Cheltenham Festival 2015: Willie Mullins the Don again, but Paul Nicholls leads home revival

'That was a terrific performance,' said Mullins

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It was Paul Nicholls, rather than Willie Mullins, who dominated much of day two at the Cheltenham Festival, but Tuesday’s headline maker nevertheless again made an indelible mark on Wednesday when producing yet another A-lister bound for the very top.

The 13-8 favourite Don Poli was expected to win the RSA Chase, and the six-length margin of victory over Southfield Theatre was hardly the stuff of Festival legend, but it was not so much what he did, but the way that he did it.

“That was a terrific performance,” said Mullins, who, after just nine races, had already equalled his best total of five winners at the meeting. “He was just idling on the run-in, flicking his ears backwards and forwards, and when they do that you know there is so much more in the locker.  He’s taken on the best novices in the British Isles and destroyed them. He’s got Gold Cup written all over him and he’s my best chance ever of winning the race if Djakadam doesn’t beat him to it on Friday.”

Mullins’ two runners in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle were too keen for their own good, but the race still went to Ireland, courtesy of Dermot Weld’s Windsor Park, who produced a neat turn of foot under Davy Russell to see off Tony McCoy’s mount, Parlour Games.

 

Weld is best known for his exploits on the Flat; the 21-time Irish champion trainer has won 13 Irish Classics, two English Classics and two Melbourne Cups since taking out a licence in 1972. Nevertheless, he took great pleasure from this third Festival triumph, the planning of which, he said with a grin, had begun a year ago.

“He’s a stayer with speed,” said Weld, who did not rule out the possibility of a crack at top staying prizes on the Flat this summer, including the Ascot Gold Cup.

The Irish supremacy was becoming discomforting for the home team after these opening salvos, but Paul Nicholls then led a comeback almost single-handedly, winning a Coral Hurdle thriller with Aux Ptits Soins, the Champion Chase with Dodging Bullets, and the Fred Winter Hurdle with Qualando.

Rivage D’Or, owned, like Don Poli, by Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud, won the Cross-Country Chase, also completing a double for Russell, but it might just have been different but for the drama after the second last, when French raider Toutancarmont crashed out through the rails and took the ready-to-pounce Quantitativeeasing with him, leaving Racing Post photographer Patrick McCann with a broken leg.

In the Champion Bumper, David Pipe’s Moon Racer led home a British 1-2-3-4.

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