Cheltenham Festival: The New One (briefly) halts a relentless Willie Mullins


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The Independent Online

How typical of this meeting that the men who had totally dominated its opening exchanges were unable to deliver with the one that was billed as their "banker". Willie Mullins had already celebrated his fourth winner in eight races, Back In Focus in the opener, when he hoisted Ruby Walsh into the saddle on the unbeaten Pont Alexandre, hot favourite for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle. But while Walsh was able to dictate the tempo, and duly found himself best placed for what turned into a sprint for home, his mount was left flat-footed by two rivals who both share a luminous future – albeit in different disciplines. The laurels this time went to The New One, as talented a prospect as Nigel Twiston-Davies has found since Imperial Commander. His turn of foot was decisive in a curiously lethargic race, but the way Rule The World maintained his challenge promised great things when he fills out his frame and goes chasing. He already appeals as an RSA Chase prospect for next year.

Today's winner seems likely to stay over timber, and would not be the first Champion Hurdle winner to have dropped down in distance from this race. Twiston-Davies had been on tenterhooks, having been forced to scratch Imperial Commander and others from the meeting on account of an untimely infection in his yard. But his son, Sam, sent The New One bounding four lengths clear up the hill from Rule The World, with Pont Alexandre a similar distance back in third. "I probably got it wrong last time, as I rode him more of a stayer than a speed horse," the young jockey said. "But you learn from your mistakes and when I asked him to go he just took off."

"This horse was the full package right from the start," Twiston-Davies Snr declared. "He was winning four months after being broken in. His attitude to everything is almost as though he had already done it all in another life."

Remarkably, both the first two races had now been won by a father-son combination. Mullins made an emotional tribute after young Patrick pulled the John Oaksey Chase out of the fire on Back In Front, declaring that none of his 27 previous winners at the Festival had given him more satisfaction.

He seemed poised to extend his spree when Boston Bob took over at the last in the RSA Chase, only to hit the deck and leave the way clear for Lord Windermere and Davy Russell – a breakthrough training success for Jim Culloty, the man who rode Best Mate to win three Gold Cups here. "I was a nervous wreck watching that," Culloty said. "I fancied this horse like mad, thought he would love it round here. And it was a peach of a ride from Davy."

Normal service was resumed in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, a race Mullins had already won no fewer than seven times. Walsh appeared to be on the least fancied of the stable's three runners, at 25-1, but those who stayed loyal were lavishly rewarded as Briar Hill stormed clear for an impressive success.