It was all change at the top after Willie Mullins became the winning-most trainer at the Cheltenham Festival thanks to a double on day three. Having drawn level with Nicky Henderson following the victory of Penhill in the Stayers' Hurdle, the Closutton handler moved to the summit after Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle heroine Laurina gave him a 61st Festival success. With Mullins well represented in every race on Friday, there is every chance that tally will increase.
Cue Card may have pulled up in his bid to win the Ryanair Chase, but the 12-year-old remains as popular as ever after he received a reception normally only saved for winners. Clapped all the way back up the up the famous walkway to the enclosure where the beaten horses are unsaddled, the evergreen veteran returned to a warm greeting from those gathered there. While a decision over his future will be made at a later date, when that time eventually comes he will not only be missed by those connected to the Colin Tizzard yard, but to the general racing public, such is his popularity.
Penhill faced a tall order in making a winning return on his first start in 323 days against a field full of race-fit rivals in the Stayers' Hurdle, but he demonstrated what a class act he is in proving up to the challenge. Not sighted since finishing second at Punchestown last April, the Mullins-trained seven-year-old made it two wins from as many visits to the Festival when following up his win in last year's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
Owner Michael O'Leary finally got his hands on the race he has longed for the most for after Balko Des Flos claimed the Ryanair Chase. Having suffered numerous defeats in the Grade One prize he has sponsored since 2006, O'Leary, who is chief executive of the budget airline, finally struck gold with the Henry de Bromhead-trained seven-year-old.
There appears no end to the Irish domination of this year's meeting. After winning six out of the seven races on Wednesday it was more of the same thanks to a Gordon Elliott treble, a Mullins double and one for De Bromhead. The whitewash was prevented by the brave efforts of the Warren Greatrex-trained Missed Approach, who was a game winner of the Kim Muir.