Yorkhill shows class to end the wait for Mullins and Walsh
It was a long time coming, but that made it all the sweeter when Yorkhill finally delivered for Cheltenham's dominant pair after 25 successive festival losers for the stable.
The relief was palpable as Ruby Walsh stood up in the stirrups and waved his whip at the crowd in joyous celebration, and again as Willie Mullins accepted congratulations from all around him.
While both insisted all barring the injured Douvan had been running well, without quite clicking, Mullins admitted it was "a big relief to get on the board", and "nice for the owners and everyone on the team."
At least as nice were three further successes for Mullins and Walsh – Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase, Nichols Canyon in the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle and Let's Dance in the Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle – on a terrific Thursday for the pair.
Putting the importance of Yorkhill's victory into perspective, the trainer added: "It would be no fun winning at Cheltenham unless they were hard to win. We have huge respect for the place. We've been very lucky here the last few years, but I've appreciated that."
Last year's Neptune winner had not convinced everyone as a chaser, and Mullins and Walsh discussed supplementing for the Champion Hurdle with owner Graham Wylie as the festival approached.
The sky is the limit now and a quote of 14-1 with Paddy Power for the 2018 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup is not unrealistic.
Mullins said: "Ruby was very good. He's a very difficult horse to ride and he dropped him out the back. It was probably going through his head that if he passed one he was going to be in front in another fence. He had to sit, suffer and hope the other horse would bring him into the race, quietly, and then pray for a run, which he got.
"He has the tactical speed to wait for that sort of gap, and although there was just a moment's worry on the run-in, I think he just idled. I hope so!"
Walsh is often self-critical, even in victory, and he admitted he had probably allowed Yorkhill to lead too soon, as indeed he had in the Neptune.
"We put plenty of thought into whether we'd go chasing and then whether we'd stay chasing, but we always thought of him as a Gold Cup horse, and that's the road we went.
"Obviously he wasn't that impressive at Leopardstown on his last start, but his schooling was much better and he jumped brilliantly today."
He added: "I do think he's a Gold Cup horse. I just think he gives you the exciting feel Kauto Star and Denman gave, but whether he'll ever fill their shoes I don't know. I think he's a very good horse."
There was frustration for connections of Top Notch, who was eligible for the £60,000 bonus put on by SIS for select Plumpton novice winners, but Nicky Henderson adores him and the trainer said: "He ran a super race and tried his socks off once again.
"He's not very big but he's a real trier. The mistake at the second-last stopped his momentum but it was a great run."