how it goes after this. He'll go novice chasing next season, I expect.
"Willie is buying good horses and placing them in the right races and his horses are always very fit. I think his success is down to a combination of all those things."
Mullins added: "He could be that (a Gold Cup horse). I'm wondering whether he could come back to be a Champion Hurdle horse.
"Ruby got down off him and said he'd win the Arkle with his mouth open next year, so we'll go home and digest all that and see what we have. It's nice that he's thinking very positive.
"The week is going well. It's probably going to get a bit harder from here on in, but we're pleased we have one or two really nice ones to come. Hopefully they can keep going, but we've used up most of our silver bullets, I think."
Yanworth's trainer Alan King did not offer any excuses for the beaten favourite.
He said: "I think the winner had a rougher passage than us. They didn't go as quick as we thought they might, but we've got no excuses. The better horse has won on the day, but we've galloped right the way to the line.
"Considering we jumped the last upsides the third, we ended up pulling seven lengths clear of him. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, but worse things have happened. He'll go chasing one day, but that's not a decision for now.
"I'd expect he'll come on again for that as it's his first real race of the season. The match practice will do him good, but I know they think an awful lot of the winner and he's a very good horse."