Shocks as Vautour switched to Ryanair
There was drama before a race was ever run on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival when leading Gold Cup fancy Vautour was unexpectedly re-routed to tomorrow's Ryanair Chase.
Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci had been adamant in recent weeks that Friday's big race would be the 2015 JLT hero's destination.
He was as low as 4/1 joint favourite for the longer event, but market moves indicated yesterday morning that the Ryanair was back on the agenda.
Ricci, indicating that Vautour hadn't been working brilliantly, duly confirmed the change of heart on Channel 4's 'Morning Line' programme, though Mullins insisted that it was his initiative.
"I'd probably had it in the back of my mind all along," the champion trainer subsequently explained of a decision that didn't go down well with punters on social media.
"Ruby could only ride one of them and I was keen for Ruby to ride him. We were all keen to go for the Gold Cup but the last day we were here Djakadam got a bad cut and he had some stitches in his chest and we didn't know that he'd make the Gold Cup.
"Only in the last week have we got enough work into him (Djakadam) and we were happy, and then I started to think differently. But I never said anything to Rich and yesterday I started talking about it, and then this morning we said that was the way we were going to go."
Ricci said of the about-turn: "I know we talked about whether he would go for the Gold Cup, that's been our intention all year, but it's a very difficult race and if he's only 90 per cent right, then we don't want to ruin the horse.
"We feel the Ryanair is the best alternative. It's not ideal but it's still a great race, it's a Grade One."
Last year's Gold Cup third Road To Riches has also been diverted to the Ryanair.
Noel Meade's charge will be joined by fellow Gigginstown Stud representative Valseur Lido, with Henry de Bromhead's Smashing and Enda Bolger's Gilgamboa also among the final 10 declarations.
Yesterday, which also began with the sad news of the death of Vincent O'Brien's wife Jacqueline, saw the attendance rise to a record 67,770, up 4,521 or seven per cent on 2015.