Maybe Champagne Fever will make the point redundant tomorrow but if Willie Mullins’s ambition to win a first Queen Mother Champion Chase keeps him awake at night then the prospect of Un De Sceaux tackling the two-mile crown in 2016 will be a very soothing one indeed.
That Mullins’s ambition is already giving sleepless nights to every other trainer in the sport isn’t stopping the all-conquering trainer from plotting a future replete with outstanding novice prospects such as the Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Douvan who initiated Mullins’s unique Cheltenham Grade 1 four-timer completed by Glens Melody in the OLBG Hurdle.
Yet even amongst the most powerful stable in jump racing Un De Sceaux has a unique niche as that most exciting of steeplechase animals, the specialist two-mile speedster. And now he has a new string to his bow too.
Significantly, the word Mullins opted for to describe Un De Sceaux’s Racing Post Arkle victory was probably the last one anyone had anticipated - “measured.”
Normally described in freewheeling near-runaway terms, Un De Sceaux looked as close to calm as he has ever done and managed it on the biggest, noisiest and most pressurised stage of all.
Even over the first few fences when he even got briefly headed by Dunraven Storm Un De Sceaux didn’t react as if affronted.
Instead he allowed Ruby Walsh to ease him back into a lead which looked comfortable to everyone bar those with the actual task of following him. Only the outsider Gods Own briefly threatened to upset the 4-6 favourite’s serene progress and once Walsh pointed Un De Sceaux at the last, another spectacular leap quickly settled the issue.
“He’s not a typical looking racehorse and I don’t think he has any pedigree either which is extraordinary. He’s what we call a pure freak,” said Mullins. “He’s racing a lot more settled now. It shows how he has matured as a jumper. He measures his fences. In fact the whole performance was measured. Ruby just has to hang on.”
Remarkably it was Walsh's first steeplechase win at the festival since Kauto Star's 2009 Gold Cup but the man who rode Master Minded and Azertyuiop to Champion Chase victory reckons that dream is very much on.
“He reminds me of Azertyuiop when he was a novice and it would be wonderful if he could go on and reach those heights,” he said. “He was going fast but looking at what he was doing. He’s very, very talented.”
Similar praise, and similar predictions of even better to come, circled around Douvan’s head after he kicked the Mullins show off in style in a Supreme performance that saw him beat his stable companion Shaneshill by over four lengths.
“He has a big engine and will be some horse in the future,” said Walsh while Mullins added: “Douvan is every inch a chaser. Mind you I said the same last year about Faugheen. But this one needs to fill out. After a summer at grass I hope he comes back a big, well-muscled horse. He’s raw but has so much natural ability.”
On the run to the last in the OLBG Mares Hurdle, a momentous four-timer for Walsh, and a hat-trick for Faugheen and Douvan's owner, Rich Ricci, looked inevitable as the 1-2 favourite Annie Power cruised to the front.
However a crashing fall left the door open to her stable companion Glens Melody to go one better than a second to Quevega last year, initiating a double for Mullins's No 2 jockey Paul Townend who added the finale on Irish Cavalier for Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis.
“She held on. I thought she was going to get caught up the hill,” said Mullins. “Annie is okay. I just felt Ruby stood off at the hurdle, probably going too well, and clipped the top.”
Cause Of Causes threw away his chance with a final fence mistake in last year's Kim Muir but the last obstacle had to be bypassed at the end of the four-mile National Hunt Chase and Gordon Elliott's consistent horse finished best under Jamie Codd to provide owner JP McManus with 64th birthday success.
It was the former good hurdler’s first success over fences and he could now attempt to win the Aintree National next month.
Co Antrim born trainer Neil Mulholland secured a first festival winner as The Druids Nephew landed the Ultima Business Handicap Chase under Barry Geraghty. And he too could be heading to Liverpool.
“Today was always a stop towards the Grand National but I’ll talk to Barry and see. I don’t want to talk it up,” said Mulholland who runs The Young Master in the RSA. “He’s had the same prep as The Druids Nephew and it’s looking good.”