The ultra-consistent Min (2/1) enjoyed a deserved day in the sun at The Festival™ presented by Magners with victory in the G1 Ryanair Chase.
Trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Paul Townend, the nine-year-old was all-out to secure a neck success in the £350,000 event, seeing off the gallant Saint Calvados (16/1).
The 7/4 favourite A Plus Tard was a length and a half behind in third.
On his fourth appearance at The Festival, this was Min's first success at the meeting with his other efforts including second-placed finishes in both the G1 Supreme Novices' Hurdle (2016) and G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase (2017).
In a remarkable career, Min is now a six-time G1 winner and has also finished runner-up in six G1 contests.
Closutton maestro Mullins was recording his second victory of the week and 67th winner in total at The Festival.
He said: "It was a good performance from Min and he likes to race from the front.
"We got the tactics wrong on him last year [finished fifth, Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase] and it didn't work out. We changed things up this year and learnt our lesson - here he is now back at the top table.
"Min threw a wonderful leap in at the last and it was a great effort.
"Watching him jump today, he was just fantastic through the air and, when he needed a jump, he got them. He put the others under pressure.
"It was probably wobbly knee time after the last when Saint Calvados came up the inside but he still had a little bit left in the tank. I am pleased for him, Paul, Rich, Susannah and everyone.
"The horses have been running well and just haven't been getting the rub of the green.
"Faugheen and Melon ran great earlier and all the horses seem to be firing without winning."
"Watching him jump today, he was just fantastic through the air and, when he needed a jump, he got them. He put the others under pressure. It was probably wobbly knee time after the last when Saint Calvados came up the inside but he still had a little bit left in the tank. I am pleased for him, Paul, Rich, Susannah and everyone.
"Paul is very cool. I think he forgets the last race and his attitude is 'next race, let's get on and concentrate on that'. He concentrates on what he has to do.
"I wondered whether Min just gets that trip and if that is the extent of his ability. I think he could go back to two miles but this seems to be his optimum trip."
2.50pm Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)
1 Min (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 9-11-10 Paul Townend 2/1
2 Saint Calvados (Kate & Andrew Brooks) Harry Whittington 7-11-10 Gavin Sheehan 16/1
3 A Plus Tard (Cheveley Park Stud) Henry de Bromhead IRE 6-11-10 Rachael Blackmore 7/4f
Distances: nk, 1½
Tote Win: £2.70 Place: £1.30, £3.70, £1.20 Exacta: £30.50
Willie Mullins - 67th winner at The Festival
Paul Townend - 12th winner at The Festival
Min flies home in Ryanair
In a great finish to the G1 Ryanair Chase, the Willie-Mullins trained Min (2/1) prevailed by a neck from Saint Calvados in the colours of Susannah Ricci.
The winning owner's husband Rich Ricci said: "I watched most of it, which is unusual for me. He's been a bridesmaid so many times and coming up the hill I thought he might be the nearly horse again. On his day, when he's good, he's good as he showed at Aintree last year. He was on form today and jumped brilliantly all the way around. I'm delighted for Willie and all the team.
"People said he's not a Cheltenham horse but he's been second here twice and when he was fifth last year we got the tactics wrong. Although he can throw in the odd clanger, he's generally a brilliant jumper and today he was good.
"Saint Calvados's owner Andrew Brooks and I are good friends. I got nervous all the way up the hill but, if anyone could have beaten me, it would have been Andrew. It was a great race and Min finally got his head in front. Fantastic stuff.
"It's great to win here, period, and it's been a while. It's also just great to be here with everything going on health-wise. While the crowds are down the enthusiasm is the same. They've done a great job here at Cheltenham, but it's a serious thing and we'll just have to take what comes and take the government advice.
Winning rider Paul Townend added: "We went pretty hard early on and, when we got back to the stands, I steadied down and got into a lovely rhythm of jumping on him.
"There was a stiff finish and I thought it was a true-run race. I knew Saint Calvados was there!
"Min has been a bit unlucky at Cheltenham so he deserved it. He's an incredible horse and it's brilliant that he got his day. They are all very special.
"It's very important to win here, regardless of who you are riding for. This week is big but I have been coming here for a long time now. I have come here with good rides before and I just had to come here the same way. Even if they were second strings to Ruby, they were still very good rides and very important rides. You have to treat every ride with as much respect as it warrants."
Connections so proud of gallant Saint Calvados
Connections of Saint Calvados (16/1. Gavin Sheehan) were left proud but frustrated in similar measure after the seven-year-old failed by just a neck to overhaul Min in a terrific finish to the £350,000 G1 Ryanair Chase, having made his only significant mistake of the race at the final fence.
It was Saint Calvados third appearance at The Festival™ presented by Magners, and much his best effort yet. It was his fourth race of the season at Cheltenham, and having won over two miles in heavy ground on his reappearance he had indicated that this extra half mile suited him ideally when first trying it on New Year's Day, when beaten just a nose by Oldgrangewood in a G3 handicap chase.
Jockey Gavin Sheehan said: "That's the best he's ever travelled for me, and the best he's ever jumped. The only one he missed was the last, and I still thought I'd get there up the hill."
Trainer Harry Whittington said: "I'm so proud of him. He's still improving and he's unexposed at this trip. We'll go up in trip again now, but I don't know where. We'll let the dust settle first, but he's best fresh so I don't think it will be Aintree. It will be up to Andrew (Brooks, owner)."
Brooks felt that the last-fence mistake might have been costly but said: "It's disappointing to lose, but that was a hell of a good run. I'm very proud of him."
Frodon still 'special in our hearts' to Frost
Bryony Frost and Frodon may not have been able to defend their G1 Ryanair Chase title, but last year's winning jockey was, as ever, delighted with the effort her horse made to finish fourth.
The Paul Nicholls-trained 11/2 chance finished almost 15 lengths behind the winner, Min.
Frost said: "The two-milers have quite a big kick for us. We've jumped off, got the perfect spot, travelled away really nicely, but they've just got us flat out the whole way. He couldn't do that, bless him, but he's done great to hang on for fourth for me. He got tired. We've had to be in top gear the whole way, but take nothing away from him, he's special in our hearts still.
"He got a massive clap, which just shows you, even though we're going down as a defeated warrior, he's still getting clapped in. It just shows you that it doesn't matter if people have lost a tenner on him, they're still right behind him. They can tell he's gone out there and done everything for me. Just today he didn't have the speed and wasn't good enough."
Henry de Bromhead trained the third horse home, 7/4 favourite A Plus Tard, who finished a length and a half behind second-placed Saint Calvados.
He said: "Rachael said he never seemed to be going at all but it definitely wasn't the distance as he was closer to them at the line than he was at the last. He just didn't seem to run his race. He was beaten by a brilliant horse who is rated higher than him anyway, but we'll just have to take him home and see."
A Plus Tard was ridden by Rachael Blackmore, who said: "He has run really well but ultimately we were a little disappointed. He didn't really run up to what he should have done."