Back In Focus and Patrick Mullins on their way to victory at CheltenhamPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Back In Focus storms up the hill for Team Mullins
Report: Cheltenham, Wednesday
John Oaksey National Hunt Chase (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase) 4m, 5yo+
THE longest race at the festival served up a captivating finish as Back In Focus made up a seemingly insurmountable deficit at the final fence to haul in Tofino Bay and provide Willie Mullins with his fourth winner of the week.
The well-backed favourite looked to have lost his chance as longtime leader Tofino Bay took the final fence well clear, but the front-runner idled agonisingly with the line only a stone's throw away.
That allowed Back In Focus, ridden by Willie Mullins’ son Patrick, to draw on all his reserves of stamina to steal a victory that was wildly popular with the Cheltenham faithful.
Punters, never shy of supporting a Mullins horse, had heavily backed the favourite through the morning as they formed up in their tens of thousands behind a trainer who saddled a remarkable three winners from six races on the opening day.
For trainer Willie, however, the pleasure of seeing his son win a race that he himself won twice in the 1980s meant more than extending his incredible dominance at the 2013 festival.
Amid emotional scenes in the winner’s enclosure he said: “I’m delighted for Patrick breaking his duck over fences here. I’m absolutely over the moon. That means as much to me as any winner I’ve had here.”
Tofino Bay wasn't the only hard-luck story in the race - Rival D'Estruval, who had raced in company with Tofino Bay, fell at the second last when still bang in contention.
It looked a bad fall but trainer Pauline Robson said: "He is fine with just a few nicks on him. He got in too tight and knuckled over on landing.
"Derek [O'Connor] was fairly confident and he had given him a class ride. We're delighted the horse was still there at that point. We'll be back, maybe in the Scottish National."