Arctic Fires as Willie Mullins claims another Cheltenham victory
Arctic Fire put up a terrific weight-carrying performance to give Willie Mullins a fifth Cheltenham Festival winner of the week in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle.
Runner-up in the 2015 Champion Hurdle, Arctie Fire (20-1) got up on the run to the line under Paul Townend to snatch the spoils.
Wakea held a clear lead up to the final flight where he was swallowed up by the pack, as Arctic Fire came through late to win by a neck from L'Ami Serge. Ozzie The Oscar was another neck away in third and Air Horse One fourth.
Townend said: "It's some training performance to get him back after such a long absence.
"He had top weight but he had it for a reason and I went out with the mindset to ride him like the best horse and thankfully it paid off.
"Donagh (Meyler, on Wakea) had a big lead but it's very hard to do round here, you don't get that much of a lead without doing a hell of a lot.
"At that stage I had no choice but to drop in, there was nothing I could do about it."
Defi Du Seuil took his 100 per cent record over jumps to six with an impressive victory in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, the opening race on the last day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Champion jockey Richard Johnson always looked happy on the Philip Hobbs-trained gelding as Mega Fortune, Dinaria Des Obeaux and Evening Hush cut out the running.
Defi Du Seuil, wearing the first colours of owner JP McManus, cruised through to challenge at the second-last flight and was switched nearer to the stands rail.
The 5-2 favourite soon took command and pulled clear on the run-in to score by five lengths from Mega Fortune, who held Bapaume by a short head for second.
Johnson said: "I was a passenger all the way to be honest, he travelled and jumped.
"At Christmas he shocked me how much speed he had and on the better ground some people thought that was a negative.
"He's just improved all year and I can't believe he's the same horse I rode at Ffos Las four or five months ago.
"All credit to Philip, he's handled him brilliantly all year.
"He travelled so well and I was just trying not to get there too soon.
"I spoke to Barry (Geraghty), who would have ridden him, and it must be very hard for him watching, but he told me exactly how to ride him.
"It's hard for juveniles to make the jump to the Champion Hurdle, but he's not a typical juvenile as he's not an ex-Flat horse."
Mullins said: "It's a bit of a surprise for me, I fancied our other one, Renneti, as he'd been working well at home and I thought Arctic Fire could be a social runner!
"But he's a class horse on his day, even with top weight he'd been dropped 6lb.
"He pulled so hard going down Paul dropped him right in, lucky enough he got a clear passage on the outside. It's fantastic for Paul and Nick Peacock, the owner.
"He chipped a bone when I was getting him ready for last year's Champion Hurdle and he has joint trouble all the time, he's a bit like me getting out of bed on a morning.
"Donal, who rides him at home all the time, knows him inside out and he tells me when he's right or not."