Sunday 18 March 2018

It was an opening day to remember but getting that sweet taste of Festival success just leaves you wanting even more

Patrick Mullins celebrates after winning the National Hunt Chase on his father’s Rathvinden. Photo: Sportsfile
Patrick Mullins celebrates after winning the National Hunt Chase on his father’s Rathvinden. Photo: Sportsfile

Patrick Mullins

What a day! When Footpad won after an ice-cool steer from Ruby Walsh it released the pressure.

A winner on the first day just changes the mood. And for Benie Des Dieux to give Rich Ricci a winner was so important too. And then Rathvinden winning the National Hunt Chase for myself was dreamland territory altogether.

The plan was to get him settled and into a rhythm jumping for the first three miles and then ride a race for the final mile, with the ground riding so heavy.

He fell asleep for me early on and we hugged the inside rail conserving as much energy as possible. For the last lap I was just thinking, 'don't get there too soon'.

His jumping was economical mostly but electric when needed.

He jumped to the front at the second last, which was sooner than I wanted, so I sat until after the last.

For most of the run-in, I thought that we were just going to be out-battled, but in the final, hardest yards Rathvinden answered the call with everything he had and we shaded the verdict narrowly.

People ask what it feels like? But how do you describe colour to a blind person?

Suffice to say it is a feeling like no other I have experienced. The one thing I will say is it is a feeling that leaves you wanting more.

Yesterday is yesterday and it's a winner today I want now. Hunger and greed can go hand in hand.

And so finally we send him into battle again. Douvan reappears exactly one year after cracking his pelvis in the Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2017.

He makes his comeback in the fiercest of contests, taking on the mighty Altior, the current champion Special Tiara and the formidable Min.

This is the race everyone has dreamt about for a year, albeit in less than straightforward circumstances.

It will be a fascinating race to watch and Special Tiara will make sure it is a blood-and-thunder charge every stride of the way.

The cauldron that is Cheltenham has been known to boil up a fairytale but it is also a furnace that has burnt many a beautiful dream to cinder and ash.

While one doesn't need the imagination of JK Rowling to see Douvan winning, if Willie can conjure up this victory, he'll need to replace his trilby with some more Dumbledore-like headgear!

Nevertheless, Douvan's work at home is good. And he has done plenty of it.

We brought Arctic Fire here last year without a run and he won and obviously Quevega did it for several years.

We wouldn't be here if we didn't think he could do himself justice.

It is a Herculean task for a horse, but if any horse can, Douvan can.

He is a horse to be reckoned with. It's dangerous to underestimate an uncrowned champion.

Min has had a fantastic career. He has only been defeated once but that was by Altior at the Cheltenham Festival by seven lengths.

While he is a proper Grade One horse, I find it hard to see him beating Altior or Douvan if either turn up at their best.

However, both have questions to answer so that isn't impossible.

The belief that Samcro is the next racing superstar has spread faster than fire through straw.

I had my doubts until his performance in Leopardstown where he defeated a strong field with ease. He will be difficult to overturn but try we will.

Next Destination leads the attack. He ran well when fourth here in the Champion Bumper last year so you know he handles the track and the atmosphere, two unknowns for Samcro. He jumps well and the ground won't pose a problem.

Duc De Genievres has been beaten by Next Destination and Samcro but is entitled to improve.

I think he represents fantastic each-way value in this race and should not be overlooked. And keep an eye for him next year over fences.

In the Champion Bumper I ride Blackbow, who wouldn't look out of place on a canvas by well-known horse painter Alfred Munnings.

A gorgeous horse with massive, kind ears, he put up the best bumper performance this season last time out.

I really like this horse and he is probably my best chance of a winner this week.

Nevertheless, I am wary of Carefully Selected, who unlike Blackbow would not look out of place on a hunting field.

However, the heavy ground will suit him as it will bring his deep reserves of stamina into play.

Tornado Flyer is intriguing too as I think of all our bumper horses this year, he is the one who has come on the most from his debut.


1.30 Duc De Genievres (e/w)

2.10 Al Boum Photo (e/w )

3.30 Douvan

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