'Gold Cup horse written all over him' - Yorkhill delight for Walsh and Mullins
Yorkhill provided Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins with a first victory at this season's Cheltenham Festival with an important success in the JLT Novices' Chase.
Mullins and Walsh had endured an awful first two days of the Festival, most painfully when Douvan folded so meekly in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday.
Little wonder that the relief when Walsh crossed the line, his right arm raised towards the grandstand, was palpable as Yorkhill justified 6-4 favouritism in the Grade One.
Mullins said: "To get on the board is huge. To get on the board in a Grade One is better. It's good for Ruby and the whole team.
"We've had a hard few days, but that's the way it is and we take what we can get."
Yorkhill, winner of the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at last season's Festival, is a gifted racehorse, but he is not without his foibles.
That was again evident along the run-in, when, with the race effectively in safe-keeping, he did not prove particularly enthusiastic under Walsh.
Top Notch, the laudable little pocket rocket from Nicky Henderson's yard, sensed an opportunity and was re-energised in the hands of Daryl Jacob.
But Yorkhill had done enough by then, and regrouped at the death to strike by a length. Disko was third, another three lengths away.
Yorkhill was roundly chopped in the betting for next season's Gold Cup, with Walsh in no doubt that he has the quality to handle a race of such magnitude.
The jockey added: "He's got 'Gold Cup horse' written all over him and always had.
"People crab him because of his jumping, but he has a huge kink in him - people never realised the job Paul Nicholls did with Denman, because he was the same.
"Both are chestnuts by Presenting, the best ones all have a kink, he has a massive engine. He's brilliant. He's got a massive engine. He's fantastic."
Mullins, too, now has one eye on next season's Gold Cup with the Graham Wylie-owned Yorkhill.
He said: "For a moment it looked like he might be coming back to them, but he held on.
"Ruby was great. He's not the easiest of rides and after the last few days I was wondering if he was too far behind.
"But you can't give him his head because if he passes one horse he wants to be in front, so he had to sit and suffer and wait for the gap.
"Ruby thought he was a lot more settled this year than in the Neptune, so we'll maybe go down the Gold Cup route. It took Ruby a long time to pull him up, which is a good sign in any horse."
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Top Notch, said: "He loves it and he would be great for Aintree over two and a half miles if he is OK.
"If you had half a yard full of Top Notch's you could get rid of the rest of them. Life is a pleasure with him. You can set your clock by him.
"What he lacks in size and scope, the heart is so big he does everything you ask of him.
"It might have been costly (mistake at second-last). He came to attack the race then all of a sudden he lost a bit of momentum, but Ruby gave him (Yorkhill) a brilliant ride. We all knew he was the horse we had to beat."
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.