Vautour’s victory has Willie Mullins thinking ahead
Champion trainer already looking to 2016 Gold Cup for JLT Chase winner
Ruby Walsh on Vautour on his way to winning the 13.30 JLT Novices’ Chase on Day Three of Cheltenham. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Action Images via Reuters.
It completed a clean-sweep of Cheltenham’s three Grade One 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 thinking of anything else but the ultimate prize next season.
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 masterclass 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.
In a Gold Cup he will all but have to yet 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.”
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.
Maiden festivalJamie 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 the Pipe had endured a reverse with the favourite Monetaire coming up short of the 33 to 1 outsider Darna in the Grade Three 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.”