Cheltenham Festival 2014: Ruby Walsh rides Vautour to victory in Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Today is the first day of the Cheltenham Festival

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The Independent Online

Vautour struck for the powerful Irish team of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the opening race on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.

The 7-2 joint-favourite made nearly all the running as he swept to a convincing victory, in course-record time.

Nicky Henderson supplied the placed horses with Josses Hill beaten six lengths in second and Vaniteux another half a length away in third.

Walsh had the Rich Ricci-owned Vautour quickly away to set the pace with Splash Of Ginge, The Liquidator and Valseur Lido close up.

Gilgamboa ruined his chance with a bad mistake two out, while Irving, the other 7-2 joint-favourite, was struggling early on and could never get into a challenging position.

Up front, Vautour kept pulling out more as he stormed away to take his 100 per cent record to four since he joined Mullins from France.

Josses Hill came out of the pack to do best of the home contingent ahead of his stablemate Vaniteux.

Walsh said: "I rode him like a stayer, I wasn't going to drop him in, and he jumped brilliantly.

"I've been doubting him all week, but he's a serious horse.

"He was doing a hack all the way and he jumped super when I needed him."

Mullins said: "That takes the pressure off a bit.

"He was very keen over the first and second hurdles, but I think Ruby accepted he was going to be keen and let him gallop and use his stride.

"The next thing it was like he was on a different set of rails to the other horses. That's what I found amazing. I thought if he could keep that up he was going to produce a performance like he did, and he did.

"It was just the way he cruised in front. It's extraordinary that a horse can have that sort of control in a Supreme for one that everyone had down as stayer.

"He made a mistake and I was worried that might knock the stuffing out of him, but he picked himself up and jumped the last.

"You could see him the whole way (up the run-in) idling - he wasn't even racing.

"He has the size and physique, and on that performance I think we can't wait to get over fences with him.

"I thought he was good, but I didn't expect that. He has treated them like a bunch of maidens.

"He'll get two-mile-four and three miles in time, and Punchestown would be the obvious place to go."

Ricci said: "I'm completely made up by that.

"We always thought he was a good horse and since October I thought he was our best novice.

"The credit has to go to Willie and Ruby - they are the stars."

Henderson said: "They have both run fantastic races, but in a way it's annoying for them to run so well and get thumped like that.

"My Tent Or Yours, Darlan, Binocular and Sprinter Sacre have all been placed (in the Supreme) and come on for the race."

Alan Spence, owner of Josses Hill, said: "His scope was all wrong and Nicky said he could have done with another week, but he wouldn't have beaten the winner in another week.

"He'll go chasing next year."

Sgt Reckless finished strongly to grab fourth place for Mick Channon.

He said: "He was in a good position at the start but he got squeezed and lost his place.

"He stayed on from a mile back.

"We've been waiting for some decent ground and I don't see why he shouldn't run again somewhere."