It was always going to be an emotional opening day once Annie Power cleared the last in the Champion Hurdle and charged up the famous hill in front.
A year ago, the Willie Mullins-trained mare had suffered a spectacular fall at the same final hurdle in the mares' race, throwing Ruby Walsh to the ground and saving bookmakers' an estimated payout of stg£50 million.
It was the kind of fall that makes observers fear the horse will never get up. Annie Power not only did that, she returned yesterday to win the biggest race of the opening day. Her luck had certainly turned; she wouldn’t have been in the field had Mullins’s star hurdler, Faugheen, not been injured in the run-up to the race.
Perhaps it is her underdog status – a girl racing against the boys – that lends Annie Power her special appeal. One Cheltenham veteran of some 25 years , Frank Wall from Tarbert, did not mind confessing that he was “in love with Annie Power”, the kind of statement that might get a man into trouble in other circumstances.
Such emotional declarations are not normally associated with Ruby Walsh, a jockey noted for his composure and focused determination. But he too was visibly moved in the wake of Annie Power's win, which he dedicated to "another Annie", a six-year-old girl who is being treated for a serious illness at Crumlin children's hospital. Annie is the daughter of Tim Brennan, a vet in Mullins's yard.
The win was reminiscent of that of another great Irish mare, Dawn Run, who went on from also winning the Champion Hurdle in 1984 to taking the Cheltenham Gold Cup two years later – a rare feat, as it takes raw speed to win the first race; stamina for the second.
“I said I’m going to ride her like Dawn Run, jump out and go and if they catch me, they catch me,” an exultant Walsh said after the race.
They didn’t catch her.
Amidst the celebrations, there was sadness in the racing world at news of the death of Jacqueline O'Brien, the widow of renowned trainer Vincent O'Brien. She was a noted author and photographer and President Michael D Higgins was among those who paid tribute.