Just as many had expected, Willie Mullins dominated day one of the Cheltenham Festival, with Faugheen the star of the show.
A record breaking first day crowd saw Douvan set the Closutton juggernaut rolling with a stunning victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. A third straight win in the opener for the Mullins/Ruby/Ricci combination; he swept to the front turning for home, before staying on powerfully to defeat his stablemate Shaneshill. The winning time was quick, though a full second slower than that posted by Vautour in last season’s race.
A brisk pace had been set by Paddy Brennan on Some Plan, before he was overhauled by Henry De Bromhead’s lovely big gelding, Sizing John. Ruby always appeared to have matters under control, and when asked, his willing partner had all the answers. L’Ami Serge battled on for fourth, though always looked uncomfortable on this quicker surface. A thrilled crowd chanted ‘Ruby, Ruby, Ruby’, leaving bookies emptying their satchels and anticipating the worst.
At least they had a chance in the next with the impetuous Un De Sceaux. Just three minutes and 50 seconds later such hopes were crushed and the familiar sight of Walsh punching the air was met with cheers and chants from the adoring fans. The more experienced God’s Own managed to get to within six lengths and Josses Hill despite taking several fences with home produced minor miracles to take third. Mullins’ young chaser was simply in a league of his own.
An hour or so later it was time for Faugheen to take centre-stage. His main opposition appeared to come from The New One and 2014 champ Jezki. Tactics were expected to play a major part in the outcome, but in truth it’s hard to imagine what the rest could have done to prevent the inevitable. Ruby set a sensible pace rather than a relentless gallop, pressing for home approaching the final turn. The race was quickly ended as a contest and Arctic Fire was left to chase home the favourite.
The wonderful Hurricane Fly made it a clean sweep for the stable with Jezki and The New One floundering in fourth and fifth. Faugheen always had the look of a true champion and he backed up that appearance on the biggest stage of all. He really is a machine.
And so it was left to Annie Power to complete the opening day rout. The mare’s hurdle that had been dominated by Quevega for so many years appeared to be going to the new dazzling heroine as she cruised clear approaching the last. But jump racing is a truly dramatic sport, and nothing is assured until the finishing line is past. Ruby sitting perfectly still, allowed Annie to make up her own mind. To the gasps of thousands she seemed unsure of her take-off point and stepped at the flight, crumpling on landing.
Such are the riches in the Mullins yard that he was still able to take the race, with Glens Melody benefitting from the shocking ‘Power Failure’. Thankfully Annie was quickly to her feet and clearly unharmed, as was the visibly sickened jockey.
The day had proved that Mullins is without doubt the dominant force in Jump racing, and yet had reminded all of the dramatic nature of this sport that we so love. And as fans exited the course, some with wallets bulging though many probably in conversation with their bank manager, all were turning their thoughts to the thrilling racing that lies ahead. Today the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Don Poli are set to thrill and enthral. How lucky we are.