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.
However, a sound leap from Dodging Bullets saw him land in front and he stayed on up the Cheltenham hill, finding the necessary extra to repel River Maigue by a length and a half. Court Minstrel was the same distance back in third.
Nicholls said: “He wants a fast-run race, he stays and this will have done him the world of good.
“He showed last year in the Triumph Hurdle that he’s a classy horse but he was just struggling with his breathing.
“We might go for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day and then come back for the Supreme here - it’s a long way off to start planning yet.”
Dynaste made a stunning fencing debut as he powered away with the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase, the first event of the day.
The race has a rich history with the likes of Denman and Imperial Commander on the recent roll of honour and Dynaste added his name with a thoroughly impressive display.
Sent off a 7 to 4 chance for trainer David Pipe, Tom Scudamore was happy to bide his time on Dynaste as Unioniste made a bold bid from the front with favourite Fingal Bay on his heels.
Scudamore was still sitting at the rear of the field at the third-last as Fingal Bay hit the front and kicked for home.
However, Dynaste was always travelling well and when Scudamore sent him up to join Fingal Bay at the last, he accelerated away on landing and passed the post a comfortable four-and-a-half-length victor.
Scudamore said: “We’ve always known he was a very good horse. You can’t fail to have been impressed by that.
“It was probably more of a speed test and that suited him.” Pipe said: “It was nice to get it over with.
“He jumped well, they didn’t go that quick, and he’s quickened up well. He looked like he won a little bit cosily in the end.
“He’s French and he’s neat, we were pleased with his schooling at home. This is not his Gold Cup today and I’m sure he’ll improve for it.
“We were getting weight off Fingal Bay, and Fingal Bay might be more of a three-miler. Does he need many (races)? He didn’t look too bad there, jumping wise.
“He’s still in the Betfair Chase (Haydock) but that would be unlikely.
“Grands Crus (last year’s Pipe-trained winner) went to Newbury and then to the Feltham (Kempton), and going down that route is a possibility.”
Trainer Philip Hobbs said of Fingal Bay: “He jumped very well and was just beaten by a better horse. Dynaste was a seriously good hurdler and we were giving him weight.
“I suppose we’ll go for the Feltham, but I don’t know whether we’ll run before that.”
Buck Magic (7 to 1) made a successful debut after moving from Keiran Burke to Neil Mulholland when battling home in The Irish Times conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle.
“He’ll go chasing now,” said Mulholland.
Another, rather more venerable, Pipe grey, Swing Bill (14 to 1), improved his already excellent record in the Bates Hats amateur riders’ handicap chase.