Ruby Walsh could be forgiven regret about his retirement after Chacun Pour Soi announced himself a rare young talent with a sparkling Grade One success at Punchestown on Thursday.
The horse that has been in Willie Mullins’s yard for three years, but only made his debut in March, put up an astonishing performance on just his second start for the champion trainer by landing the Ryanair Novice Chase.
Walsh had been declared to ride the 3-1 winner until his shock retirement announcement 24 hours previously so Robbie Power took over.
Faced with four Grade One winners, Chacun Pour Soi made light of his inexperience to beat two Cheltenham festival heroes in Defi Du Seuil and his own Arkle winning stable companion Duc Des Genievres.
It prompted bookmakers to go as low as 5-1 for next year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, the one major jumps prize in these islands Mullins has still to win.
Whether that winds up as the limit of the seven-year-old’s ambition is debatable however as Mullins enthused about him afterwards in a manner reserved in the past for exceptional talents such as Douvan.
“He looks spectacular, he looks a star. He’s blown them away,” he said.
“When you’ve a JLT and an Arkle winner up against you and you win like it shows he’s something special.
“I said to Robbie not to get involved, to keep him wide and avoid trouble. He’s had niggling problems for two and a half years and we wanted him to have a clear and see if he’s as good as we thought he might be.
“He’s an exciting horse for the future. He’ll gallop and stay all day. Soft ground won’t be a bother to him. We may keep him at two miles next season and go for the Champion Chase, we’ll see,” Mullins added.
Robbie Power added: “One run in a very ordinary Beginners Chase at Naas, and to step into a Grade One with an Arkle winner, and Defi Du Seuil is a hell of a good horse, it was an unbelievable performance. There’s plenty of improvement to come.”
Under the new 'post-Ruby' regime Paul Townend can look forward to the pick of Mullins's colossal team and although missing out on Chacun Pour Soi he began as No 1 on Thursday with two other winners on My Sister Sarah and Elfile.
“It’s (Walsh’s retirement) come at a nice time for Paul,” Mullins said. “Paul is very cool like Ruby. He has a different style of riding but gets very good results. Hopefully we’ll get the same results.”
The Big Getaway was odds on to complete a Mullins four-timer in the bumper but the 4-7 favourite failed to repel Sixshooter's persistent challenge up the straight.
Before Thursday's feature race the English trained veteran Unowhatimeanharry looked like he might maintain the festival's reputation for retirements.
The 11-year-old winner of the 2017 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle appeared a shadow of his former self having been beaten almost 40 lengths on his previous start in Liverpool.
Any impression he had been sent by trainer Harry Fry to flesh out further JP McManus's festival team was hardly belied by a 16-1 'SP', insulting odds for a horse that edged out Nichols Canyon in a memorable renewal of the €300,000 highlight a couple of years previously.
However this didn’t look nearly as good a race this time and Unowhatimeanharry rolled back the clock to record a three length success over a trio of Willie Mullins contenders led by Bacardys.
Fry admitted afterwards his old favourite was probably the least fancied of his team of raiders this week and that the race might have been a last hurrah.
But if Ruby Walsh took a Grade One victory as his cue to stop 24 hours previously, Unowhatimeanharry’s might mean a racing reprieve from retirement.
“He didn’t enjoy himself down the inner at Aintree so we said we’d nothing to lose and he has just come alive. I don’t know whether it’s the Irish air or the change of scenery but it seems to have sparked him.
“He means an awful lot to us. He’s an old favourite that has helped put us on the map,” Fry said.
Three of the four jockeys in the bumper were handed whip penalties. Both Mark O'Hare and Patrick Mullins were given a day each for their use of the whip on the winner Sixshooter and runner up The Big Getaway respectively.
Lisa O'Neill, who got one day for her use of the whip in a race on Wednesday, received three days after finishing third on Fury Road.