Willie Mullins got off the mark for the Cheltenham 2022 Festival when Stattler ran out a clear-cut winner of the Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase.
It was quick compensation after hot favourite Gaelic Warrior had been agonisingly beaten a short head in the penultimate race of the day, the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Mullins – the winning-most trainer at the showpiece fixture – had also seen the well-fancied Dysart Dynamo fall in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle plus defeats for Appreciate It and Stormy Ireland.
Mullins’ amateur rider son Patrick bided his time on the seven-year-old, as Run Wild Fred set the pace in this three-and-three-quarter-mile test – in which all the runners sported saddle cloths in the colours of Ukrainian flag.
The jockey made his move from three out and Stattler (2-1) eased into he lead before pulling clear to score by eight lengths from the Gordon Elliott-trained 15-8 favourite. The first two were 22 lengths clear of Vanillier in third.
Mullins senior said: “This English dominance has been going on all day! I thought Patrick was very cool on him, certainly my nerves were in bits going round the whole time. Patrick got him into a rhythm, got him settled, got him jumping and produced him at the right time.
“I thought coming round the last bend, when he couldn’t put it to bed, I thought he might just be in trouble, but he got him round the last bend and just pinged him at the second-last.
“He knew he had his measure then. I think he only made one mistake, or put in one short one during the race – Patrick just sat there and got the horse to do the work.
“I think he’s a good jumper and that’s why Patrick nominated him early in the season for this race. He was thinking of himself the whole time, which is the right thing to do, it worked out! He probably has enough class win over two and a half miles or three miles.”
On only six runners going to post, he added: “I suppose Cheltenham will have to look into that, perhaps the good horses are scaring away the other horses. There were very few runners today altogether so that will have to be looked at, I think.”