Mullins and Walsh soar again with classy Yorkhill but Sacre foils Sceaux
Published 17/03/2016 | 02:30
There would be less euphoria than seemed likely when Yorkhill smoothly took their haul to four from eight in Cheltenham's opener on day two, but Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh once again produced the card's most exciting prospect.
In the Betway Champion Chase, the firm's odds-on favourite Un De Sceaux had no answer to the majesty of a rekindled Sprinter Sacre on the latest emotionally charged Cotswolds chapter.
Nicky Henderson's feat of bringing the luminous 2013 champion back from the desolate gloom of the last two seasons to recapture his former glory in such splendour is one of the great training turns of our time.
Mullins, as ever, was magnanimous in defeat, graciously acknowledging the fairytale outcome as "a winner for racing".
"To be beaten by Sprinter Sacre is no shame," he said of Un De Sceaux's first defeat. "It shows you the good ones can come back."
What will jar most with Mullins is that another of the Festival's marquee chases has passed him by. Converting the promise of effervescent equine youth into an open champion is an art form Henderson has mastered.
Mullins will today hope to see Vautour graduate to the senior ranks in the Ryanair Chase. However, of the traditional championship events, the Champion Hurdle is still the only one that he has conquered, albeit with increasingly frequency.
Should the Gold Cup - in which he has had five seconds - fall his way, it will be a redundant topic, but it is something that he referred to himself in the aftermath of Yorkhill's breathtaking dismissal of Yanworth in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle.
If he never trains another winner his legacy will endure but success in this equine gladiatorial arena's elite chases is proving elusive.
"Two or three years ago I would have said he would go chasing, but, with the horses that we have, they seen to be Champion Hurdle class rather than chasers," Mullins mused of Yorkhill's future.
"It's much easier to keep them sound hurdling rather than chasing. I had been thinking about chasing for him, but I'm not so sure now.
"We'll see; we're very lucky to have good horses for the Champion Hurdle, so he will possibly get a chasing career. Ruby said he would win next year's Arkle with his mouth open; he gave him a super ride. When he went down the inner we needed things to go right, but in the end the gap might have come too soon."
"With Min and Altior in the Supreme, I decided to switch Yorkhill to this, as I felt he could beat Yanworth."
When informed that Yorkhill's owner Graham Wylie said that Mullins told him when he bought the horse that he had found him his Gold Cup winner, the trainer saw the funny side.
"Did I?" he laughed, "that must have been my sales patter!" Yorkhill might have won the Supreme as well, though Yanworth's popularity saw him return a 3/1 SP. This was a devastating display in the mould of Douvan's Arkle rout, but the Closutton juggernaut was then unable to add to its 50pc Festival strike-rate.
Shaneshill was outpointed by Blaklion (8/1) in the RSA.
In the Champion Bumper, Battleford lost out in a humdinger, and it was again the Nigel Twiston-Davies team that foiled the Mullins-Wylie axis with Ballyandy (5/1). Battleford's rider Mikey Fogarty was hit with a 13-day whip ban, and Davy Russell got two days after winning on Gordon Elliott's Diamond King. He should have got a medal, for he brought his run of wins at successive Festivals to 11 in sublime style.
It was the second time the partnership plundered the Coral Cup and Russell is now the handicap's must successful rider, having first won it on Ferdy Murphy's Naiad Du Misselot in 2008.
Elliott's No More Heroes suffered a career-ending tendon injury in the RSA.
He has done a wonderful job with Diamond King (12/1) since taking him over from Don McCain this term, though his celebrations were muted in the wake of his stable star's fate.
"It's very unfortunate, and then you have a winner - that's the highs and lows of racing," Elliott reflected.
"That was great and Davy gave him a great ride. We thought if he settled he'd win."
"Gordon filled me with loads of confidence - no instructions," Russell said of his ally. "He's a master of his trade and that makes it easy to ride. I always had enough horse."
Aidan Coleman rode his second Festival winner when Any Currency (11/1) foiled the Nina Carberry-ridden favourite Josies Orders in the cross-country race.