Vautour flies over the last flight in the Supreme Novices' HurdlePICTURE: Getty Images
Mullins and Walsh strike in Supreme with Vautour
Report: Cheltenham Festival, Tuesday
Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m110y, 4yo+
VAUTOUR romped home in a course-record time to give trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh back-to-back victories in the Cheltenham Festival opener following Champagne Fever’s exploits last year.
Walsh, the festival’s all-time leading jockey, adopted similar positive tactics to 12 months ago on Vautour, who like Champagne Fever is owned by Susannah Ricci and won the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle en route to Cheltenham, and nothing could live with the 7-2 joint-favourite’s change of gear.
The winning margin back to Josses Hill (14-1), who pipped his Nicky Henderson stablemate Vaniteux (11-1) for second, was six lengths as Vautour became the first favourite to claim the Supreme Novices' since Brave Inca in 2004.
The clock stopped at 3m 46.40s as Vautour hit the line, which beat the previous best of 3m 48.10s achieved by the mighty Istabraq.
Walsh said: “I was riding this horse like a stayer as I would have been kicking myself if I came back in and didn’t go fast enough. He was in my hands the whole way and he jumped super when I needed him. He’s a good horse.”
An elated Ruby Walsh in the winner's enclosure after the SupremePICTURE: Getty Images
A number of firms quoted Vautour for next season’s Champion Hurdle at around the 8-1 mark, but Mullins warned his future could lie over fences.
He said: “He could be anything. He has got such size and scope. On that performance I can’t wait to go over fences with him.
“I was amazed how well he travelled throughout the race. He seemed so at ease in front. He was in control the whole way.
“He cruised in front and was in total control of the race and that’s extraordinary in a two mile race like the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle especially for a horse we had down as a stayer.”
Fellow joint-favourite Irving was out the back a long way from home and never got involved, while Gilgamboa blew his chance with a mistake at the second-last.
Vautour’s stablemate Wicklow Brave looked set to finish in the frame before being run out of it up the hill. He eventually finished sixth with Sgt Reckless and Wilde Blue Yonder passing him in the final strides.
Henderson, who was thrilled with his second Josses Hill and third Vaniteux, said: “These are two lovely young horses and all my good novices have finished (there) in the places in this races.
“The likes of Sprinter Sacre (third in 2011), Binocular (second in 2008), Darlan (second in 2012) and My Tent Or Yours (second in 2013) were placed in this.
“They are both horses for the future but it was a bit agonising to have run so well yet be thumped like that by the winner. They won't have too much more racing this season.”
The result cost bookmaker Paddy Power, who gave money back on the second, third and fourth placed finishers, a reported £4.5 million.