UN OH SCEAUX GOOD IN RYANAIR FOR MULLINS
The enigma that is Un De Sceaux produced a sublime front-running performance to make most in the Grade One Ryanair Chase to provide Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh with a quickfire double on day three, St Patrick's Thursday, of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, following Yorkhill's JLT Novices' Chase victory.
Second in last year's Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, the well-backed 7/4 favourite was making a belated step up in trip to two miles and five furlongs for the first time over fences, but despite a couple of hairy leaps, jumped on the whole with real authority under Walsh.
Well clear entering the home straight, the son of Denham Red produced two flawless jumps at the final two fences and responded well to Walsh's urgings up the Cheltenham hill to win by an eased down length and a half from Henry de Bromhead's Sub Lieutenant (8/1) in second, with a further six lengths back to 40/1 shot Aso, trained by Venetia Williams, in third.
A delighted Mullins, registering his 50th Festival victory, just the second trainer to reach that landmark figure (Nicky Henderson, 58), said: "He is a super horse - that's what he is. He is an iron horse. He does that every day at home and my heart is in my mouth every morning watching him come up the gallops.
"That is a real racehorse there. To do what he does every day, I mean Ruby is only half in control half the time and you always wonder whether he will get home, but he just seems to find reserves from I don't know where. He is just everything you would want in a racehorse. He is brave, strong and sound. Probably coming up in trip now which made more use of stamina was a help as yes he is certainly very good on soft ground. I wouldn't want to go much further with him but he can go back to two miles.
"He never completely drops the bridle. Between fences I was hoping Ruby would be able to drop it for two or three strides to let the horse get his breath back and then go on again. The horse has a huge constitution."
Mullins added: "It was a fantastic race to win and Michael [O'Leary] and everyone were very gracious. But as I say in racing, you can't gloat over beating someone because they will come out in the next race and beat you. I just try to win - it is not about who you beat. I didn't realise it was my 50th winner at The Festival. That is nice to know."
"I think Ruby sort of managed to settle him in front because he is a funny horse. You give him two strides and he fills up and goes away again. He's an absolute iron horse - he's like that on the gallops every day and I am afraid for my life watching him coming up them every day.
"He wears his heart on his sleeve every day and I am wondering how he can do that all the years he has been in training - to stay sound and not get worn out. Really, I am training to train him not to get worn out and to keep enjoying it. He is just so hard on himself.
"I was watching and thinking that, every time he needed a good jump, he put one in. That's going to take something out of the others to have to get to him on the flat. He put in some spectacular jumps and then, when he came to the last, it was an extraordinary jump when he just took off. Ruby said that, if he hadn't have taken off, he would have ended up in the Hunter's Lodge because he would have been throw so far clear. He saved his best jump for the last.
"Once he got over the third last and down into the dip, I wasn't worried about him staying. I looked at the others and I thought there was nothing there unless he does something wrong - it was his to lose at that stage. He put in two fantastic jumps at the last two."
As for the future, Mullins added: "I'll probably go to Punchestown with him. I'm not sure what race he will go for definitely but he could go for the two-mile Champion Chase there.
Birthday success oh Sceaux sweet for O'Connell
Colm O'Connell, son of owner Edward O'Connell, tasted double delight at Cheltenham on Thursday as he celebrated his birthday and also the spellbinding success of his father's horse, Un De Sceaux (7/4 favourite), who produced a devastating jumping performance to take the Grade One Ryanair Chase, the third race on day three, St Patrick's Thursday, of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
Trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, the nine-year-old son of Denham Red was electric at his fences and kept on gamely up the punishing Cheltenham hill to score by an eased down length and a half from Henry de Bromhead's Sub Lieutenant (8/1) in second, with a further six lengths back to 40/1 shot Aso, trained by Venetia Williams, in third.
Second to Sprinter Sacre in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at last year's Festival, O'Connell praised the versatility and also durability of the gelding, who was registering his second victory at the Cheltenham Festival, having won the 2015 Racing Post Arkle Chase and finished second in the 2016 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
O'Connell said: "He was incredible. He tanked along and obviously Ruby decided after three furlongs to push as they weren't going fast enough.
"The horse did guess at a couple but that is the way he is and Ruby didn't panic. He was beaten last year by Sprinter Sacre who was a superstar in his own right so I'm delighted that Un De Sceaux, a horse who has always been there but doesn't get the credit he deserves, I think now he's goes down as a real people's horse.
"He was fantastic today. Ruby is a genius because he lets him do his own thing. When he is guessing at fences, Ruby does not panic."
"Un De Sceaux was wonderful today. I just want to say hello to my mother and father back home. We are here because they invested in this horse and the sport. It is wonderful.
"He is the horse of a lifetime. We tasted success so early and then defeat last year to a superstar. We are back with a bang now and it is a big bang.
Ruby Walsh rode his second winner of the day - and his 54th in total at The Festival - when collaring the Ryanair Chase on the Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux with a bold ride.
The 7/4 favourite's jumping was exuberant and took him to the lead at an early stage. He stayed there, eased down and held off Henry de Bromhead's Sub Lieutenant by a length and a half at the line.
Walsh said: "Un De Sceaux didn't half take me down the back. He attacked, he jumped and he stayed.
"He is a cracking little horse. He is so consistent and so honest. Virginie [Bascop, the yard vet] rides him herself every day and she and Willie don't let anyone else near him.
"He must be a joy for the O'Connells to own. I am sure Mr and Mrs O'Connell are at home watching. He so forward going and wears his heart on his sleeve.
"He wants soft ground over two miles, which is why we went for two and a half on good ground.
"It has been a tough year for Willie and he has taken it great. He has the horses in great nick. I have been working for him since I was 17 and could stand here all day and eulogise. He is a friend, and has put an unbelievable shape on my life."