Yorkhill gave trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh their fourth winner of this year's Festival when producing a devastating turn of foot to land the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon.
Mullins is now the most successful trainer in this race, having now won it four times. Yorkhill's victory also gives Mullins his 45th Festival winner.
The six-year-old didn't have the easiest passage throughout the race but Walsh was determined to hug the inside rail and, when the field turned for home, the gap appeared at the right time for the pair to capitalise on.
The 3/1 second favourite got first run on the 11/10 market leader Yanworth, who was taken wide by Barry Geraghty throughout, and this proved to be decisive as the winner skipped clear on the run to the final flight. A bold jump at the last sealed the race as Yorkhill bounded up the hill to record a one and three quarter lengths victory.
Mullins revealed after the race that he would be tempted to go down the Stan James Champion Hurdle route with the horse next season.
"Ruby gave him a super ride," said the trainer.
"He needed a bit of luck turning for home but it opened up and he managed to get through and then it was just a matter of jumping the last. He did that well and accelerated up the hill. He got to the front earlier than we would have liked but showed enough speed to get away. We had thought about going to for the Supreme Novices' with him and I had that race in mind for him all along. Then, the more I looked at it, the more I thought that he would be hard to beat in this race. If we were going to win a race with this guy, then this would be the one. We then switched Bellshill to that Supreme and then this fellow to this one. I thought Altior (winner of yesterday's Supreme Novices' Hurdle) could be better than Yanworth so that was in my mind too. The sound surface has suited too - that has helped.
"He could go novice chasing but I'd be minded now to go down the Champion Hurdle route with him. This fellow looks smart. He won the Tolworth (at Sandown) well and then looked sharp coming round the bend here. I did have chasing in mind for him but I'm not so sure now. He's a really smart hurdler. If Ruby thinks he's smart enough for that, we'll go there. He got to the front earlier than we would have liked but showed enough speed to get away. I thought Barry was closing on Yanworth but maybe Yorkhill was just idling.
"When you see the way my Champion Hurdle horses fell like flies this year - with Faugheen and Arctic Fire - it's tough racing, and I would love to have another super-sub like Annie Power. Bello Conti (finished fourth) is very inexperienced. He is the unopened package - we really didn't know how good he was and that was very good."
WALSH CLIMBS THE HILL TOWARDS 50 WINNERS
Ruby Walsh is fast approaching his Festival half-century - Yorkhill's victory in the opening race of the second day of The Festival 2016 was his 49th, and his fourth of this year's meeting. He is the most successful rider in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, having won it four times.
Yorkhill, trained by Willie Mullins, is a six-year-old son of Presenting owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie, who came to the Festival unbeaten in his four starts under Rules so far. He beat Yanworth by a length and three-quarters.
Walsh said: "I buried him down the inner but he didn't settle great. He jumped super - well, with one or two little mistakes. I had intended not to be in front or only upsides going to the last because he doesn't do a whole lot in front. The gap opened at the back going to the second last and I couldn't resist the temptation. He took me to the last, and I thought, 'go on if you want to...'
"He pinged the last but as soon as I got in front he just pulled up, with his two ears pricked. But he's a very good horse and it was a good performance. He travelled really, really well."
When asked about future plans, Walsh replied: "He has the pace for a Champion Hurdle but he could win the Arkle, but we'll talk about that tomorrow!"
1.30pm Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle (Grade One) 1) Yorkhill (Andrea & Graham Wylie) Willie Mullins IRE 6-11-07 Ruby Walsh 3/1 2) Yanworth (J P McManus) Alan King 6-11-07 Barry Geraghty 11/10 Fav 3) It'safreebee (Rebel Racing) Dan Skelton 6-11-07 Ian Popham 33/1
Distances: 1¾, 7
'BETTER HORSE' BEATS YANWORTH
An apparent banker at this year's Cheltenham Festival, Yanworth lost his unbeaten hurdling record when second in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.
Staying on from the final flight, the 11/10 favourite could not peg back the 3/1 winner Yorkhill from Willie Mullins' stable, and was beaten one and three-quarter lengths, with a further seven lengths back to third-placed Its'afreebee.
Alan King, who trains Yanworth for owner J P McManus, was not sour in defeat, admitting his six-year-old was second to an exceptional winner. King said: "They didn't go as quick as I thought they would, but I've no excuses and the better horse has won on the day. I think he must be pretty good, although our horse kept going all the way to the line.
"Going to the last the third was bang with him, and yet there was seven lengths between them at the finish.
"He'll be a chaser one day, but I won't make a decision today about next season. You have to bear in mind that's the first proper race he has had [over hurdles] and he might just improve for it. It's the first time he's had a kick in the belly."
Yanworth was very impressive on heavy ground at Cheltenham in January, but King did not feel today's quicker surface was against his horse.
Phil Cunningham is the head of Rebel Racing, which owns third-placed Its'afreebee, trained by Dan Skelton. Cunningham said: "We're just a group of friends - when Dan started last year we put a horse with him, and when that one didn't work out we took our time and found this one. He's been a super horse for us."
Best known as the owner of dual Guineas winner Cockney Rebel, Cunningham said: "I was involved in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Cinders And Ashes, but I haven't done much in Jump racing since. I love coming to The Festival, and you can tell from our reaction that it feels like we owned the winner.
"He was 50/1 this morning yet he has put us in the winner's circle - we are wondering if he might prefer a more level track after his win at Haydock, so a trip to Aintree might be next."
Windsor Park won in 2015 for Davy Russell and Dermot Weld.
Faugheen was an impressive winner of the 2014 Neptune Investment Novice Hurdle and follwowed up in the 2015 Champion Hurdle.
Simonsig blew one of racings must stubborn stats out of the water at Cheltenham 2012 when giving trainer Nicky Henderson a first winner in the race. Prior to the win Henderson had been 0/22 in the race without any horse in the frame since 1990.
Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle Stats & Trivia
7 of the last 10 winners won last time out
Willie Mullins has trained 3 of the last 8 winners
Irish have a good overall record winning 6 of the last 10 renewals
Nigel Twiston Davies (1993, 2004,2013) has trained three winners
Ruby Walsh is the most successful current jockeys with three wins
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has not won this race
Winners Position in Market : 534841441213
Fate of Favourites : 2 0/0 2 5 0 1 3 3 3 1 3
All 14 Challow Hurdle winners who have attempted to double up have failed
Only one winner (French Holly) older than six since Brown Lad in 1974