'Flawless' Vautour runs rivals ragged
Mullins and Walsh again combine to devastating effect on a trying fourth day for Festival raiders
By the time this afternoon's Gold Cup is run, it is quite conceivable that Willie Mullins will have the first three in the betting for next year's renewal following Vautour's barnstorming victory yesterday.
On Wednesday, the champion trainer's Don Poli announced his arrival on the big stage with a straightforward RSA success. He was promptly installed at the head of the betting for the 2016 Gold Cup, and Vautour now shares that honour at a best-priced 6/1 following his front-running demolition job in the JLT Novices' Chase.
At Cheltenham a year ago, the handsome son of Robin Des Champs with the distinctive white blaze made all to pulverise the opposition in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. After Faugheen's Neptune annihilation the following day, Mullins insisted that he wouldn't touch Vautour.
It was a familiar story this time. After two fences, Ruby Walsh decided that they weren't going quick enough for Vautour (6/4 favourite), so he took control of his own destiny. The six-year-old skipped majestically from fence to fence and, when the chasing pack threatened to lay a glove on him down the hill, Walsh gave him an inch of rein. It was the equivalent of a knockout punch. Vautour pinged the last two obstacles and strode 15 lengths clear of two Grade One winners in Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido.
Mullins was purring yet again, reaffirming that, anything Faugheen could do, Vautour could do, too. Imagine.
"Leaving Cheltenham last year I thought he was the best horse I had," Mullins said of his sixth winner of the week. "Faugheen was fantastic then and he was fantastic on Tuesday, but I think this horse could be better. I'd imagine if we had run Vautour in the Champion Hurdle he would have been able to do just the same.
"He wasn't right at Christmas, but from the first time we started schooling him I was taken with him. I've always loved this horse. I've had to work really hard for the past three weeks to get him back into that shape, but that's probably what he needs - hard work. This lad has it all. He is definitely a Gold Cup horse. There's some summer dreaming to be done."
With another precocious six-year-old in Djakadam backed into 6/1 second favourite for today's big race, not to mention the elder statesmen, On His Own and Boston Bob, Mullins' stranglehold on the game is unlikely to relent any time soon.
Walsh was brilliant on the winner, his conviction putting the matter beyond doubt on a horse that had his doubters due to some less than convincing fencing prior to this.
"He's the real deal," Walsh gushed after soaring into that revered winner's enclosure with his arms aloft once again. "He wasn't right at Christmas and people jumped on the bandwagon and knocked him, but we tipped away and he schooled beautifully at Leopardstown last Saturday.
"When Willie and I talked about plans for this horse, I maintained he wanted a trip. Today over two-and-a-half miles he jumped like a gazelle and quickened up so impressively off the bend - I would say it was flawless. The horses behind are very good and he ran them ragged. Yes, brilliant."
When you throw Un De Sceaux's similarly emphatic Arkle rout into the mix, the mind boggles at what the future holds for the Closutton behemoth. Vautour's success took Mullins to within one of Fulke Walwyn's Festival tally of 40. Only Nicky Henderson's running tally of 52 beats that, and you can be sure Mullins is a long way from finished.
It was a trying day for the raiders otherwise, not to mention punters, whose gains over the first two days were close to being wiped out by a succession of big-priced winners. By the close of business, the home team led the cross-channel contingent 11-9 in terms of firsts, a four-way swing.
Don Cossack couldn't cope with the AP McCoy-inspired Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase. Gavin Sheehan then replicated his superiors' pillar-to-post exploits to plunder a first Festival triumph on the Warren Greatrex-trained Cole Harden in the World Hurdle.
None of the cross-channel hopefuls ever got in a blow, but it was a memorable triumph for Sheehan, the 22-year-old outgoing champion conditional from Dunmanway in west Cork.
"That was amazing," Sheehan beamed. "This is what dreams are made of. I am based with Warren and the yard has gone from strength to strength. We are having a flying time."
Jamie Codd was also flying. The champion point-to-point jockey secured his second win of the week when David Pipe's 12-year-old The Package, which was backed from 12/1 into 9/1, benefited from the carnage caused by Sixty Something's crashing fall at the fourth-last fence in the Kim Muir. That was cruel on his jockey Jason McKeown, but them's the breaks.