Ruby Walsh filled the one gap in his CV by winning the Stan James Champion Hurdle on Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham today.
It was the second victory of the day for the jockey, who only returned to race-riding 10 days ago after several months on the sidelines with a broken leg.
Hurricane Fly, who started favourite, beat the game Peddlers Cross by just over a length. He is by the supersire Montjeu, for whom it was a first Cheltenham Festival success.
“I never got him to settle and he ran keen all the way,” said Walsh. “We did it the hard way. We knew that he has this unbelievable speed and class but people were doubting. He is a deserving champion and a right little horse. He has a big heart and he needed it today.”
The trainer, Willie Mullins, has been champion in Ireland for the past three seasons, but this was his first Champion Hurdle win as well.
The Donald McCain-trained runner-up did well to stick with Hurricane Fly to the line, but the Flat-bred’s superior speed just told in the end.
Three winners for Walsh
Having won the Festival opener, the Stan James Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, on Al Ferof – whose last run was when taking the race at Newbury before which two horses were electrocuted in the paddock in February – Ruby Walsh completed a treble in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle.
It was the easiest winner you will ever see at Cheltenham. Quevega (pictured), going for her third consecutive victory in the race, never looked like coming off the bridle and didn’t have to go more than a canter to win. She was the day’s banker at odds of 5-6, and obliged without breaking sweat.
One each for Thornton and Johnson
Richard Johnson was beaming after Captain Chris took the Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy. The Philip Hobbs-trained son of King’s Theatre and the good chasing mare Function Dream has spent most of the winter finishing second – four times in a row – but, under a strong ride from Johnson, took charge from two fences out and never looked like being caught by runner-up Finian’s Rainbow.
The latter was one of three consecutive second places for trainer Nicky Henderson.
And Robert Thornton rode his first Festival winner for three years on the well-backed Bensalem in the Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase in a thrilling finish from Barry Geraghty on the brave mare Carol’s Legacy.
Bensalem nearly died of pleurisy during the winter, and winning owner Alan Marsh said: “We have had a terrible year – we really questioned whether he was going to race again, let alone race properly. We are all very, very excited!”
Irish dominate cross-country
The Glenfarclas Cross-Country chase has been run seven times and there has been an Irish-trained winner every time. This year Henry de Bromhead’s Sizing Australia just held on from the veteran Garde Champetre, who won it in 2008 and 2009. Graham Lee took the last, the Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase, on the Ferdy Murphy-trained Divers.