Cheltenham Champion Hurdle 2015: Faugheen powers to victory as Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins celebrate triumphant opening day

Faugheen clamed the first Grade 1 championship race of the Festival

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The Independent Online

Faugheen pulled away on the home stretch to justify why it was a red-hot favourite for the Champion Hurdle as Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins celebrated their third victory on the opening day of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.

With three jumps to go, it looked to be anyone's race as the four top horses in the field came to the front of the field. Faugheen had led from the start, but The New One and last year's winner Jezki were within a length of the leader, with two-time winner Hurricane Fly riding up on the inside.

However, as they mounted th final turn, Walsh spurred Faugheen on, and he responded in the most impressive manner, pulling away from the pack to win and make it nine from nine..

 

It was a phenomenal finish for Mullins, who could claim a historic 1-2-3 as Faugheen's stablemates Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly followed him home. Arctic Fire chased hard towards the end, but ultimately ran out of time to challenge Walsh and Faugheen. The New One and Jezki both faded late on.

Speaking immediately after the race, Walsh said: "He's not slow, no one else wanted to make it and I was going to go my fractions not theirs.

"Willie is a genius and has a great team of staff around him."

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Faugheen leads the field during the early stages of the Champion Hurdle

Walsh continued: "Faugheen is a wonderful horse. He has jumped better, he missed the second-last.

"It was a massive call not to ride Hurricane Fly. When you see what Hurricane Fly was doing at home, it was a big call to get off him.

"It was some training performance, to have the first two in the Supreme as well."

Saddling his third winner of a dream day, Mullins said: "What a team effort. Ruby said he was going to make it and win it. This is beyond our wildest dreams. It's just too good to be true."

Walsh made his intentions clear as he took Faugheen to the head of the line before the tapes went up.

He set a steady pace with The New One and Jezki, last year's winner, not letting him get too far away until upping the tempo from three out.

There was no let up as Faugheen stormed clear in the straight to win in impressive fashion.

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Walsh salutes the crowd after riding Faugheen to victory

Victory in the feature completed a remarkable hat-trick for Mullins and Walsh in the first three races of the four-day Festival after the wins of Douvan and Un De Sceaux earlier on the card.

Mullins said: "I don't know if I'm the first to train the first three (in the Champion), but if I am it's fantastic. I was hoping one of them might win it.

"Faugheen was fantastic, Ruby was fantastic. He dictated the pace, did what he did when he wanted and quickened when he wanted.

"I thought Hurricane Fly ran a fantastic race throughout and Arctic Fire - I can't see a rib on him yet, so I think there is far more improvement in him than the rest of them."

Additional reporting by PA

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