Quevega’s big heart delivers an historic festival six-in-a-row at Cheltenham

Willie Mullins mare enters record books as first horse to win six times at the festival

If ever a Grade Two prize has come close to compensating for Grade One defeat, then Quevega's OLBG Hurdle victory, less than an hour after Hurricane Fly's Champion Hurdle eclipse, was it: except the whole of Cheltenham knew it wasn't just a singular victory but a six-in-a-row that gives Willie Mullins's little mare a unique place in festival history.

Quevega has won the race more impressively in the past, and there was more than one moment in the last half-mile when her stable companion Glens Melody looked like being the ultimate spoilsport. However, the one gigantic feature about this diminutive star is the size of her heart. She eventually powered through to confirm her status as the ultimate festival banker – ever.

To say that hardly diminishes the legendary status of Golden Miller, prior to Arkle, commonly regarded as the ultimate chaser who put together five Gold Cup victories, and even combined one of them in the same season with a Grand National, an unequalled double secured in the days when Aintree was truly fearsome.

And to point out that Quevega’s achievement, while singular, can hardly compare in terms of raw accomplishment doesn’t diminish her either.

She is a true Grade One performer herself, something she has proven time and again at Punchestown, and which she will try to do again on the back of what has become a traditional pipe-opener to a short but very select season.

"It's way up there with all of my festival winners. I love Quevega and that was one of our missions coming here – trying to get Hurricane Fly across the line didn't work – but to get her here is great," Mullins said.

'So pleased'
"I'm so pleased for her. We might be greedy to try number seven next year; we'll go home and have a think."

The champion trainer had earlier kicked the festival off with a swagger as Vautour routed his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle opposition.

“It was like he was on a different set of rails to the other horses. That’s what I found amazing. It’s just the way he cruised in front. It’s extraordinary that a horse can have that sort of control in a Supreme, certainly for one everyone had down as a stayer,” said Mullins.

“He has size and physique and on that performance I can’t wait to get over fences with him. He treated them like a bunch of maidens,” he added.

It looked all over a Grade One double for Mullins and Ruby Walsh when Champagne Fever led over the last in the Arkle but the joint-favourite was chinned on the line by the 33/1 outsider Western Warhorse who was having just his second start over fences.

"Disappointed with the result, not the performance," Mullins summed up. "We'll step him up markedly in trip next season and hopefully there's plenty to come."

Winning form
The 2013 Pertemps winner Holywell transferred his festival winning form to fences with a win in the three-mile handicap chase under Richie McLernon to give Jonjo O'Neill a 23rd festival winner as a trainer.

“I actually fell out with the handicapper after he gave him a mark of 145 recently, but it looks like he was probably right,” O’Neill laughed.

Present View drifted left across Attaglance in the concluding handicap chase but held on to the win in the stewards room while rider Josh Newman celebrated a first festival success in the four-mile National Hunt Chase on the 8/1 Midnight Prayer.

After Our Conor's demise in the Champion Hurdle, there was widespread hope that Foxrock might give owner Barry Connell some consolation in the marathon contest but he dropped away tamely in the straight.

Connell was philosophical about Our Conor’s death and praised the veterinary assistance he received.

“The vets were very good, and I have to say they gave him every chance but there was nothing that could be done. It’s very sad as he was such a young horse at the beginning of his career,” said the Dublin owner who paid a reputed €1 million for Our Conor last year.

“It’s unfortunate but it does with the territory – in this game one minute you can have a winner and the next one of your horses can die. They gave him sedatives straight away so he was in no pain. Everything was top class. I’ve been in this game 40 years, and one of the reasons everyone loves it is that the highs are very high and the lows are very low,” Connell added.

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