Bookies breathe again after ‘£50m fall’ at Cheltenham
Clean sweep for Mullins-Walsh partnership but horse falls at the last fence
Jennifer Wrynne from Mohill, Co Leitrim at the festival. Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
A racegoer watches the first race on the first day of the Cheltenham festival. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Jamie Codd celebrates with JP McManus and trainer Gordon Elliott after winning on Cause of Causes Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Faugheen is cooled down after winning the 15.20 Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy. Photograph: Reuters / Eddie Keogh
The sun shone out of a cloudless sky bathing the Cotswold Hills overlooking Prestbury Park in Cheltenham with the brilliant light of early spring.
It was nearly a perfect day too for trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh.
This most dynamic of racing duos won the three biggest races of the day, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Douvan, the Arkle won by Un De Sceaux and the brilliant Faugheen destroyed the opposition in the biggest race of the day, the Champion Hurdle.
“It’s great to be part of it,” said Walsh after winning the Champion Hurdle as if he was merely an observer rather than a participant in the unfolding drama.
“It’s a fantastic day, it will never be repeated, not by me anyway,” said the ever self-effacing Mullins. The bookies were already looking at a drubbing and the prospect of an 18/1 accumulator if the Mullins-Walsh partnerships pulled off four straight wins.
It was, according to one bookmaker, “the most expensive fall in punting history” for all those salivating punters with their accumulators. Ladbrokes called it the £50 million fall. Had Annie Power not fallen, it would have cost Paddy Power a conservative estimate of €6 million.
The race was won by Glens Melody who is trained by– that man again – Willie Mullins.
Even when he is losing, he is winning.
Nevertheless, it was the greatest of great days for the Irish with five winners in seven races. Gordon Elliot’s Cause of Causes won the National Hunt Chase giving owner JP McManus a timely 64th birthday present.
Tragically, Peter, the only son of four children, was killed in a farm accident in January 2009 when he was going out to feed Faugheen. The Quinlans were in Cheltenham to witness the ultimate triumph of the horse spotted so presciently by Peter.
“It’s a very emotional day for us,” said his sister Mairead Hussey. “We’ve been following Faugheen for the last three years. We always knew we would get here eventually.”
“Dad always had confidence in him. It means as much for us for someone else to win it as it does for us,” Ms Hussey said.
There was also triumph for the O’Connell family of Glanmire, Co Cork, with Un De Sceaux’s win. Some 25 supporters travelled over for the day .
Owner Edward O’Connell’s son Colm dedicated the win to his parents. Four horses bought for festival running by the O’Connells failed the veterinary test. Un De Sceaux was the fifth.
The trophy was presented to Mr O’Connell by Downtown Abbey and The Imitation Game actor Allen Leech.
“I feel so sorry I have to drive back tonight, it’s killing me,” said Leech as a long day’s Irish celebrations headed into night.