RATHVINDEN PROVIDES MULLINS WITH OPENING DAY TREBLE
Willie Mullins recorded his third victory on day one of the Cheltenham Festival and his 57th winner at the meeting following 9/2 chance Rathvinden's narrow success in the G2 National Hunt Chase over four miles.
Travelling sweetly entering the home straight under Mullins' son Patrick, the 10-year-old son of Heron Island denied Anthony Honeyball's Ms Parfois (11/2) in the closing stages to score by half a length.
Front-runner Sizing Tennessee (8/1) was 21 lengths further back in third.
Successful with Footpad in the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase and Benie Des Dieux in the G1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle, the Closutton handler, registering a 54.46/1 treble said: "We're delighted. The horses are performing well.
"The first two days were tough last year, but thankfully things are better this time around and it's been a fantastic day for us."
Rathvinden did not return to the winners' enclosure after the race but the trainer reported the gelding to be fine.
He continued: "Rathvinden was slightly wobbly. He is fine but like any athlete, he got tired and just was wobbling slightly, so that's why he didn't come back into the winner's enclosure.
"Knowing the way Patrick rides given his body language, I knew he had a bit in the tank.
"I thought he would win it a bit easier than he did but Ms Parfois was very tough in second despite not jumping the second-last great, so that was an excellent performance from that mare.
"They pulled a long way clear and it was a tough finish after four miles on that ground so full marks to both riders and horses as it was nip and tuck the whole way.
"I think one day, he could be a Grand National horse as he jumps, stays and travels."
Rathvinden was providing Mullins with a second victory in the contest following Up For Review's success in the 2013 edition.
RATHVINDEN MAKES THE MULLINS FAMILY'S DAY
The Festival 2018 is shaping up to be yet another great one for Willie Mullins. Rathvinden gave him a third winner of the day - following Footpad and Benie Des Dieux - by taking the National Hunt Novices' Chase by half a length at 9/2; a 54.46/1 treble.
But it was a particularly special victory, because Rathvinden was ridden by Mullins' amateur jockey son Patrick, for whom it was a fourth Festival winner. His most recent came in this race in 2013 aboard Back In Focus.
Rathvinden was dismounted fairly quickly after the race and didn't come back into the winner's enclosure but went straight back to the stables.
Patrick Mullins said: "He's 100%. I got down off him [at the finish] to undo his over-girth, and the vets here are being very cautious and wouldn't let me get back on him, but he's 100%. He's given me everything, yes, but I'm pretty tired myself, too! He jumped great and settled fantastically. He's the ideal candidate for this race because he's got lots of experience and a bit of age [the horse is 10].
"I'm getting on now because it is 10 years since Cousin Vinny [his first Festival victory, winner of the 2008 Weatherbys Champion Bumper]. There are a lot of people who are more talented me and work harder than me who don't get the opportunities I get, so I have to make the most of them."
Asked to describe how the race panned out, he said: "I wanted just to drop out and settle and get him relaxed, which he did. They went a good gallop and he jumped well. I was just taking my time, and then wanted to make my bid after the last, having watched the other races, and the plan worked out for once.
"It's drying up out there and [the ground] is getting tacky now - it would be better for a shower of rain. But my horse is very tough."
4.50pm National Hunt Chase (Grade 2)
1 RATHVINDEN (Ronnie Bartlett) Willie Mullins IRE 10-11-06 Mr Patrick Mullins 9/2
2 MS PARFOIS (M Chapman) Anthony Honeyball 7-10-13 Mr Will Biddick 11/2
3 SIZING TENNESSEE (Ann & Alan Potts Ltd) Colin Tizzard 10-11-06 Mr Barry O'Neill 8/1
4/1 fav Jury Duty (PU)
Distances: ½, 21
Tote Win: £5.30
Places: £2.20, £1.90, £2.70
Willie Mullins - 57th winner at The Festival
Mr Patrick Mullins - 4th winner at The Festival
BetBright Cup - standings after six races
Great Britain 3
PARFOIS NEARLY PERFECT
A tremendous battle from the last fence ended with Rathvinden (9/2) denying the mare Ms Parfois (11/2) by half a length in the four-mile National Hunt Challenge Cup.
Patrick Mullins, a champion amateur in Ireland, came out on top, denying Britain's Will Biddick, a six-time national point-to-point champion, as the pair fought for the line, leaving Sizing Tennessee (8/1) to come home 21 lengths back in third.
Biddick said: "I thought we were going to hold on, but the winner battled back. She jumped impeccably, and it was her first time over that trip and she proved she stays. She's got a real good future."
Rathvinden came from way off the pace, but Ms Parfois was handy throughout. Her trainer, Anthony Honeyball, said: "Two out I thought she would be no closer than third, but she came back into it and halfway up the run-in I thought she might get there - it's a pain to be second. It means a lot, it is good prize money, it's good for the mare and the yard, and we're very lucky to finish second in a race like this, but . . . I'm glad to see Patrick Mullins celebrating so much after winning, because it obviously meant a lot to him, and shows how important these races are.
"She travels nice and relaxed and jumps well - we said she ticked all the boxes for this race and it was nice to see her justify that. She was rated 146 before today, and she could go up a couple more, so it will be tough in the future, but we can always go back to mares' races. We'll think of the Welsh National and work back from there, because she would go on the ground in that race.
"We bought her here at Cheltenham after she won a point-to-point. First we hoped to win a bumper, then a hurdle, but this season we got quite bullish and thought we had a right nice mare for chasing, but only in mares' races. She beat the mares, so then we took on the geldings, and we've been lucky that the ground has been there for us.
"She's always been a big, robust mare, not pretty, and a bit of a warrior. She's pretty manageable, but Ben Clarke rides her every day and we wouldn't swop her around too much. She's not difficult, but she's a big, strong mare.
"Whether she runs again this season depends on the ground, but if stays soft and we can find another mares' race that might suit."
TENNESSEE AND IMPULSIVE THIRD AND FOURTH
The first race for the amateurs on this year's card is the National Hunt Chase (Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase) over four miles and was won by 9/2 chance Rathvinden with Ms Parfois (11/2), Sizing Tennessee (8/1) and Impulsive Star (25/1) filling the placings.
Third home Sizing Tennessee, was ridden by Barry O'Neill, who commented: "My lad ran an absolute cracker. I thought for a moment coming down the hill we had a chance but at the back of the last he just didn't really see it out on that ground.
"It is tough work from the last to the line, that's where you see a lot of results change and unfortunately for me it did change.
"I couldn't be more proud of my horse."
Colin Tizzard, trainer of the 10-year-old, added: "It was always going to be an issue over four miles on soft ground. Three miles on good ground is a different thing, but he has run a cracking race."
Robert Whaley Cohen, chairman of Cheltenham and owner of the fourth home, Impulsive Star, which was ridden by his son Sam, reflected on the gelding's unfortunate prep for the race.
"He had a rather bad preparation coming into the race so we are quite pleased with the outcome." said Whaley-Cohen.
"When he slipped in his first race this season, we think he tore some muscles in his chest.
"In his second race I suspect he was hurting and in his third race, which was on horrible ground at Chepstow, he was very uncomfortable.
"That last race was seven weeks ago so it was not an ideal prep.
"We will go home and see how he comes out of the race and have a think about what we do next. We might go back to hurdles before the end of the season."