(Reuters) - Trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh won the Champion Hurdle with unbeaten Faugheen as the pair dominated the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.
Irishman Mullins saddled a 1-2-3 in front of over 60,000 racegoers as Faugheen, the 4-5 favourite, stormed home ahead of stable mates Arctic Fire (20-1) and twice winner Hurricane Fly (8-1) in the big race.
Mullins and Walsh also combined to win the opening two Grade One races of the four-day Festival -- Douvan (2-1) in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle quickly followed by Un De Sceaux (4-6) in the Arkle chase.
After Faugheen had brought up the hat-trick, Annie Power looked set to give the Mullins-Walsh combination another winner but the hot favourite fell at the last fence when leading the Mares Hurdle.
Horse and jockey were unhurt, leaving another Mullins’ raider -- Glens Melody (6-1) -- to squeeze home in a tight finish by a head for another Irish rider, Paul Townend.
While bookmakers counted the cost of Mullins’ first three winners, Annie Power’s fall at least saved them from further carnage and huge payouts on accumulator bets.
“You could not write the script,” Mullins told Channel Four Racing.
“All spring the horses have been going really well, today was going to be a really good day or a blow out.”
Walsh had opted to ride Faugheen instead of 2011 and 2013 champion Hurricane Fly, winner of a jump racing world record 22 grade one races, and his faith was justified as the seven-year-old made it nine wins from nine.
“It was a massive decision not to ride Hurricane Fly,” said Walsh.
“This is an incredible little horse, a fine horse. He was awkward at the second last but pinged the last and saw it out well.
“He’s got such a good turn of foot though. This is probably the best feel I’ve ever had from him -- it was certainly his biggest challenge facing all these good horses.”
Paying tribute to the training performance of Mullins, Walsh added: “It’s a great place to work and the man’s a genius. He has a great team of staff around him and it’s brilliant to be part of it.”
Tony McCoy, riding at his last Festival before the 19-times champion jockey heads into retirement, finished fourth on last year’s winner Jezki.
Writing by Justin Palmer, editing by Ed Osmond
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