Joy of six for Irish as Ruby brings up Cheltenham half-century
A bumper 65,544 St Patrick's Day Cheltenham Festival crowd that was heavily populated by the travelling hordes revelled as Irish trainers combined to win six of yesterday's seven races.
On a heady afternoon in the Cotswolds that saw Ruby Walsh (above) hit a half-century of Festival wins aboard Black Hercules before adding two more in emphatic style on Vautour and Limini, four Irish handlers combined to bring the running tally to 11, one more than the home team.
It was just the second time that they departed with a six-timer, the first coming on Champion Chase day in 2011. A record 13 was the final total then. That was topped by one in 2013, and Willie Mullins's domination has helped achieve hauls of 12 and 13 in the past two years. With five of the seven favourites on this afternoon's Gold Cup finale, a new record could well be on the cards.
Mullins and Walsh are also on the verge of personal bests, with the champion trainer requiring two to set a new benchmark of nine and his exquisite rider requiring just one for an unprecedented eight.
The majestic Vautour, controversially rerouted from the Gold Cup to contest yesterday's less taxing Ryanair Chase, stole the show. He had been working so poorly at home recently that Walsh joked after his facile rout: "If I was training him, and thank God I'm not, he wouldn't have been here; he would have been at home in Carlow. That's why Willie Mullins is so good - he shuffled the pack, and said, 'Put him in the Ryanair and see what happens'. He's a genius."
Today, in an eagerly-anticipated Gold Cup, Mullins and Walsh combine for last year's runner-up Djakadam in the quest to end the incredible trainer's run of five second-place finishes.
Gordon Elliott's Don Cossack is the race favourite and will be ridden by Bryan Cooper, while his owner Michael O'Leary also has Don Poli on duty under Davy Russell. Each of the quartet were among the winners yesterday.