Three and easy for Henry de Bromhead at Fairyhouse

Three Wise Men, ridden by Noel Fehily, jumps the last to win the Cusacks Hotel Maiden Hurdle

Three Wise Men, ridden by Noel Fehily, jumps the last to win the Cusacks Hotel Maiden Hurdle

Three Wise Men defied a lengthy absence to make a successful debut under Rules in the Cusack Hotels Maiden Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

It is over two years since the Henry de Bromhead-trained six-year-old finished third in a Tyrella point-to-point and he was a 20-1 shot for his long-awaited return.

Yaha Fizz quickly opened up a big lead and looked to have his rivals on the stretch rounding the home turn, but he was eventually reeled in, with Crown Of Gold and Three Wise Men moving to the front.

The pair jumped the last almost as one, but it was Three Wise Men who came home the stronger in the hands of Noel Fehily to score by three and three-quarter lengths.

Art Of Synergy finished with a wet sail to fill the runner-up spot, with Tayto Park just beating Crown Of Gold to third.

De Bromhead said: "That's our first runner for the Mee family (owners) and he looks a nice horse.

"I thought that he might need the run and Noel said he's still a bit green.

"He jumps hurdles like a fence. Hopefully he'll be a nice chaser in time."

Dollar And A Dream got back on the winning trail in the Gleesons Butchers Novice Handicap Hurdle.

A winner at the Galway Festival last summer, Tony Martin's charge has since run with credit in decent races at Listowel, Cheltenham and Leopardstown.

Sent off a 4-1 for his latest assignment, the seven-year-old was always travelling strongly in the hands of Paul Townend and moved sweetly towards the front in the home straight.

The Brock Inn emerged as a serious threat on the run to the final flight, but Dollar And A Dream jumped it in front and found enough on the run-in to hold him at bay by three-quarters of a length.

Pakman and Ardview Boy filled out the places.

"All went to plan and fortune was on our side today. Sometimes it goes the other way," said Martin.

"He is what he is – a 109-rated handicapper.

"We'll see how he comes out of this. He could go to Punchestown."

Don Cossack delivers Gold Cup riches for Gordon Elliott

Don Cossack led home an Irish clean sweep with an authoritative success in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The nine-year-old gave trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Bryan Cooper their first blue riband triumph and a second for owners Gigginstown House Stud after War Of Attrition 10 years ago.

Don Cossack, the 9-4 favourite, was followed home by Djakadam and Don Poli, both trained by Willie Mullins, who is still seeking his first Gold Cup win.

However, the race changed dramatically when Cue Card fell at the third-last fence when in with every chance.

Don Cossack was left to stride away and claim victory by four and a half lengths from Rich Ricci's Djakadam (9-2), who was runner-up for the second year running.

Don Poli (9-2), also owned by Gigginstown, was 10 lengths away in third.

Cooper, who burst on to the scene riding for the late Dessie Hughes, said: "Fair play to Gordon, he stuck by me, I had the hardest decision (riding Don Cossack rather than Don Poli) and he had him right for today. He never missed a beat.

"It was a hard decision to make, but there's a man up there looking out for me, Dessie Hughes."

A tearful Elliott, who won the Grand National in 2007 with Silver Birch, said: "I'm delighted for Gigginstown because they've supported me since I started. It takes a lot for me to start crying, I can't believe it.

"I've never been so nervous in my life, I'm just so happy for everyone – all the staff, my mother and father, everyone."

Gigginstown boss Michael O'Leary said: "There was never a moment's worry. He jumped brilliantly and Bryan gave him a superb ride, he was always in control.

"He has so much natural pace but not a change of gear, it's a high cruising speed but he's a magnificent jumper and Gordon is a magnificent trainer.

"It was disappointing he got beat in the Ryanair last year but he's made up for it now, I'd swap a Ryanair for a Gold Cup."

Mullins felt Djakadam had run with credit, although he thought the ground had proved an issue for Don Poli.

He said: "We have no excuses. He did everything right and even jumped better than the winner over the last three fences but still couldn't win.

"The ground was way too fast for Don Poli and he is a Grand National horse in my opinion. He was staying on all the way to the line.

"It's great for Gigginstown, for Gordon and for Bryan and it must be a big relief to him that he chose right."

Djakadam's jockey Ruby Walsh admitted his mount had been beaten by a better horse on the day.

He said: "He travelled really well but Smad Place was jumping right in front of him for most of the way.

"I suppose the drying ground really helped Don Cossack and Cue Card but then he fell.

"It was what it was on the day and Don Cossack was a really good winner.

"He (Djakadam) has always been a very good jumper so that never concerned me, he's run his race but the winner was very good on the day. Fair play to Bryan Cooper, he got it right."

Davy Russell, rider of Don Poli, said: "He was badly outpaced but kept plugging away, softer ground would have helped."

Barry Geraghty also thought his mount, Carlingford Lough, had found the early gallop tough going before staying on for fourth.

He said: "He was outpaced down the back but kept staying on and John (Kiely) had him in great shape."

Colin Tizzard reported Cue Card to be none the worse for his fall and was philosophical about losing out on a possible £1million bonus.

He said: "He's absolutely fine. He walked back in without a care in the world. That's racing.

"Going flat out in the Gold Cup, it brings mistakes. He unseated in a novice chase here a few years ago (2011) but has not looked like falling since.

"The main thing is the horse got up and walked back."

 

Ireland celebrates as Ivanovich Gorbatov triumphs for O’Briens at Cheltenham

Winning trainer Joseph O'Brien

Winning trainer Joseph O’Brien

Ivanovich Gorbatov gave Aidan O’Brien his first Festival winner since the mighty Istabraq when storming home in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.

O'Brien has very much concentrated on the Flat since Istabraq captured the third of his Champion Hurdles in 2000, but Ivanovich Gorbatov (9-2 favourite) was well worth the wait.

O'Brien's son Joseph, who has recently retired from riding, has been supervising the young hurdler's preparation ahead of getting his full training licence and Ivanovich Gorbatov, owned by JP McManus, delivered in style to give jockey Barry Geraghty his first success of the week in an all-Ireland combination.

Barry Geraghty atop the victorious Ivanovich Gorbatov

Relishing the better ground, Ivanovich Gorbatov made up for his defeat at Leopardstown to defeat two horses from the all-conquering Willie Mullins' stable with Apple's Jade beaten a length and a quarter in second and Footpad six lengths away in third.

Geraghty said: "I've been banking on this lad all week. I've had a couple of good rides and they've been running well, but it's good to get a score on the board.

"He's only had two runs over hurdles and three on the Flat, I'd say he's a horse who can do it well and it's nice to do it for the boss.

"Joseph has done brilliantly, he told me the first day what he was, he loved him and he loved him for today.

"He had him so well schooled – I'd say he (Joseph) can only do well (training)."

Joseph O'Brien said: "It's unbelievable, I don't think it's sunk in yet.

"It's very hard to put into words what I'm thinking right now.

"I was very hopeful but Barry was more confident than anyone, he rode him the last day and was happy to put a line through it, he just said the ground was to blame.

"We were very happy today because the ground was very different.

"It's not really sunk in yet. It's hard to compare (to winning the Derby) but it's right up there."

Aidan O'Brien added: "It's unbelievable to be here and it's happened.

"The last time I saw him was in Ballydoyle and I've just seen him at the races since. It's a great team effort. I'm delighted for Joseph, JP and everyone.

"Joseph rode him to win on the Flat and I always thought this was the closest to him (Istabraq) that we have had."

McManus said: "It's nice to get Barry off the mark and it's good for the lads down at Piltown.

"He's had to make a bit of a comeback after Leopardstown (beaten at odds-on in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle), but they never lost faith.

"Joseph thought he was a bit heavy that day, that he could have taken more off him, so he had him much fitter today.

"Joseph's record already speaks for itself. I don't think it's any surprise to Joseph that he's won today."

Aidan O'Brien went on: "That's incredible for him (Joseph) and it's a big deal. He's been brought along nicely and he didn't over-do him for Christmas as he had his eye on running him in this race.

"He needed the last day for experience and Barry gave him a great ride today.

"Joseph has always been around horses, it's like breathing to him and he's worked very hard for this."

Mullins, who was also responsible for the fourth-placed Let's Dance, said: "Second, third and fourth was not too bad.

"Footpad (who won the race at Leopardstown in which Ivanovich Gorbatov was beaten) missed the first and I don't think he really faced up to the hood.

"Apple's Jade ran a cracker considering the training problems she had.

"Let's Dance ran a good race as well.

"We'll think about Aintree and Punchestown as well."

Looking back at Dawn Run’s Gold Cup glory 30 years on

Dawn Run on her way to that famous Gold Cup win 30 years ago

Dawn Run on her way to that famous Gold Cup win 30 years ago

IT felt for all the world like Cheltenham had relocated to California at the very moment the San Andreas Fault went into violent spasm.

Thirty years ago this week, the land below the Cotswold hills trembled, convulsed by a freakish earthquake of emotion.

March 1986, Gold Cup Day, and a fearless, tenacious, heroic four-legged beast shifted forever National Hunt’s tectonic plates.

Dawn Run, trained by Paddy Mullins, sire of the incomparable Willie, galloped up the most sacred stretch of rising ground and into history’s embrace.

If you want to know what untrammeled, undiluted wonder sounds like, if you wish to taste the purest, most potent shot of delirium, then go to YouTube and click on the link to this racing rhapsody.

First, though, understand what was at stake. No horse had ever won both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup.

Dawn Run, having triumphed over the smaller obstacles in 1984, but with just three completed races over fences, was accompanied to Gloucestershire by a huge, yearning emerald cavalcade.

The tumult as she sought to bravely go where none before her had ventured was otherworldly.

Look at the pictures. Cheltenham is bursting at the seams, a dense and manic street of humanity, the Irish invasion vast, endless, crazed.

But now a couple of furlongs from home, after a furious gallop (the race would be run in record time), a cloud hung over the heroine.

As they hit the hill the eight-year-old is visibly weakening, Jonjo O’Neill hard at work in what seemed a losing battle. History was turning its back on the mare.

Dawn Run was leaking oil. Up top, O’Neill, the veteran former champion jockey from Castletownroche, County Cork, was a picture of flailing limbs.

Here we hand over to RTE’s increasingly animated radio commentator Des Scahill.

“Over the last, it’s Wayward Lad from Forgive and Forget, Dawn Run is battling back into it.  But it’s Wayward Lad, holding Dawn Run and Forgive and Forget.”

As O’Neill switches the mare to the outside and impossibly she rallies, straining her neck toward the line, the shriek from the crowd is deafening as Scahill magnificently and eloquently loses himself in the delirium.

“They’re racing up toward the finish, DAWN RUN IS COMING WITH EVERY STRIDE, DAWN RUN IS GOING TO WIN THE GOLD CUP.  DAWN RUN HAS WON IT IN THE LAST STRIDE.”

Now there is a quiver in Scahill’s voice, a facsimile of the unfolding elation below.

“And the crowd go wild as this most courageous mare, Dawn Run, has battled back from sure defeat…Jonjo O’Neill punches the air with absolute delight…

“A delirious crowd greets Jonjo O’Neill, John Joe now in the twilight of his career coming back to what must be his greatest ever triumph.

“All the way down in front of us the clenched left fist punches the air.”

The pictures are extraordinary, a moving portrait of magnificent bedlam, illustrative of the magical sense of occasion, the understanding that here, truly, was a moment for the ages.

Man and beast battle through the ecstatic throngs like a conquering Caesar returning to Rome in triumph.  Jonjo’s joy, his sheer bliss, echoes effortlessly down the years.  

All about him volcanoes of sound and beautiful fury erupt. 

With a performance of bottomless courage, her refusal to bow, with a comeback that sent shivers cascading down the spine of anybody blessed to be in attendance, Dawn Run seized the title deeds of so many hearts.

From the very bowels of Prestbury Park came a cannonade, a boom of sound as a thunderstruck audience acclaimed its champion.

The going might have been officially modified to soft-to-marshy as horse and jockey returned to an ecstatically tearful serenade. 

Nine months before Barry McGuigan had pulverised Eusebio Pedroza at a seething Loftus Road to claim the WBA featherweight belt. Weeks before that at The Crucible, a TV audience of 20m had watched Dennis Taylor break Steve Davis in the wee small hours.

Now this:  A microphone is thrust in front of O’Neill.  His smile is blinding, mid-summer sunlight.

“It speaks for itself really, the best moment of my racing life. She’s as game as a pebble,” he says, and as a replay of the race unfolds in front of him, he cannot contain his rapture.

“Go on you little beauty,” he giggles, as all about him the river of hysteria bursts its banks.

Approaching the last, with the horse apparently beaten, a young Willie Mullins had given up.

Mullins, who will celebrate the 30th anniversary by saddling the market leaders for this year’s renewal in Djakadam and Don Poli, recalls the madness in vivid technicolor.

“I watched her jump the last and said ‘she’s beat’ and I turned away. 

“Next minute the whole place erupted with an Irish roar, but I had come down off the stand and couldn’t see and I said to someone ‘did she win” and they said ‘yes’. 

“I actually didn’t see her cross the line until I saw the re-run later that night.”

Weeks later, Dawn Run, lay dead on the French turf, her neck broken in a fall. Her death would make the next day’s front pages.

Ireland had lost its four legged princess, the beautiful and brave mare that had made the Cotswold earth shudder.

Michael Fortune marks your card for Day 4 of Cheltenham Festival

Don Cossack will partner Bryan Cooper again in the big one

Don Cossack will partner Bryan Cooper again in the big one

The Timico Gold Cup is the undoubted highlight of the meeting and it dominates final day like a colossus.

It is the one major prize which has eluded Willie Mullins and fate seems to be against him as he has been runner-up in the last three years. 

I am confident that the prize will return to Ireland this year and, while Mullins has a massive chance with his team of Djakadam, Vautour, Don Poli and Valseur Lido, the vote is going to Gordon Elliott hitting the jackpot with the talented Don Cossack. 

When he won his bumper at Naas back in October 2011, Elliott remarked that the winner could be a Gold Cup winner of the future. He looks sure to go off favourite to prove Elliott right and, to be honest, he deserves a bit of luck on this Prestbury course. 

Two years ago Don Cossack fell in the RSA and then last year he was desperately unlucky when hampered badly coming down the hill and he ran on with gusto to be third.

Forget all the talk that he doesn’t run well at Cheltenham, he has been unlucky. 

He went on to Aintree, where he destroyed Cue Card, and then ran up a sequence of victories that was ended by his fall at the second-last of the King George at Kempton, where he was clearly going to win. He had also endured a nightmare passage through that race. 

Bryan Cooper has delayed picking between Don Cossack and Don Poli and the latter is also a very powerful stayer, but may lack the class of Cossack. I expect Cooper to be aboard Cossack, particularly if the ground is reasonably good and I expect them to win. 

But in last year’s runner-up Djakadam we have a Mullins horse capable of winning any Gold Cup. 

There is no doubt about the stamina of Djakadam and his fall last time out doesn’t worry me. He will be strong on the hill, but will he be as strong as Don Cossack?

Cue Card has been performing very well this season, but I have never regarded him as a Gold Cup horse and I think he will struggle up the hill. We’ll side with Don Cossack to win from Djakadam.

Elliott can also be on the mark in the opening Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle with Desoto County. I have been a big fan of this fellow since he won a handicap at Thurles in December and he was then desperately unlucky in the Coral.ie Hurdle at Leopardstown. 

He looks chucked in on 10/3 in this handicap and he looks sure to play a very prominent role. The climb to the finish will suit this grey perfectly. 

If Enda Bolger has got On The Fringe up to his best form he should win another St James’s Place Foxhunter, while Elliott has another big chance with Squouteur in the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle.    

And what about Aidan O’Brien returning to the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham after Ivanovich Gorbatov wins the concluding JCB Triumph Hurdle?

TODAY'S CARD

1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle (2m 1f)
2.10 Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (2m 1f)
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (3m)
3.30 Timoco Gold Cup Steeple Chase (3m 2 1/2f)
4.10 Foxhunter Steeple Chase (3m 2 1/2f)
4.50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (2m 4 1/2f)
5.30 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Steeple Chase (2m 1/2f)

MICHAEL'S TOP TIPS

1.30        1 IVANOVICH GORBATOV; 2 Zubayr; 3 Footpad

2.10        1 GREAT FIELD; 2 Blue Hell; 3 Starchitect

2.50        1 GANGSTER; 2 Barters Hill; 3 Up For Review

3.30        1 DON COSSACK (NAP); 2 Djakadam; 3 Don Poli

4.10        1 ON THE FRINGE; 2 Aupcharlie; 3 Paint The Clouds

4.50        1 SQUOUATEUR; 2 Flying Angel; 3 Childrens List

5.30        1 BRIGHT NEW DAWN; 2 Sizing Codelco; 3 Rock The World 

BEST BETS: 

1.30 Ivanovich Gorbatov 
2.10 Great Field
3.30 Don Cossack  
4.10 On The Fringe 

Thistlecrack eases to World Hurdle victory for jockey Tom Scudamore

Tom Scudamore riding Thistlecrack to victory

Tom Scudamore riding Thistlecrack to victory

Thistlecrack confirmed his position as the stand-out in his division as he comfortably won the Ryanair World Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Travelling beautifully throughout for Tom Scudamore, the Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old led two out and shrugged aside the brave Alpha Des Obeaux to be crowned the champion three-miler.

Cole Harden made the running but he could not reproduce last year's heroics as Thistlecrack stormed past.

The even-money favourite stormed up the hill to pull seven lengths clear of Alpha Des Obeaux. Festival regular Bobs Worth – winner of the Gold Cup in 2013 – plugged on for third place some 22 lengths away, with Cole Harden fourth.

Scudamore said: "I've spent my whole life running around in these races, nearly getting there, and finally I've got a horse like this. It's unbelievable, I never realised it could be so easy!

Tom Scudamore

"I always had lots of confidence in my fella, once we jumped the last it was all over. That was fantastic, what a racehorse. I think it's fair to say he's the best I've sat on.

"I wouldn't mind jumping a fence on him, but he's very good over hurdles. Wherever he goes, I'll be following him, that's for sure."

Tizzard said: "We didn't expect it to be that easy, it's the World Hurdle, isn't it?

"But he's been like that all season hasn't he and it's lovely to get him here in the same form again.

"He's huge, but he wasn't always like that, Heather and John (Snook, owners) had to be very patient with him, he's just grown into himself in the last 12 months.

"He's gone from being quite a nice horse to a superstar. He's as good as they get.

"Whether he jumps a fence next year I don't know.

"There's been pressure for the last three weeks, every day was another one ticked off, we've got to do the work with the horses, you can't just trot them.

"I thought as I was older I could handle it (the pressure), but it's good when they win.

"Now this one is done we can look forward to Cue Card (in the Gold Cup) tomorrow.

"I said I wasn't going to have a drink today, but I might have a half."

Ruby Walsh wins another as Vautour storms Ryanair Chase

Ruby Walsh riding Vautour to his second win of the day

Ruby Walsh riding Vautour to his second win of the day

Vautour justified the late decision to bypass the Timico Gold Cup by running away with the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

Scoring at the Festival for the third time in a row, the even-money favourite was giving trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh their sixth winner of the 2016 meeting.

Village Vic did the majority of the donkey work until Walsh asked Vautour to go about his business after the fifth-last fence.

Road To Riches, who was also switched from the Gold Cup, tried to serve it up to the Rich Ricci-owned Vautour but it cost him second place.

Six lengths away, Valseur Lido snatched the runner-up spot for Mullins and Gigginstown House Stud by half a length from Road To Riches, also carrying the colours of Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary.

Al Ferof ran a creditable race in fourth.

Walsh said: "We went a good old gallop, he travelled well and jumped like a buck.

"He lengthened his stride off the bend and while he was tight at the last two, he was deadly at them.

"He's a pleasure to ride – we've had a fair battle with him since Christmas, but he was spectacular today."

On his well-being leading up to the meeting and the decision to swerve the Gold Cup, Walsh said: "If you were watching him at home I'm not sure you'd even have run him in the Ryanair.

"He worked half all right on Saturday morning, I wouldn't say he worked well. If you'd watched him up until then – I'd written him off in my mind, but Willie gets it right doesn't he?"

Ricci said: "I feel odd, to be completely honest. I wanted the horse to run in the Gold Cup, but of course I'm delighted to win. We just wanted to do the right thing for the horse."

Mullins: "He hadn't been exactly delighting me in his work and it is amazing to see him do a performance like that.

"I think the drying ground has been a huge help to him, he's a horse that just struggles in that winter ground, I think.

"He had a very hard race at Kempton (second to Cue Card in the King George) and it took him ages to get over it.

"We've been trying everything for the last three weeks, changing all sorts of things, and it's worked, I think.

"It looked like the right race. I think it was Djakadam he was working with when he was disappointing."

Walsh had recorded his 50th career Festival victory in the opening JLT Novices' Chase, and Mullins added: "I just said to Ruby on the way out, make it 51 please."

Ricci went on: "We had the whole hullabaloo about the Gold Cup, last year's Gold Cup third was behind us there, what could have been.

"They insist he hasn't been working well so when he does what is he capable of?

"Last year he looked a looked a lot better in his coat, but he's a hell of a horse, he loves this place, he's a joy to own.

"He was buzzy in the ring today but he's only had two runs. I don't know what we'll do with him next, he's lightly raced, probably Punchestown.

"Djakadam must be working the house down is my immediate reaction, so hopefully it bodes well for tomorrow."

Noel Meade, trainer of Road To Riches, said: "The winner is an exceptional horse and if he'd not been there, Michael O'Leary (owner) would have have been right going for this race.

"The change in plan for Vautour was a bit of a blow for us, but I think he's run a good race.

"I'm not sure why he didn't quite get home and he just didn't seem to get the last 100 yards, but I thought he was in very good form coming into the race.

"I don't know where we'll go next, he'll be entered at Aintree and Punchestown but he certainly didn't have as hard a race as he did in the Gold Cup."

Black Hercules gives Ruby Walsh landmark Cheltenham victory

Walsh celebrates the landmark win

Walsh celebrates the landmark win

Ruby Walsh recorded his 50th career Cheltenham Festival success when lifting Black Hercules home in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Never far off the pace, the 4-1 co-favourite showed plenty of grit and determination as he gave Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins their fifth win at the meeting this week.

But there was high drama as the field got on its way when Zabana unseated Davy Russell ahead of a standing start, appearing to be cannoned into by Outlander and carrying on loose with the rest of the field.

Bristol De Mai made most of the running, but faced a strong challenge after both Garde La Victoire and Outlander came down at the fourth-last.

L'Ami Serge came through strongly and was upsides Black Hercules at the final fence, with Bristol De Mai and Three Musketeers just behind.

Black Hercules proved the strongest up the hill as he landed the spoils by three lengths from a rallying Bristol De Mai. L'Ami Serge was a length away in third.

Mullins said: "I thought he was gone at the second-last – he seemed to be wavering around a bit.

"But once Ruby got him balanced, he just powered up the straight.

"He would have been too free in the four-miler, so that's why we changed (target)."

The trainer said Walsh was "different gravy".

He told BBC Radio 5 live: "He's the best jockey I've ever had riding for me.

"For the first time I saw him as an amateur, he was different gravy.

"My last winner (as a jockey) was beating him a short head and when I hung up my boots, I said, 'That's enough'.

"I always knew he'd be going for the top – he just oozed class."

Walsh said: "It's amazing. When I joined Pat Taaffe here on 25 (winners), I thought that was unbelievable, but 50 is incredible.

"I've been lucky round here. I'm in the privileged position to ride for Willie Mullins now and Paul Nicholls in the past and without people like that behind you, you wouldn't get anywhere near that number.

"I'm the lucky guy who gets to steer the ship."

Of the winner, Walsh said: "He's tough. We thought he'd win the Albert Bartlett last year but he was disappointing – we got it right this year.

"Willie is incredible and always has been. It's not just Cheltenham in March, it's Tramore in August. He picks the right race 12 months of the year.

"I know it irks some people that he leaves his decisions late, but that's Willie Mullins and he's a genius. I stand behind him 100 per cent, whatever he does."

Owner Graham Wylie said: "He was touted for the four-miler, but Willie got it right because he wouldn't settle.

"He was great today but his stamina held out, I thought he was beaten at the second-last.

"We had a great day yesterday with every emotion. We had a winner (Yorkhill), a second we weren't expecting (Shaneshill) and a faller at the last when it looked like he was going to win (Voix Du Reve) and then one just beaten in the bumper.

"Any winner and you're happy, though.

"Willie buys good horses, that's the most important thing, and then he places them in the right races and his whole team work tirelessly."

Mullins continued: "I thought he was a stayer at first, but he showed a lot of speed when he won at Navan.

"The better ground has probably been a big help to him as well.

"Ruby's first ever ride for me was in a 19-runner bumper and he came from last to first and I said then he was the future – 50 winners is fantastic, he's always in the right place.

"I don't know where this horse will go now."

Bristol De Mai was looking to give Nigel Twiston-Davies a third winner of the week and he said : "He ran a great race, we've no excuses.

"Maybe we could have done with the ground a bit softer, but he was coming back at the line.

"We'll look at Aintree and maybe Ayr, something like that."

Anthony Bromley, racing manager for Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, who own Bristol De Mai and L'Ami Serge, said: "That was much more like what we expect from L'Ami Serge, the trip was OK but he was just outstayed by the first two.

"We're very pleased and it should set him up perfectly for the two-and-a-half-mile race at Aintree."

Russell was visibly furious about the start and said: "It was a poor show to be honest, I'm disappointed for the owner and trainer as we thought he'd run a big race and we didn't get a chance.

"It was obvious we were taking a turn. We had to come back off the tape but the only way I could was to turn around. Did they miss me or what? I don't know.

"Disappointing."

Gordon Elliott tells us about going for Gold

Gordon Elliott (right) with Don Cossack and Simon McGonagle

Gordon Elliott (right) with Don Cossack and Simon McGonagle

When top Irish trainer Gordon Elliott says “I’m optimistic, I’m taking the best bunch of horses I’ve ever had to Cheltenham”, it’s time to take note.

Willie Mullins may lead the Irish charge on the Cotswolds this week, but 38-year-old Elliott is a serious second-in-command to the great man.

Many trainers never have five winners at the Festival in their lives, never mind before the age of 38, but Elliott sees the 2016 Cheltenham renewal as the year he might kick on and start to draw down the biggest prizes.

Tiger Roll’s shock win in the Triumph Hurdle two years ago was the only one of Elliott’s victories that came in a Championship race – two were in handicaps and the other two were in amateur riders’ races.

But this time two of those ‘best bunch of horses’ are serious contenders for a brace of the most prestigious events of the week – the RSA chase on Wednesday and the daddy of them all, the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.

Don Cossack is the favourite for the Gold Cup, as befits his status as the highest-rated chaser in these islands. He has been to the Festival twice, but never won, which is of some concern for Elliott. However, it’s not enough to put him off trumpeting his champion.

“Look, two years ago he made a jumping mistake in the RSA that cost him that chance and last year he hit a fence hard in the Ryanair chase and then got caught in traffic when trying to recover his ground.

“It wasn’t Bryan Cooper’s finest ride that day,” adds Elliott. “He knows that and has learned from it, but we’re going in hopeful of winning the big one this time around. I couldn’t be happier with him.”

Before then, No More Heroes is many people’s idea of an Irish banker in this year’s renewal of the RSA chase on Wednesday.

“No More Heroes has always promised so much for us,” adds the trainer. “Even last year, when he was doing well over hurdles, we couldn’t wait to get him going over the bigger obstacles.

“He’s won his three races this year and looked really classy. More Of That will be hard beaten if he goes for that race, but we’ll take him on.”

The last of those three wins was in the Topaz Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival and Elliott has brought No More Heroes along slowly since then.

“We weren’t tempted to run him again. We gave the horse a couple of easy weeks after that and have brought him on nicely, avoiding a run on really deep, muddy ground that can tire out a horse. He’s got a real chance, no doubt about that.

“I wish the meeting was starting right now for the pair of them – but we’ve got to wait a few days,” Elliott adds, almost wistfully. “You just have to wait for the day.”

And there’a lot of logic to what Elliott is saying, for while Willie Mullins might hope to have four or even five winners on the first day of the festival, that could be a slow one for the Meathman and his best chances come later in the week.

“It’s just the way the schedule of races pans out. What Willie is doing is phenomenal, he sets the bar. We’re chasing him and we’ve had over 100 winners already this year.

As long as I can keep doing what I’m doing I’ll be happy, but, yes, we may have to wait for our winners this year.”

Because of the prominence of Don Cossack and No More Heroes, particularly, Gordon has been in media demand in the last few weeks. He hosted the ladies and gentlemen of the press at his stables two weeks ago and has done a few of the very popular Cheltenham Preview nights that pop up at this time of year.

Elliott is a little ambivalent about them. 

“Look, sometimes you’d thinking this is all getting in the way of getting the horses right for Cheltenham and then you think ‘well, none of it would be happening if you hadn’t got good horses that other people gave a real chance of winning’, so I’m learning to go with the flow.”

Michael Fortune marks your card for Day 3 of Cheltenham Festival

Road To Riches, and Bryan Cooper, on the way to victory in Clonmel last year

Road To Riches, and Bryan Cooper, on the way to victory in Clonmel last year

Despite some strengthening, this remains the weakest day of the Cheltenham Festival and it also appears as though it could be the worst day at the meeting for the Irish party.

Joint top races of the day are the Ryanair Chase and the Ryanair World Hurdle and it is to the Chase that we look to for the best Irish prospects. 

There is still some doubt as to what horses will actually turn up for the Ryanair Chase, but it looks as though the sponsors will be represented by Road To Riches, which was third in the Gold Cup to Coneygree a year ago.  

Amazingly, the Ryanair Chase has never been won by an Irish-trained horse since it started in 2005. We’ve had loads of horses in the frame and last year Don Cossack was totally out of luck and would surely have won with a clear run over the last half-mile. 

There is always the possibility of some of our Gold Cup horses being switched to the Ryanair, but Road To Riches and Gilgamboa look the most likely as we go to press. I like both horses, but Road To Riches is the highest rated and on his best form of last season he would have to be fancied to win for sponsor Michael O’Leary and trainer Noel Meade. 

He has had only two runs this season, winning the Clonmel Oil Chase at Clonmel before being ‘mugged’ on the run-in by Carlingford Lough in the Irish Gold Cup at 
Leopardstown. 

Road To Riches would appreciate better ground, as he showed when winning a Galway Plate last year. 

Enda Bolger’s Gilgamboa is also entitled to run a big race and could well beat the likes of Josses Hill and Captain Conan for the runner-up spot.

There has only been one Irish winner of the Ryanair World Hurdle in the past 20 years and that was Charles Byrne’s Solwhit in 2013. It looks as though Annie Power, Vroum Vroum Mag and Nichols Canyon will be missing the race this time and by far the leading Irish hope would be the Mouse Morris trained Alpha Des Obeaux, though Monksland would have to be given plenty of respect if he was to be given a chance.      

Morris won the race back in 1990 with Trapper John and, while he is entitled to be placed, it is difficult to visualise him beating the Colin Tizzard trained Thistlecrack which has been a revelation this season. 

TODAY'S CARD

1.30 JLT Novices’ Steeple Chase (2m 5f)
2.10 Pertemps Final (Handicap Hurdle) (3m)
2.50 Ryanair Chase (2m 5f)
3.30 Ryanair World Hurdle (3m)
4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable H’cap Chase (2m 5f)
4.50 Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle (2m 1f)
5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Steeple Chase (3m 1 1/2f)

Mares Novice 

The Irish third day banker is the Mullins trained mare Limini in the Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle. She has trotted up in both her Irish runs and there is huge confidence behind her for this task. Her nearest rivals could be stable companion Myska and Smart Talk.

The day will kick off with the JLT Novices’ Chase and we will have a strong team on duty here, with Mullins trained stablemates Black Hercules, Outlander and Shaneshill aided and abetted by Andy Lynch’s Zabana. 

The horses to beat would appear to be Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Bristol Du Mai and Nicky Henderson’s L’Ami Serge and both are serious performers. 

MICHAEL'S TOP TIPS

1.30        1 OUTLANDER, 2 Garde La Victoire, 3 Bristol Du Mai

2.10         1 CUP FINAL, 2 Taglietelle, 3 Leave At Dawn   

2.50        1 VAUTOUR, 2 Road To Riches, 3 Valseur Lido

3.30        1 THISTLECRACK, 2 Alpha Des Obeaux, 3 Martello Tower

4.10        1 JOHNS SPIRIT, 2 Buckers Bridge, 3 Ballycasey

4.50        1 LIMINI (NAP), 2 Smart Talk, 3 Chocca Wocca

5.30        1 CAUSE OF CAUSES; 2 Splash Of Ginge, 3 The Giant Bolster 

BEST BETS:

1.30 Outlander

2.50 Road To Riches (or Valseur Lido)

3.30 Thistlecrack

4.50 Limini