Champagne start for Ruby Walsh at Cheltenham Festival
Ruby Walsh enjoyed a 'champagne' start to the Festival with a thrilling victory in the William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
The champion jockey in Ireland kicked off the meeting in sensational style with a brilliantly well-judged ride aboard the well-backed Champagne Fever (5-1) for leading trainer Willie Mullins.
Walsh sent last year's Champion Bumper winner into the start and, setting what appeared to be a strong pace, got him into a good rhythm.
Walsh's great rival AP McCoy looked to be going well aboard the My Tent Or Yours, but when he challenged Champagne Fever after the last hurdle he couldn't get past, going down by half a length to continue the poor record for favourites in the race.
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Relieved to get a winner on the board so quickly, Walsh hailed the battling qualities of Champagne Fever to withstand the challenge of My Tent Or Yours.
"He travelled and jumped fantastic, he did everything right," he said. "We went a good gallop but I was worried at the top of the hill that we hadn't gone fast enough.
"We quickened it up at the second-last and out-battled My Tent Or Yours. When AP arrived there looking like he was full of running and didn't get by, I knew Champagne is game and would stick his head out and we wouldn't get beaten then.
"The horse has really come to himself in the past couple of weeks and his attitude and appetite was back."
Mullins paid tribute to the way Walsh had made sure Champagne Fever, now likely to be aimed at next year's Champion Hurdle, had enough energy left when push came to shove up in the closing stages.
Mullins said: "When he made a mistake at the second-last I thought the game might be up, but Ruby gave him a fantastic ride and he had up his sleeve.
"We couldn't see any pace in the race and Ruby said he was going to make it and I was happy to leave it to him."