CARLOW'S Willie Mullins nabbed his eighth victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown last weekend when Quel Esprit kept Roberto Goldback back by two lengths in a victory that books her Cheltenham ticket.
Backed down to 5-4 favourite from 7-4, Ruby Walsh kept the eight-year-old up to his work to hold Roberto Goldback by two lengths, with outsider Treacle staying on stoutly to claim third place from Follow The Plan.
China Rock looked a major challenger but his race had petered out by the final fence and it was left to Roberto Goldback to stage a challenge, but Quel Esprit and Walsh had other ideas.
"This has been a lucky race for me. That's Ruby's first Hennessy for me," said Willie. "He gallops and jumps all day. Things fell apart for him last year and he disappointed and surprised us when he fell because he is a good jumper.
"He had a wind operation during the summer and maybe that was the difference, when he was coming under pressure last year in those big races his wind might have been catching him.
"He galloped all the way to the line today and jumped. Ruby was keen to make use of his jumping. He jumped fantastic, especially over the last four.
"That was the key to winning the race. He wasn't afraid to ask him for big ones.
"He didn't let the pace drop at any stage during the race and kept stretching them with his jumping. They went a real good gallop and his jumping won it for him.
"He made one mistake down the back, but other than that his jumping was magnificent. I've been aiming him for the (Cheltenham) Gold Cup all year. He's probably around a 25-1 shot for it, (but) seldom in your life do you have a horse good enough to compete in that race.
"When you get one you take it and the Gold Cup throws up surprises over the years. I hope I can improve him a bit more between now and then," he said.