Racing

Willie Mullins hits back with four Cheltenham winners

STANDFIRST

Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins get their hands on some silverware after Nichols Canyon won the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham yesterday Picture: PA
Graham Clark

Casting a spell at the Cheltenham Festival has rarely proved a problem for Willie Mullins and after a miserable first two days, the master Irish trainer worked his magic to roar back with a sensational 179/1 four-timer yesterday.

Having been left frustrated with the likes of Limini and in particular the mighty Douvan being beaten, it was very much a case of the empire striking back as the Closutton handler stole the limelight from his Irish counterpart Gordon Elliott.

Elliott, who with five winners on the board threatened to leave Mullins toiling in his wake, could only look on as Nichols Canyon, Yorkhill, Let's Dance and Un De Sceaux hit top spot, all with the assistance of Ruby Walsh.

Reflecting on his day, Mullins, who reached the 50 Festival winners mark with Un De Sceaux, said:"I wouldn't like to tell you what was going through my mind last night, but on the other side of that coin, when we analysed all the runners, apart from Douvan we didn't have any other runner that should have won.

"Maybe the Mares' Hurdle could have been different if we'd had different tactics, but they were beaten by Apple's Jade and there's nothing wrong with that, either.

"We were worried ourselves whether there was something wrong, but we said 'there can't be anything wrong, they're finishing second, third and fourth'. Douvan was the only blip, really.

"All I wanted was to get on the board. I sort of had Yorkhill in my mind.

"People expect us to have winners here, we just hope to have winners here and have huge respect for the place."

The centrepiece of that accomplishment belonged to an unlikely hero in Nichols Canyon, who at last gained the recognition his talents deserved with a battling three-quarters of a length victory in the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.

While the win was a fifth in the race for Walsh, and owner Graham Wylie's fourth after three for Inglis Drever, it was an inaugural triumph in the three-mile Grade One contest for Mullins.

He said: "He is like Hurricane Fly, he just gets down and grinds it out. Ruby and him were made for each other, especially in a battle like that.

"He is a horse that has that bit of class, as he has won several Grade Ones before this so we reckoned if he fired on the day he could do it. I wasn't coming here today thinking he was going to win. It was some performance. I didn't particularly think the three miles would suit.

"The first one (Yorkhill) was relief and the second (Un De Sceaux) was great, but this was pure joy as it was unexpected and they are the winners to have. When you don't expect it, you can really enjoy it."

Rich Ricci, arguably Mullins biggest owner, finally saw his pink and green silks welcomed back to the winner's enclosure after Let's Dance claimed the Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle.

Ricci said: "We're late to the party, but we've brought the music.

"It's such a relief to get one, yesterday was tough (defeat of Douvan), it's been a brutal season but there's no future in history, you've got to keep looking forward. This game would tame a lion, it's up and down.

"It would be great to give Willie a Gold Cup with Djakadam tomorrow now."

Walsh added: "What a day, the horses ran well the first two days, they just weren't winning.

"Everything can't go your way all the time and you have to prepare for that.

"It's been a tough year for Willie but he's taken it great, I've worked for him since I was 17 so could eulogise about him all day.

"In previous years we were front-loaded and this year we were back-loaded, we knew we had great chances today and we think we have a couple tomorrow."

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