Ruby Walsh's victory aboard Black Hercules in the first race of St Patrick's Thursday was his 50th at The Festival, and his fifth of this year's meeting. He leads the all-time roll of honour of jockeys at The Festival.
The Willie Mullins-trained 4-1 co-favourite was headed going to the second-last fence and hampered by L'Ami Serge, but fought back after the final obstacle to win by three lengths from Bristol De Mai.
Walsh said: "He jumped super, travelled really well and dug really deep when I needed him to. He was tough. L'Ami Serge quickened by me two fences out but he threw his chance away a little bit when he dived remarkably to his left and jumped straight across me.
"My horse was very clever - he almost stalled himself in the air so he didn't land on the back of L'Ami Serge. When I got out around him again, my horse rattled down to the last. We were a bit a tight but he was very nimble at it unlike Navan, when he only got halfway up.
"Today, when he had to get in close at speed, he knew how to get his knees up and get over it. He galloped every step of the way to the line.
"He has a good cruising speed. There's a difference between pace and speed but he has a a big cruising speed. Willie decided to drop him back because he has an awful lot of pace - he likes to get on with it and could do too much in the four-miler.
"I think Patrick and Emmett Mullins had him as a point-to-pointer and Graham and Andrea [Wylie] bought him off the lads after they had won a point-to-point with him, but chasing was always going to be his game. "This time last year, when he got ran over in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, we were thinking where we were going to go with him, so to come back and win a JLT is just great.
"How would you ever think you were going to ride 50 winners here? When I drew level with Pat Taaffe that was a dream come true, so to get to 50 is incredible, but you can't get here without having the horses. I was very lucky to spend so long riding for both Paul [Nicholls] and Willie, and now to have Willie's team as well. It doesn't matter how good a jockey you are, if you don't have the horses you can't ride the winners."
MULLINS PAYS TRIBUTE TO 50-UP WALSH
Trainer Willie Mullins was quick to pay tribute to Ruby Walsh after the jockey recorded his 50th Festival success on board Black Hercules in the JLT Novices' Chase over two and a half miles at Cheltenham this afternoon.
The 4/1 co-favourite of three (alongside runner-up Bristol de Mai and Garde La Victoire, who fell) travelled kindly under Walsh and looked to have every chance as the field turned for home. L'Ami Serge jumped into the lead in front of him at the second last but the seven-year-old battled back tenaciously to regain the lead at the final fence and skipped up the hill to land a three length victory.
Mullins labelled Walsh as 'the best jockey I've had ride for me' after the race and was also glad he had chosen this particular race as Black Hercules' Festival target.
"It was a classy performance," said the trainer.
"I thought we were beaten at the second last when L'Ami Serge went by but once Ruby got him balanced and running, he just powered up the straight. He would have been too free in the four miler (the National Hunt Chase on Tuesday) so I'm glad we changed. I thought he was a stayer at first but then when he showed me what he showed me when winning at Navan, I began to think differently. The better ground has probably helped him a bit too.
"He's the best jockey I've ever had riding for me. From the time I saw him as a seven pound claimer, he was different gravy and he still is. I first saw him riding a winner at Gowran Park and was impressed. When I next saw him, I was meant to be riding one of my own but I got hungry and wanted to have lunch so said to Ted (Walsh - Ruby's father) 'where's Ruby?' as I wanted him to ride it.
"Ruby was at home watching TV or something but he came straight over and rode the horse for me. My last ever ride was a winner and I beat him a short-head and I came back in and said I'd hang up my boots and that's was enough.
"We couldn't imagine that this would all happen all these years later but I did know that Ruby was going to be a top, top jockey. His first winner for me was a little filly, who was a relation to Snow Drop (who won the 2000 JCB Triumph Hurdle), in an 18 or 19 runner bumper at Leopardstown and he came from last to first to win on her. It was a terrific ride and I thought 'that's the future' - it was only his second or third winner in his life. For a kid to give her a ride like that was just amazing. He just oozes class and he's always in the right place at the right time in a race."
1) Black Hercules (Andrea & Graham Wylie) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-04 Ruby Walsh 4/1 Co Fav 2) Bristol De Mai (Simon Munir & Issac Souede) Nigel Twiston-Davies 5-11-04 Daryl Jacob 4/1 Co Fav 3) L'Ami Serge (Simon Munir & Issac Souede) Nicky Henderson 6-11-04 Nico de Boinville 8/1
4/1 Co Fav Garde La Victoire (Fell). 9 ran. Distances: 3, 1
BetBright Cup: Great Britain 9, Ireland 6
BRISTOL FINDS HERCULES TOO STRONG
Some top-class young horses lined up for the JLT Novices' Chase, but the best of Britain could not cope with Ireland's Black Hercules, who became Ruby Walsh's 50th Cheltenham Festival winner.
The second and third - Bristol De Mai and L'Ami Serge - both owned in partnership by Issac Souede and Simon Munir, were beaten three lengths and one length. Zabana unseated jockey Davy Russell at the start and then ran with the field throughout, and while Bristol De Mai made a mistake at the fence at the top of the hill, and L'Ami Serge jumped left in the home straight, they were beaten fair and square by the winner.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, the trainer of runner-up Bristol De Mai, the 4/1 co-favourite, said: "The loose horse didn't help, but we're not offering that as an excuse. He's run a really good race, and had it been softer we might have won it, but we didn't. He could go to Ayr, or somewhere like that."
Twiston-Davies won yesterday's RSA Chase with another top novice in Blaklion. Asked if the two might have to take each other on next year, the trainer said: "I hope not. This horse is still quite buzzy early on [to consider racing over a longer trip]. He jumped well today, and I don't think the mistake [at the top of the hill] made any difference."
Third-placed L'Ami Serge, an 8/1 shot, took up the running turning for home and led over the second-last, where he jumped left and slightly impeded the winner. After that L'Ami Serge could find no extra and was repassed by the runner-up on the run-in, suggesting his stamina was fading. Trainer Nicky Henderson said: "We only switched him from the Arkle [over three furlongs shorter] two days ago - would you say he didn't stay? I don't know, but he's run a great race. He has to go left-handed so Aintree is a very big possibility."
Harry Skelton, fourth on Three Musketeers, said: "I'm delighted with his run - the ground was probably quick enough for him, but he ran on strongly. We could have just done with a bit more rain."
With just 5 renewals to work with, finding trends for the JLT Novices Chase must be considered something of a work in progress. There are few angles that might help us narrow the field but with such a small sample size a degree of suspicion might be wise.
Jewson Novices Chase Stats Previous Cheltenham Festival form is a plus. Vautour had landed the 2014 Supreme. The 2012 winner Sir Des Champs had won the previous seasons Martin Pipe race while the inaugral winner Noble Prince finished a creditable fifth in the 2010 Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle.Taquin De Seuil had finished 6th in the 2013 Neptune Novices Hurdle and had been a winner at the Cheltenham November meeting
All five winners won last time out
4/5 were Irish trained
The first two in the 2012 Scilly Isles finished third and fourth in that years Jewson
Tony McCoy has been the winning jockey in 2/5 renewals.