Uncle Junior defends Cheltenham crown
Racing:Willie Mullins’s Uncle Junior (9 to 2) shrugged off an early jumping mistake to claim back-to-back victories in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on the first day of the Open meeting at Cheltenham.
Ridden by his son Patrick, Uncle Junior was chasing the leaders through the early stages and was lucky to survive a hairy leap at one of the larger obstacles.
However, he was quickly back on the bridle for Mullins jnr and threw down his challenge to leader and favourite Balthazar King some way out in the three-mile-seven-furlong contest.
Uncle Junior was firmly on top at the last and sprinted clear to win by 11 lengths with Outlaw Pete in third.
Jackie Mullins, wife of trainer Willie, said: “Patrick won here on him last season, he loves it here. He’s run over in France and ran in the Pardubicka three weeks ago so we’re thrilled.
“Willie was wondering whether to run him or wait for the race in December, but he said we’d bring him and it worked. I don’t know what the difference was between his last race and this, he just loves it here maybe.”
Patrick Mullins said of his bad mistake: “I probably made it look worse than it was. I get a kick out of riding in these races.”
Shooters Wood (7 to 1) kept on gamely for trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Ruby Walsh in the paddypower.com Handicap Chase.
Walsh was always in the front rank aboard the eight-year-old as Arctic Ben tried to make all and Shooters Wood looked well in control as they rounded the turn at the top of the straight.
French raider Wetak tried to go with him but he pecked on landing at the second-last and it looked as though the battle was over.
However, Scudamore switched Wetak to the inside and he ran on again but Shooters Wood stayed on grimly to prevail by a length and a half.
Silver Roque claimed third, while 9 to 2 joint-favourites Astracad and Kid Cassidy failed to make an impact.
Nicholls said: “We were delighted with our horse (Unioniste, third) in the first. He ran well behind two very good horses and this lad’s run a blinder.
“Ruby said he probably should have won on him at Taunton the last day. It was the first time he’d sat on him and he said he should have saved a bit.
“Today I knew Ruby would ride him a bit differently and save a little bit for the hill and it was perfect.
“I think left-handed tracks suit him better. He looks an out-and-out two-miler and I’m not sure what we will do with him now.”
Walsh said: “He’s a good jumper and has loads of pace which is what you need in a two-mile horse.”
Nicholls and Walsh made it a double as 5 to 4 favourite Dodging Bullets made virtually every yard in the Grade Two Opus Energy Novices’ Hurdle.
Walsh was positive from the off aboard the Frankie Dettori-bred winner but he looked to have a battle on his hands as there were five in with a chance at the last.