05292017

Nichols Canyon leads Walsh four-timer at Cheltenham

Nichols Canyon

Nichols Canyon (left) gave Ruby Walsh his 55th Cheltenham win

Nichols Canyon was the big winner as jockey Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins claimed four races on a day dominated by the Irish at Cheltenham.

Nichols Canyon shocked odds-on favourite Unowhatimeanharry to win the Stayers’ Hurdle, after Yorkhill won the JLT Chase and Un De Sceaux landed the Ryanair Chase.

Walsh completed the first Cheltenham four-timer for a jockey on Let’s Dance.

He now boasts a record 56 Cheltenham Festival wins.

Irish-trained horses won six of the day’s seven races, with the four wins for Walsh and Mullins coming in at combined odds of 179-1 which cost bookmakers an estimated £10m.

Mullins and Walsh came into Thursday without a win to their names at this year’s festival but started the day with victory thanks to the 6-4 favourite Yorkhill in the Novices’ Chase, before Un De Sceaux won in thrilling style in the Ryanair Chase.

Success there will have been sweet for Mullins, who saw Ryanair owner Michael O’Leary remove 60 horses from his stables last September.

Jockey Noel Fehily was looking for a big-race treble on Unowhatimeanharry after winning the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday and Wednesday’s Champion Chase, but despite being well placed coming off the penultimate fence had no answer to 10-1 shot Nichols Canyon’s kick for the line.

Return to form

If Wednesday will live long in the memories of Walsh and Mullins for the wrong reasons after Douvan’s shock defeat in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Thursday was a swift and spectacular return to form.

Yorkhill won by a length in the day’s opener before Walsh let Un De Sceaux go ahead after just five fences of the Ryanair – and he never looked back.

Walsh admitted he “was just a passenger” as Un De Sceaux powered to victory and give Mullins his 50th Cheltenham win as trainer.

And after Nichols Canyon stayed well placed throughout the second half of the Stayers’ Hurdle, Walsh rode him home to deny Lil Rockerfeller victory.

Mullins said: “I wouldn’t like to tell you what was going through my mind on Wednesday night, but on the other side of that coin, when we analysed all the runners, apart from Douvan we didn’t have any other runner that should have won.

“People expect us to have winners here, we just hope to have winners here and have huge respect for the place.”

Walsh added: “What a day. The horses ran well the first two days, they just weren’t winning.

“Everything can’t go your way all the time and you have to prepare for that.

“It’s been a tough year for Willie but he’s taken it great. I’ve worked for him since I was 17 so could eulogise about him all day.

“In previous years we were front-loaded and this year we were back-loaded. We knew we had great chances today and we think we have a couple on Friday.”

Six out of seven for Ireland

With Presenting Percy a fine winner in the Handicap Hurdle for Davy Russell and Patrick Kelly, the Festival was set for a day of all-Irish winners with three races remaining.

And Road to Respect made it five out of five for Ireland with a win in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.

A sixth Irish win – and a fourth for Walsh – was sealed as Let’s Dance comfortably came away to win the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

An Irish clean sweep – or ‘green sweep’ – was then prevented when Gina Andrews steered Domesday Book to a surprise 40-1 win in the day’s final race, the Kim Muir Challenge Cup.

Two horses had to be put down after suffering injuries – Toe The Line after a fall on the flat in the early stages of the penultimate race, and Hadrian’s Approach who fell in the final contest.

Analysis – ‘Like a movie plot’

Cornelius Lysaght, BBC horse racing correspondent

I said the other day that a successful Cheltenham Festival for Willie Mullins and team after a tumultuous season would read like a movie plot.

Even more so now after they bounced back from the gloom with a sparkling third afternoon here.

To these eyes, the highlight was Un De Sceaux’s win, as breathtaking as Douvan’s day-two defeat was surprising, though only just ahead of the masterful rides given by Walsh on, particularly, I thought, Let’s Dance.

Let’s Dance, quiet as a mouse at the back until scything through her opponents, was a joy to watch.

More success for Mullins on Friday?

Cue Card will bid to make amends for a late fall last year when he lines up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.

The popular steeplechaser, under the guidance of trainer Colin Tizzard, will have stablemate Native River among his rivals.

A strong Irish challenge includes the two-time runner-up Djakadam who bids to secure a first win for trainer Willie Mullins.

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