Sky’s the limit for Vautour after dazzling run

‘He’s the real deal - you have to dream (of the Gold Cup). His pedigree says he’ll get any trip’

 

Considering the 2015 Gold Cup has yet to be run it’s presumptuous in the extreme to think about the 2016 version but since Willie Mullins can’t help doing so the rest of us can be excused too after Vautour’s dazzling JLT Chase victory.

It completed a clean-sweep of Cheltenham’s three Grade 1 novice events for Mullins, provided the champion trainer with new personal best festival tally of six winners, and set him up perfectly to attack Nicky Henderson’s record tally of seven when saddling 21 horses on the final day.

And yet all of that faded into comparative irrelevance in the immediate aftermath of a stunning display by Vautour that saw him win by the widest margin of the week - 15 lengths - and stretch the limits of his potential to bursting point.

Ruby Walsh pulled up the winner while simultaneously pointing to him in a manner some of us last recall the jockey doing when Kauto Star first proved himself at three miles in Haydock’s Betfair Chase.

The most complete steeplechaser of modern times went on to land a pair of Gold Cups and neither Walsh nor Mullins bothered pretending they are ultimately thinking of anything else but the ultimate prize next season.

“Definitely a Gold Cup horse,” said the trainer who finds himself in the enviable position of now masterminding the careers of Vautour and Wednesday’s RSA winner Don Poli, both hugely exciting prospects, who share 4-1 joint-favouritism for next year’s Gold Cup, and who could hardly be more different characters.

If Don Poli’s RSA confirmed a laidback reputation that had owner Michael O’Leary describing him as a “lazy bugger,” Vautour’s second festival success was a master-class of swaggering steeplechase brio.

Sent to the lead from the start some of his leaps drew gasps from the packed stands and even when Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido briefly closed coming down the hill, they looked to be picking a fight they couldn’t possibly win.

But after racing so flamboyantly from the outset what really stood out was the burst of power Vautour showed on the turn in, shooting clear to flash up the hill with a panache that had Walsh believing the horse could have gone around again.

Walsh said later: “He was flawless, jumped like a gazelle: the horses behind him are good and he ran them ragged. He’s the real deal - you have to dream. His pedigree says he’ll get any trip. He wasn’t right at Christmas and he got knocked but the trainer got him spot on for this.”

There’s little doubt Vautour has got under Mullins’s skin too. Last year he scoffed at suggestions Faugheen might be the better of the two and even after Faugheen’s brilliant Champion Hurdle win on Tuesday, Mullins still appears to instinctively warm to Vautour more.

“If Faugheen can win a Champion Hurdle, this fellah could too,” he insisted. “I couldn’t get him right all year and had to work him very hard in the last three weeks but maybe that’s what he needs. He destroyed that field. He really could be anything.”

Apache Stronghold’s trainer Noel Meade was inclined to agree, labelling Vautour “a machine” although there was a sting in the tail for the camp afterwards with jockey Paul Carberry receiving a two day suspension for his use of the whip.

Vautour proved to be the sole Irish trained winner on Day Three, bringing the raider tally for the week so far to nine with seven races to go.

A major gamble on the Ted Walsh trained Champagne James in the Kim Muir went astray as the 4-1 favourite finished a never nearer seventh behind The Package.

It was maiden festival win for David Pipe’s veteran at the sixth attempt but a second success of the week for the top Irish amateur Jamie Codd.

“When David weighed me out he said he’d win and I was a bit taken aback,” Codd admitted. “It’s some achievement to win with a 12-year-old but apparently he worked really well with Moon Racer (Wednesday’s Champion Bumper winner) last week.”

Earlier Pipe had endured a reverse with the favourite Monetaire coming up short of the 33-1 outsider Darna in the Grade 3 handicap chase.

It was a first festival win for the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle winning trainer Kim Bailey in 16 years and he said: “There’s no point giving up. Having a winner at Plumpton is one thing - but here’s very special.”

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