MULLINS: 'THAT WAS THE RIDE OF THE WEEK'
9/2 chance Benie Des Dieux caused something of an upset in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle when she overturned the odds-on favourite - and last year's winner of the race - Apple's Jade (1/2) and won by half a length from 33/1 shot Midnight Tour.
Benie Des Dieux gave Willie Mullins a ninth winner - out of just 11 runnings - of the OLBG Mares' Hurdle. She was ridden by Ruby Walsh and is owned by Rich Ricci. It was Mullins' second winner of the day, following Footpad's Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase success, and means that the Irishman now has 56 Festival winners to his credit.
The seven-year-old daughter of Great Pretender joined Mullins' yard in December 2016 but has only run four times since, winning every start. All three previous wins for Mullins came over fences, not hurdles.
Mullins said: "I thought that was the ride of the week. Ruby was so good on her, to get her up the hill like that. She's a big mare, a nice mare, and after her first win I nick-named her 'Benie Des Douvan' when I saw what she could do. I don't know whether she is going to be as good as that but she's four from four for us now."
Rich Ricci said: "Benie Des Dieux jumps a fence brilliantly but the problem she has is when she jumps, she puts so much pressure on her hind-quarters and has the equivalent of a muscle tear.
"She is undefeated for us but has only run over fences until today. It was that sort of thing that led us to believe that we can't keep her straight - we really wanted to run her in the Ryanair and, order to keep her sound, we decided that we would give hurdles a go.
"I think she is a wonderful mare and she jumps brilliantly. We will have to think about what we do next but, Jesus Christ - that was fantastic.
"I watched the last - I didn't see anything else - but Joe Chambers told me that she missed one without losing much ground. What a brilliant ride by Ruby. I saw her starting to pick up at the last and thought, 'Here we go, happy days', because I knew that she would stay. It's a wonderful feeling."
WALSH DOUBLES UP WITH BENIE DES DIEUX
Ruby Walsh sealed a 9.08/1 double on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival after Benie Des Dieux's gutsy success in the G1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old was unbeaten in three starts over fences for her Closutton handler and extended her unbeaten record to 4-4 for Mullins following this win over timber.
The daughter of Great Pretender, a 9/2 chance, stayed on powerfully after the final flight to reel in Alan King's Midnight Tour (33/1) to score by half-a-length.
The well-backed 1/2 favourite Apple's Jade, trained by Gordon Elliott, was a length back in third.
Victorious on Footpad in the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase earlier in the card, Walsh, recording his 58th victory at The Festival, said:
"Benie Des Dieux won a schooling hurdle at Thurles when Katie rode her - this black mare came out in the distance that we didn't even know we had. Then we went chasing with her but she has had a few issues training.
"With Vroum Vroum Mag up in the air, Willie said that we needed something else and he has been targeting her at this for a while. David Casey schooled her a couple of times over hurdles but I had never sat on her until today. She is laden with stamina - I thought that she had a bit more gears but she really ground it out.
"She's had a few issues training her but Willie had been targeting her at this race for a while.
"The one to beat was Apple's Jade so we were all following her and seeing if we could beat her.
"I thought off the bend, I was well and truly stuffed, but it's a long way from the bend to the final hurdle and they were stopping in front.
"She wandered around in front, but once she straightened up, she kept on nicely and the ground helped her today, as she went through it really well.
"She's tough and she stayed really well. Apple's Jade has run to a higher level of form, but horses aren't machines and you can't switch them on. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't."
Regarding Faugheen, sixth in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle, Walsh commented: "Faugheen ran slow and I would imagine that it would be the three-mile race for him at Punchestown. He's like all of us - as we get older, we slow down a little bit - and he has slowed down considerably.
"He has gone back past Wicklow Brave coming to the line and that's the sign of an honest horse to me. He kept galloping all the way up to the winning post and I just think that he wants a good bit further through the race."
4.10pm OLBG Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1)
1 BENIE DES DIEUX (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-05 Ruby Walsh 9/2
2 MIDNIGHT TOUR (James & Jean Potter) Alan King 8-11-05 Davy Russell 33/1
3 APPLE'S JADE (Gigginstown House Stud) Gordon Elliott IRE 6-11-05 Jack Kennedy 1/2 fav
Distances: ½, 1
Tote Win: £5.80 Places: £1.50, £5.60, £1.10 Exacta: £195.00
Willie Mullins - 56th winner at The Festival
Ruby Walsh - 58th winner at The Festival
BetBright Cup - standings after five races
Great Britain 3