It was a Champion Hurdle marred by a fatal fall for a young grey, Valiramix, and a career-ending injury for an old hero, Istabraq. As the beneficiary of these twin troughs arrived in the winner's enclosure he was cheered, but it was not the raw or emotional reception of times past. It could not be.
Hors La Loi III was a novice winner at the Cheltenham Festival three years ago but had been an underachiever since. For James Fanshawe, his trainer, it was a second Champion Hurdle following Royal Gait's success a decade earlier.
"This time last year me and the horse had rock bottom confidence in each other," the Newmarket trainer said. "We couldn't get him to do a thing. I was very keen not to have him back at the end of the summer. He was an embarrassment."
Paul Green, the Jersey-based art dealer who owns Hors La Loi III, said: "Dean Gallagher [the winning jockey] never lost faith in this horse and believed he could win this race.
"I'm terribly sorry about Istabraq and Valiramix, but we have all had our share of bad luck in this game and I'm a realist. James has taken a long time to learn about the horse and he needs to be trained in a different way. Last year he wouldn't look out of his box, he just wasn't a happy horse."
The final race on the Festival's first day provided an emotional victory for the jockey Tony Dobbin, whose brother Barney was killed in a car crash last week. The rider drove Freetown clear on the run-in to score by four lengths.
The winning trainer, Len Lungo, said: "Tony came back from Ireland on Sunday and he has been too upset to come and ride out. So we're choked to see him get this success."