Saturday 16 December 2017

A Power trip helps make it Ruby Tuesday all over again

Bookies suffer a 'bloodbath' as Mullins and Walsh grab the glory at Cheltenham

Jockey Ruby Walsh and his horse Annie Power are welcomed to the winners’ enclosure
Jockey Ruby Walsh and his horse Annie Power are welcomed to the winners’ enclosure
Ruby Walsh celebrates winning the 4.10 OLBG Mares' Hurdle on Vroum Vroum Mag. Photo: Reuters
Brendan Grufferty, from Swinford in Co Mayo, watches and feels every fence as Annie Power competes in the Champion Hurdle. Photos: Gerry Mooney
Kirsty Farrell from Newry, Co Down, at the Cheltenham races yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Willie Mullins at Cheltenham yesterday. Photo: PA
Margaret Connolly from Mullingar at Cheltenham. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Jane O'Faherty at Cheltenham

Roars, tears and cheers filled Cheltenham Racecourse as Willie Mullins' Annie Power powered to victory in the feature race on Champion Day.

Emotion and anticipation were palpable among punters and bookies alike, as spectators gathered in their thousands for the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

Annie wasn't just the bookies' favourite - the thundering applause of the crowds gave the impression that everyone was rooting for her.

Memories of the mare's defeat in last year's OLBG Mares' Hurdle were still raw. Annie Power had been the favourite to win in that race, but she fell.

The eight-year-old, who was the 5/2 favourite of the Stan James Champion Hurdle, didn't disappoint this time around.

Coral bookmakers called the day a "bloodbath" when the "dream team" of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh stormed to glory on Day One of the festival.

"Douvan, Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag ensured punters destroyed the bookies on the opening day of the festival, costing the industry an estimated £10m," Coral's Nicola McGeady said.

Brendan Grufferty, from Swinford, Co Mayo, was gripped in the drama as he watched from the sidelines.

He went from praying to pumping his fists - and eventually to rubbing his hands with glee as Annie raced home under Ruby.

But the win didn't just bring back memories of the mare's 2015 loss - it also drew comparisons with Dawn Run, another Mullins-trained mare who occupies a hallowed place in the Cheltenham legend.

Dawn Run won the Champion Hurdle in 1984 for Willie's father, Paddy.

"When I got Annie Power [from trainer Jim Bolger] I thought this is the closest mare I have seen to Dawn Run," Mullins told reporters.

"She is a different colour, but physically she is a big, strong mare with speed and stamina."

But he stressed that it would be up to her owner - Susannah Ricci - to decide if she would go on to emulate Dawn Run.

Meanwhile, Ruby Walsh said Annie had "put in one hell of a performance".

"I said to Willie I was going to ride her like Dawn Run - buck out and go," he said.

"She travelled super, she jumped probably better than she's ever jumped."

Husband of the owner, Rich Ricci, had previously told reporters that he would be "bawling like a baby" if the mare came first.

It was a promise that he kept, as he fought back tears in the parade ring.

"I just watched the last hurdle, and that was pure elation and joy," he said. "It was very emotive - I cried. I couldn't believe she won."

Ricci said that the win felt like "redemption".

"People have taken her to heart as well, given that she fell and given the struggles that she's had. It's terrific to win for everybody."

Annie Power was one of three wins for Willie Mullins' horses. Douvan stole the show when he came first in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase.

Later on, the Ricci-owned Vroum Vroum Mag raced through to win the National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup.

But the successes were bittersweet for Ricci, as he apologised to punters for his decision to move his horse Vatour from the Gold Cup on Friday. Vatour will instead run tomorrow.

"I felt bad, because I had said that if the horse was working well enough to run in the Ryanair (tomorrow)why wouldn't we run in the Gold Cup?" he said.

Ricci and Mullins will still be represented in the Gold Cup by Djakadam, who finished second to Coneygree last year.

Independent TD Michael Lowry also arrived at the racecourse to support Mullins's team.

"I come here every year," he said, adding that he was rooting for Douvan, Vroum Vroum Mag, and Your Tent Or Mine.

"There is plenty of drama at home, so hopefully that will relax itself in due course," he said.

This morning, attention will turn to an altogether different type of contest as attendees vie for the coveted title of winner at Ladies' Day.

But Kirsty Farrell and her mother, Rosie, from Newry, weren't waiting around.

Kirsty (20) was wearing a stunning white dress and matching hat, which she sourced in her mother's boutique, Rosie's Closet.

"Everybody was looking at her on the train," Rosie (49) said. "It was full of men - hundreds and hundreds of men. They were saying 'Where the hell are they going in those shoes?'."

But Kirsty and Rosie had come prepared for any eventuality - including high-heel-induced fatigue.

"We've got tracksuits and runners," said Rosie, gesturing to the suitcase they brought to the racecourse.

Irish Independent

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