Quevega romps home as nose bleed sees withdrawal of Solwhit

Ruby Walsh’s four-timer moves him to within five winners of Davy Russell in the jockeys’ title race


The phrase ‘just a scratch’ is usually a dismissive term in the tough world of jump racing but a scratch cost Solwhit his chance of festival glory against Quevega and denied Punchestown its eagerly-anticipated day three headline clash.

In headline terms, a rousing 624/1 five-timer for champion trainer Willie Mullins, fronted by Quevega’s subsequent romp in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, substituted pretty well.

And since Ruby Walsh rode four of the Mullins five – at odds of 191/1 – narrowing the gap to Davy Russell in the jockeys’ title race to just five with a couple of days to, it wasn’t like there was nothing for the 16,116-strong festival crowd to enjoy.

But one man who will mostly want to forget yesterday is Davy Russell. The Cork jockey got Solwhit to the start of the big race alright but then he spotted some blood in the favourite’s left nostril and racecourse vet Fiona Hughes took the decision to withdraw the horse.

As Russell and Solwhit made their disconsolate way back, Quevega cruised to a fourth-successive victory in the €170,000 feature, leaving an unavoidable sense of ‘what-might-have-been’ surrounding the enclosures.

That sense was compounded when a subsequent scope on Solwhit revealed no problem internally, and instead the fateful trickle of blood was blamed on a simple scratch just above the nostril.

“Davy did the right thing. He had no choice but to pull him out once he saw the blood. There’s a scratch just above the nostril,” said Solwhit’s trainer Charles Byrnes who added with admirable grace in the circumstances: “The way the mare won, we probably dodged a right one!”

There was no arguing with that, just as there wasn’t with the call to withdraw the horse, considering the myriad of other potentially much more damaging explanations as to why a horse can bleed.

Sense of anti-climax
But it did leave an unavoidable sense of anti-climax that Quevega did her best to overcome with a devastatingly classy dismissal of the big English hope Reve De Sivola, the centrepiece of Mullins’s emphatic bounce back to festival domination.

Her five-length success was the fourth year in a row she has completed a Cheltenham-Punchestown double and Mullins is already aiming at what would be a historic six-in-a-row in Cheltenham’s OLBG Hurdle in 2014.

The champion trainer had a “there-but-for-the-grace-of-God” sympathy for the Solwhit camp but didn’t pretend to be heartbroken at having an easier task presented to his star mare. “It’s the old adage: keep yourself in the best of company, and your horse in the worst!” he grinned. “That kind of thing can happen to any horse at any time. It actually made me more nervous because I didn’t want her to fluff her lines at the last like she has here in the past. But she was foot-perfect throughout.”

Walsh had earlier got off the mark for the festival on the Mullins-trained Twinlight and said: “The ground was plenty heavy enough for her but she’s the real deal. Obviously it was easier without Solwhit. It’s all about winning and if you take out the favourite it’s always easier.”

Mullins stressed the speed Quevega possesses, saying she could substitute for Hurricane Fly at two miles if required, but it is likely to be Cheltenham 2014 before we see her again.

Arvika Ligeonniere dwarfs the diminutive Quevega and he put in a performance to match his stature in the other Grade One, the Ryanair Novice Chase, routing the opposition by almost ten lengths.

Pulled up in the Arkle at Cheltenham, Mullins explained: “He’s not happy going that speed left-handed so Ruby did great pulling him up and keeping him fresh for here. They went some pace and that helped Ruby to hold him. Not everyone can.

“We may keep him at home over two miles next season, or maybe step him up to two and a half in something like the John Durkan. But he’s an exciting horse to have in the yard.”

Walsh brought up his four-timer, joining Barry Geraghty in the leading festival award competition, when Upsie edged out her stable companion Twigline in a gruelling struggle for the mares novice hurdle. Upsie was subsequently installed a 12/1 shot for the mares hurdle at Cheltenham.

And the Mullins-show finished with a nine-length win for Turnandgo in the concluding bumper under the trainer’s son, Patrick. Geraghty remained in contention for leading jockey after Acapulco provided him with a fourth winner.