BERRY FRUITFUL IN CORAL CUP AS MULLINS PONDERS RUBY
Bleu Berry became Willie Mullins' fourth winner at The Festival 2018 when landing the Coral Cup, but any further success will come without his no.1 rider, Ruby Walsh.
The brilliant jockey, who broke his leg in the autumn and returned to action only last week, suffered a fall on the Mullins-trained Al Boum Photo in the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase, and the trainer said: "Ruby has gone to hospital for X-rays, and it looks like the same injury again. It is very disappointing for Ruby and everyone else.
"It's the same leg in the same place - he is very sore at that point. It could be a fracture has reopened, but you say that and five hours later you learn the X-rays are clear. Ruby just couldn't get his leg out the way when the horse rolled over. It looked a simple fall and I thought Ruby would just roll off, so I was amazed when people said to me 'He's still on the ground'.
"We're fine, I've got a good team of riders, and when you have jockeys like Mark Walsh on the sidelines, I know we'll be alright."
Following Walsh's first jockey shuffle, Paul Townend switched to Max Dynamite, and Walsh was called up for Bleu Berry (20/1), who beat Top Of The Game (9/1), Barra (16/1) and William Henry (8/1 jt fav) by a neck, one and a quarter lengths and the same.
Mullins said of Bleu Berry, who is owned by Luke McMahon: "He's another winner for Lucky Luke, who won the Grade One at Christmas [with Whisky Sour] when everything else fell or ran out. This was the plan for this horse, a big handicap, if we could get him right.
"Paul switched to Max Dynamite, and when I heard Mark was available I snapped him up. That's Mark's first Festival winner - he said the horse travelled well all the way and when a horse does that the gaps open up. He had a dream run and the horse stayed on up the hill."
TRUE BLEU FOR WALSH
Irish jockey Mark Walsh recorded his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival following Bleu Berry's 20/1 success in the G3 Coral Cup, the third race on day two, Ladies Day, of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.
Trained by Willie Mullins, recording his fourth winner of the meeting, Walsh produced the seven-year-old son of Special Kaldoun to challenge Topofthegame (9/1) after the final flight and Bleu Berry responded willingly to Walsh's urgings to score by a neck.
Gordon Elliott's Barra (16/1) was a length and a quarter back in third, with the same distance back to Nicky Henderson's William Henry (8/1jf) in fourth.
Bleu Berry was originally the mount of Paul Townend, but following Ruby Walsh's suspected right leg injury following a fall aboard Al Boum Photo in the G1 RSA Chase, Townend switched to 8/1 joint-favourite Max Dynamite (finished last of the 22 finishers), leaving Walsh to claim his first success at The Festival.
Walsh said: "It's great but you don't want to ride winners like that. Paul would have rode him before he swapped onto Ruby's horse. I was just delighted to get the call up from Willie.
"At this meeting last year in the first race on the Wednesday, I got a fall in that race and was out for two months afterwards so it's swings and roundabouts - it was frustrating but that's racing and I can't complain too much now.
"Paul Townend told me how to ride him. He said 'take your time, ride him for luck and if they go quick enough and stop, it should suit him.' They went a nice gallop and everything worked out to plan.
"The second horse gave me a battle all the way to the line, but luckily everything fell right for this lad. We got the splits, he winged the last and then had enough left in the tank."
Winning owner Luke McMahon said: "It was all traffic problems from the third last but when he jumped the last I thought he would get there, then the other horse fought back. Fair play to Mark Walsh because he gave him a great ride - it wasn't easy.
"Bad luck on Paul [Townend] because he switched onto the stable number one and missed a winner. Poor Ruby has gone to hospital and that is the ups and downs of racing.
"I thought he would run well. He needed the run the last day and is a horse we have always thought a bit of. He had some interruptions at the start of the season but is fantastic now."
2.50pm Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
1 BLEU BERRY (Luke McMahon) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-02 Mark Walsh 20/1
2 TOPOFTHEGAME (Chris Giles and Mr & Mrs Paul Barber) Paul Nicholls 6-11-09 Sam Twiston-Davies 9/1
3 BARRA (Gigginstown House Stud) Gordon Elliott IRE 7-10-10 Jack Kennedy 16/1
4 WILLIAM HENRY (Walters Plant Hire Ltd) Nicky Henderson 8-11-07 James Bowen (3) 8/1JF
8/1JF Max Dynamite (22nd)
Distances: nk, 1¼, 1¼
Tote Win: £35.10 Places: £7.00, £2.40, £4.10, £2.30 Exacta: £413.30
Willie Mullins - 58th winner at The Festival
Mark Walsh - 1st winner at The Festival
BetBright Cup - standings after 10 races
Ireland 6 Britain 4
NICHOLLS HAS A TOP CHASER IN THE MAKING
The Paul Nicholls-trained Topofthegame was a valiant second in the Coral Cup under Sam Twiston-Davies. The big chestnut son of Flemensfirth, a 9/1 shot, finished a neck behind the winner, 20/1 chance Bleu Berry.
Nicholls said: "It was a really exciting run because Topofthegame jumped brilliantly today, which is something that he hasn't done - he has got better and better. He was beaten a neck and all he has done is stay.
"This track is probably sharp enough for him over two miles and five. He has gone up 8lb and run of 150 there and God knows what he could end up over fences because he is going to be a really, really smart chaser.
"He won't run again and that will be it for the season. We will probably give him a school or two over fences at home and then novice chasing in the autumn. He is still immature and has learnt a lot today. He will be more wise next year and a really exciting horse to go to war with. I can't wait."
Sam Twiston-Davies said "We did everything we could to win, and being beaten by small margins is always tough to swallow. I look forward to Topofthegame jumping fences next season, though."
Third by a length and a quarter was 16/1 chance Barra, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Jack Kennedy.
Elliott said: "I thought she ran a very good race. I am very happy."
Kennedy added: "The mare ran a cracker; I am delighted."