Both feature races on day three of the Cheltenham Festival were won by the same horses as 12 months ago as Allaho and Flooring Porter repeated victories, but there was one big difference.
Last year, despite achieving career highlights, they returned to deserted grandstands with only industry professionals in attendance and as much as they tried to replicate the famous atmosphere, they faced a thankless task.
This time round, however, with the final two days of the meeting sold out weeks in advance, there were 70,000 on track to roar, cheer and applaud the two well-backed Irish-trained winners.
In Allaho, sent off the 4-7 favourite for a second win in the Ryanair Chase, those who took the short odds never had a moment of worry.
Rachael Blackmore picked up the ride 12 months ago with Paul Townend preferring the claims of Min, but the Irish champion jockey was back in the plate on this occasion.
Bounced into an early advantage, Allaho was kept honest by Colin Tizzard’s Eldorado Allen, but a series of slick jumps when the taps were turned on meant by the second last Allaho’s biggest obstacles were in front of him.
Having won by 12 lengths last year, the winning margin was extended to 14 this time, with his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Janidil picking up the pieces in second, just in front of Eldorado Allen, who stuck to his task gamely.
“It would make you wonder why I didn’t pick him (Allaho) last year wouldn’t it? He’s an animal to gallop and jump. He’s just really good. I got into a lovely rhythm on him again, it was straightforward,” said Townend.
“We took our time in learning about him but I think we’ve got there now. That’s what he likes doing, he’s built for it, look at the size of him. I’m delighted.”
Mullins said: “Last year was exhilarating. I don’t know what the formbook says, but 12 months ago I was standing here in awe of him. This year I suppose we’re used to it.”
On future plans, Mullins added: “You know me – I like to stick what works! I’d be planning for the Ryanair again next year.
“We’ll see about Punchestown and I’m not going to make any plans for next season. I just want the horse in good form again and I’ll be all for taking the same path as we did this year.”
The scenes which greeted Flooring Porter’s second win in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle 40 minutes later will live long in the memory.
Running in the colours of a syndicate which includes the owners of a pub and a flooring shop owner, hence the name, Danny Mullins was greeted like a champion on his return to the packed enclosure.
A huge group were sporting black and white scarves to match his silks and at one point Mullins was lifted on to their shoulders and ‘there’s only one Danny Mullins’ was heartily sung at the top of their voices.
Unable to celebrate on course last year, they were going to make up for it in style.
Mullins deserved the praise, he had given Gavin Cromwell’s seven-year-old, sent off at 4-1, the perfect waiting ride from the front.
Turning into the straight he looked a sitting duck as his major market rivals like Champ, Thyme Hill, Paisley Park and chiefly Klassical Dream all appeared big dangers.
But just as he had all the way round, Flooring Porter flew the final flight, survived a minor scare when he jinked on landing, and powered away to win by two and three-quarter lengths from Thyme Hill.
He now adds his name to the likes of Big Buck’s, Inglis Drever and Baracouda to have won the race more than once in the past 20 years.
When Flooring Porter had been beaten by Klassical Dream at Leopardstown over Christmas, Cromwell and Mullins felt the start was crucial and they were determined to be in the right place this time around.
“Everything went perfectly to plan and he behaved himself at the start, he’s really grown up now. We set out to make the running and he was foot perfect everywhere and Danny was fantastic on him,” said Cromwell.
“At Leopardstown Klassical Dream got a flyer and we didn’t, and it made the difference – he was beaten just over two lengths. We didn’t want the same to happen in this race.”
Mullins said: “It was pretty simple really. I was confident the horse would be fine at the start. He’s a professional, and it’s a credit to Gavin for his training through the year, training him throughout with Cheltenham in mind.
“He came over a few days earlier to let him get the gas out of his system and he behaved impeccably and did what we believed he could do.
“The reception we got was the stuff that dreams are made of and hopefully we’ll do it many more times.
“The most special thing about it today is the reaction from the owners. They weren’t here last year to enjoy it and it’s very special for them.
“It’s fantastic to hear the boys enjoy it like that, and it shows it can be done with a syndicate. You don’t have to be in the elite to win at Cheltenham, and that’s the magic of jump racing.”