Vroum Vroum Mag made it a day to remember for owner Susannah Ricci, trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh after she produced an authoritative performance to land the OLBG Mares' Hurdle by two and three quarter lengths at Cheltenham this afternoon.
Backers of the 4/6 favourite never had a moment's doubt as Walsh oozed confidence on the seven-year-old and when her jockey asked her to go through the gears, Vroum Vroum Mag effortlessly put daylight between her and her rivals to land the Grade One event.
Rich Ricci, husband of the owner, was visibly delighted after the mare capped off a 6.29/1 treble for owner, trainer and jockey. "It's unbelievable," said Ricci. "Annie Power was remarkable and very emotive. It's a fantastic moment for the sport and this mare is also very good. We don't know how good she is. She jumps so well. We're very lucky.
"The crowds have adopted Annie Power and I hope they feel the same way about this one. There was a collective roar and sigh of relief after she jumped the last after what happened to Annie last year (Annie Power fell at the last in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle of 2015 when leading). It's great to be a part of history and the people here are so nice and lovely. It's an emotive game. Somebody described Vroum Vroum Mag as a 'big buxom brunette' the other day and she fits that bill. Annie is more of a tomboy - she looks more like a gelding. Vroum Vroum is a good mare in her own right and she'd certainly been working well. I was hoping for the best and she certainly delivered."
Mullins has now won eight of the nine runnings of this race and was also keen to point out that Vroum Vroum Mag had worked really well in the weeks leading up to this race.
"Her work during last week was awesome," said the trainer. "It was so good that we wondered whether we'd supplemented the right mare into the Champion Hurdle. We just thought coming here today that she'd win barring traffic problems or a fall. Her work has just been fantastic. My only worry was that she might have left the race behind with that particular piece of work. I can't remember what she worked with but it was awesome. Everyone who saw it thought so.
"Ruby was cruising at all stages and was just left to try and find a position. It was an armchair ride in the end. She could come back here for this race next year. She's very versatile and she falls asleep with you when you ride her at home. Ruby thought at one point last year that she could be a Grand National horse as she's that laid back. We thought she'd be a big chasing type but she keeps surprising us."
'MAGGIE' SO DIFFERENT TO ANNIE, SAYS WALSH
Vroum Vroum Mag gave trainer Willie Mullins, jockey Ruby Walsh and owner Susannah Ricci a 6.29/1 treble on the first day of The Festival 2016 when taking the OLBG Mares' Hurdle by two and three-quarter lengths.
Ruby Walsh said: "Her work has been very good. She settled nicely, went a really good gallop and jumped super. She got a bit tight into the third-last - the horse on the outside drifted in and she threw a big old jump - but when a gap opened up off the bend she quickened smartly.
"She's very different to Annie Power. She's a very placid individual. In the summer when they are out in the field she won't move anymore than she has to. Annie is all business, walking around, and Maggie is standing in the middle looking at her. We didn't really know how good she was, and she won impressively today."
Discussing Mullins, Walsh said: "He keeps all the balls in the air as long as he can until he has to make decisions, and he's into training winners. He puts the horses where he thinks they can win, and he's always been brilliant at that, from ordinary horses to the very best horses, and that's what he's always done and that's probably what separates him - he puts his horses in the right races. The less interference there is with him, the more times he gets it right.
"Maggie will probably go over fences - she's a very good jumper. Jackie [Mullins] rides her in all her work and keeps her sweet and happy. Jackie isn't a woman of many words, but she always has a sly smile about this one when she does something.
"I suppose in years gone by when I was riding for both Paul [Nicholls] and Willie, you were only half-involved in both camps. Now you are there more often and see more of it, and feel more of the pressure that comes on a yard. You become familiar with the staff, you know them all better and know how much it means to all of them. There's as many lads in Clonsutton as there are here, keeping the show on the road, and they all do such a wonderful job.
Jackie Mullins said: "I ride Vroum Vroum Mag every day because she is quiet, she is intelligent and knows exactly what is going on. She is awesome. She has done everything right and just keeps doing it.
"I thought she was bit further back than Ruby wanted. I think she made a mistake at the second and got shuffled back, but came back and kept battling on."
1) Vroum Vroum Mag (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 7-11-05 Ruby Walsh 4/6 Fav 2) Rock On The Moor (R Irwin) Jessica Harrington IRE 8-11-05 Robbie Power 66/1 3) Legacy Gold (Roger Brookhouse) Stuart Crawford IRE 8-11-05 Andrew Lynch 40/1
Distances: 2¾, ½
HARRINGTON PRAISES SOLID EFFORT FROM ROCK ON THE MOOR
Jessica Harrington expressed her delight at Rock On The Moor's effort in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, who outran her odds of 66/1 to finish second, two and three quarter lengths behind Vrom Vrom Mag. Robbie Power took the ride.
The Irish handler said: "I'm absolutely delighted with her, she was actually sick when she came back from Doncaster because she didn't travel back at all well, so we kept her for here.
"The owner, Richard Irwin only bought her three weeks ago because her previous owner died and she's the first horse I've had for him, so it's great," she said. "She had good form last year and she was entitled to run here. We were just beaten by a better horse."
Looking to the future Harrington continued: "She will go to Punchestown, I'm not sure what race but that's where she will be aimed at."
A stats analysis of the five runnings of the OLBG Mares Hurdle run for the David Nicholson Trophy is undoubtedly skewed by the complete dominance of Quevega and the Wille Mullins\Ruby Walsh trainer\jockey combo - they have won six of the 8 renewals. In achieveing six wins in a row Quevega set new records for the meeting.
Annie Power - the 2014 World Hurdle runner up had been favourite for the race which enjoyed Grade 1 status for the first time in 2015 but with the Champion Hurdle now looking her more likely target her stablemate Vroon Vroom Mag has assummed that mantle.
OLBG Mares Hurdle Stats & Trivia
Fate of the Favourite: 3111111F
Market Position of the Winner: 71111112
All seven winners have been given hold up rides
In 2012 Quevega became first horse since Baulking Green (1963-67) to win the same race at the festival four times
In 2013 Quevega became the first horse since Golden Miller (Gold Cup 1932-36) to win the same race five years in succession
In 2014 Quevega became the first horse to win six races in sucession at the Cheltenham Festival