Cheltenham Day 1: Don’t take dynamic duo’s success for granted

Ruby, Willie. Cheltenham. Ah, sure, you know the rest.

Cheltenham Day 1: Don’t take dynamic duo’s success for granted

The names of the horses change, but the Walsh/Mullins combo keeps on winning and the jockey and trainer team ended the first day of the latest running of this annual festival with another trio of first places. Douvan, Annie Power, and Vroum Vroum Mag did the honours this time.

Same old, same old.

It’s tempting to take this sort of success for granted. Don’t. We are witnessing equine and sporting history on an annual basis in the Cotswolds right now. Walsh and Mullins aren’t just winning horse races, they are changing our perceptions of what is possible.

A record eight winners were banked last year. The tally for Mullins now stands at 44. Walsh is a neck in front, on 48, after this latest hattrick. All three wins yesterday came in the colours of owners Susannah and Rich Ricci. Not so much pretty in pink as pretty damn good.

Mullins invades Gloucestershire with an army of the best horses every year. He has the best jockey in Britain or Ireland sitting atop the pick of them and no slouches on the rest, but there is a knack to having the right ones in the right races at the right time.

“He keeps all the balls in the air as long as he can until he has to make decisions and he’s in to training winners,” said Walsh of Mullins.

“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.

“The less interference there is with him the more times he gets it right.”

But not always.

His favourite Min, ridden by Walsh, was beaten in the opener by a local, but this was nonetheless another good day to be Irish in these parts as the usual hordes descended in their thousands: 66,770, to be precise.

It’s easy to see the attraction. Prestbury Park can be a cold, wet, and windswept spot most years. Not yesterday. It was positively balmy as the old place opened its doors and it has never looked better thanks to a £45m redevelopment process that was completed last November.

It’s only getting bigger, figuratively and literally.

Yesterday’s attendance was up over 4,000 on the corresponding numbers from the year before and the increasing footfall was apparent first thing in the morning as breakfast buffets that were half-full during the worst years of the recession returned to something like full occupancy.

The tales of fun and financial folly are legion, but this is big business.

A recent University of Gloucestershire study found that the festival is worth in the region of £100m (€127m) to the local economy, though there are no figures compiled yet as to how much the thousands of Irish punters have sucked out of it thanks to the exploits of Messers Walsh and Mullins.

With three more days to go, odds are that most of that will find its way back.

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