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Festival gets off to a Fly-er for raiders

INCREDIBLE. Extraordinary. Amazing. Brilliant.

Above are just four words that equally describe three things. Willie Mullins. Ruby Walsh. Day one of Cheltenham 2013.

After the slight initial drama of inspections and snow, what followed was simply beyond belief.

This meeting is described by all in racing circles as 'the greatest show on earth' – it's supposed to be good – but it was the manner in which the day unravelled that really made March 12, 2013 unforgettable.

If you weren't gripped by what happened in this part of the Cotswolds yesterday, you are reading the wrong pages of this newspaper.

In fact, you are obviously missing the rock that you are supposed to be under.

The main story of the day was how Hurricane Fly silenced his doubters and the manner in which he did it.

Watching the race the signs looked ominous, ominous that all the hype and all the upbeat reports about him were going to be quashed. At one stage, it appeared Hurricane Fly was going to be squatted in the desert.

But then the class came through.

In front, the blinkered Rock On Ruby set out a good gallop, Countywide Flame tracked and Hurricane Fly was "never travelling like he can do", according to Walsh.

As Walsh continued he said: "What he has along with all the class, is an unbelievably big heart for a small horse and he is as tough as nails. He has never been short of stamina or guts and he jumped the last when I needed one today."

Hurricane Fly became the only other horse after Comedy Of Errors to regain the Champion Hurdle, and Walsh added: "I'm pleased he did because he is a true champion hurdler."

About the build-up, Walsh concluded: "He didn't spark last year when he lost his title and people can knock the horse all they like but this is his 15th Grade One victory and he's come back again.

"I don't see why he couldn't come back here and be competitive next year as a 10-year-old.

"We knew we were in a better place with him this year and I could sense from Willie that he was happier with the horse."

Mullins equalled the record of Tom Dreaper as the leading Irish-based trainer with the Champion Hurdle win, a record he now holds on his own after Quevega's triumph.

Of his second Champion Hurdle success he said: "This means a great deal, but most of all that the horse came back and proved himself. He has justified our belief in his ability and has done on the track what he'd been telling us at home that he could do."

While many were having mini heart attacks as Hurricane Fly looked in trouble, Willie Mullins admitting to remaining calm.

 

Worried

"Even when he was five or six lengths off the pace, I could se Ruby wasn't down riding him, so I felt he wasn't worried and that he felt he had enough horse underneath him."

Quevega's win in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle brought her on a par with the legendary Golden Miller to win at five consecutive Cheltenham Festivals and also gave Mullins that aforementioned Dreaper record which he is likely to extend throughout the week.

The manner in which Quevega won was astonishing. A length-and-a-half was the official distance but that doesn't tell the full story as she was lucky to stay in the race approaching two out when she either clipped heels or tripped over herself.

"That's five years she has won now so at some stage something was going to have to go against her. But in any sport the good ones come through when things don't go right and that is what she has done there today.

"I thought we were done for after that happened and I had to give her a breather, but she picked up again and I thought, 'We have to catch this frog' and we did! She's some mare, isn't she?"

Mullins admitted to not seeing the incident where she was down on her nose and reflected on his record-breaking achievements.

"I grew up listening to stories of Golden Miller. You don't dream of being associated with a horse who can win here five times.

"It'll be hard to replace her but we'll worry about that then."

Mullins and Walsh began the afternoon in the best possible way as Champagne Fever made every yard of the running to become the first horse since Montelado to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle after the Champion Bumper. The trainer said: "It was a very brave performance. He made a mistake at the third last when Ruby said he heard My Tent Or Yours coming behind him and just took off. But he landed running at the back of it and to do that after making a mistake at that hurdle is something else. He was full of running."

Mullins had toyed with the idea of going straight over fences after winning the Champion Bumper.

"His run here in the Bumper was extraordinary and we thought about it and he schooled over fences in Punchestown last May. But I just felt that we would benefit from the experience of learning about racing over hurdles before he went chasing. His pedigree would suggest he will make a three-mile chaser."

What a start.


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