Rock on, Ruby! Jockey dominates opening day at Cheltenham Festival

Annie Power put in an excellent performance to win the Champion Hurdle and trainer Willie Mullins had a strong start

BY Cian Roche 19:07 Tuesday 15 March 2016, 19:07 15 Mar 2016

It was all about Ruby Walsh and renowned trainer Willie Mullins on day one of the Cheltenham Festival this afternoon, with the pair claiming three of the four Grade One victories of the day's seven-race card.

The day got off to a disappointing start, however, as Min was beaten in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle by Nicky Henderson trained Altior.

Willie Mullins' Min was the heavy antepost favourite going into today's race, with most bookmakers pricing him at 15-8. It looked for the most part to be accurate, travelling well in behind Charbel and preparing to make a move coming into the last fences.

However, a superb jump from Altior over the last gave jockey Nico de Boinville the momentum to go on and win the race.

Altior benefited from a superb jump on the last to bring him home ahead of Min. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Then came the Arkle Trophy and all the talk was understandably around last year's Supreme Novice's winner, Douvan.

A dominant performance at Cheltenham as well as a proven record, seven wins from seven, saw him move from 4-11 favourite to 1-4.

“Douvan is at that point in his career where we don’t know if we’ve had anything as good. He captures my imagination every time I see him” Mullins said in the run up to the race.

This sentiment, it turned out, was entirely justified. 

Douvan made light work of the field with Sizing John valiantly trying to keep pace, a horse who has come runner up to the six year-old on four occasions.

The other each-way money was going on Vaniteux, who fell with two to jump. Sizing John had to settle for runner-up once again, while 33-1 shot Fox Norton finished strongly to take third.

Douvan made light work of the field today, finishing seven lengths clear of Sizing John. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

If the opening two races of the day were for the purist, then the Grade 3 Handicap Chase was a little more bruising. 

Two dozen runners went to post for the 2.50pm start and just over half completed the race with a litany of falls over the three mile, one furlong course.

Un Temps Pour Tout was the stand-out performer under Tom Scudamore, leading for large swathes of the race and pushing rival Holywell all the way to the last. The Young Master finished just behind the pair.

Un Temps Pour Tout and Tom Scudamore clear the last ahead of Holywell en route to victory. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

After Faugheen was withdrawn from this year's Champion Hurdle, all eyes fell upon his replacement, Annie Power.

Last year she had the Mares' Hurdle at her mercy before shadow-jumping the final fence and falling when she was six or seven lengths clear of the rest of the field.

There was to be no repeat this year, a race that was ridden at a ferocious pace all the way through culminated in a comfortable victory for the eight year-old under Ruby Walsh.

The Willie Mullins trained mare saw off the challenge of The New One, whose poor jumping over the final two cost him, as well as stablemate Nichols Canyon.

Canyon could only settle for third behind My Tent Or Yours, whose first run in just under two years was a successful one under a reserved Barry Geraghty.

Annie Power was a deserved winner today in the Champion Hurdle and streaked clear after a good jump over the final two. 

Mullins' fortunes continued from there as 8-11 favourite Vroum Vroum Mag then recovered from a slow start to capture the Mares' Hurdle for a second consecutive year for the trainer.

After being held up in the midfield for the bulk of the race and trailing early pace setter Desert Queen, she showed her class and accelerated over the final three furlongs to finish comfortably in first, ahead of Rock On The Moor and Legacy Gold.

In the final races of the day, it was Minella Rocco who was victorious in the Four-Miler (146th Year Of The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup) and 8-1 shot Ballyalton who claimed the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase.

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