The way the story was shaping up the Gold Cup was looking like a redemptive shot for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, an opportunity to nick a little happiness at the end of a torrid week.
Now, after super Thursday’s thunderclap of wins, the festival showpiece has the flavour of a valediction, a super sign-off to crown the mother of all fightbacks.
Two days of zip saw Mullins and Walsh come at Thursday in a rush, landing the opening JLT Novices’ Chase with York Hill, the deeply rewarding Ryanair Chase via Un De Sceaux, the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle on Nichols Canyon, and to rub it in, the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle with the appropriately named Let’s Dance.
While Nichols Canyon stole the championship race, it was the Ryanair triumph that really made Mullins’ day, Un De Sceaux effectively sticking the nut on the title sponsor on his behalf. If horses could say “f*** you”, Un De Sceaux might have been screaming it as he delivered the perfect riposte to Micheal O’Leary’s Giggingstown operation after the Ryanair owner pulled 60 horses from the Mullins yard at the start of the season.
Though Mullins was grace itself in his refusal to personalise or exult, there might have been a better response from O’Leary, who allowed his wife to present the winner’s trophy instead of stepping up himself.
Mullins said: “It was a fantastic race to win and Michael [O’Leary] and everyone were very gracious.
“But as I say in racing, you can’t gloat over beating someone because they will come out in the next race and beat you. I just try to win – it is not about who you beat.”
Victory was Mullins’ 50th scalp at Cheltenham. He claimed he hadn’t know abut the pendiong landmark. Maybe he has just stopped counting.
“I didn’t realise it was my 50th winner at the festival. That is nice to know,” he said.
“He’s an absolute iron horse. He’s like that on the gallops every day and I am afraid for my life watching him.”
From nowhere, Walsh shot to the top of the jockey’s festival table, spreading joy across the landscape.
This place is packed with casual racegoers along for the ride. They make their selections not on form but attachment to big themes, and there has been no bigger story this past decade than the Mullins/Walsh march.
Though the coldest day of the week by far, the Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby had the paddock jumping. That’s 57 festival wins, but his thoughts were for the trainer not himself.
Walsh said: “He’s had a tough year, but he’s taken it well and he’s brought his horses here in great form.
“I’ve been riding for him since I was 17 so I could stand here all day and tell you how much of a brilliant man I think he is and how much bearing he’s had on my life.”
Attention now shifts to this afternoon’s big show, the Timico Gold Cup, the race they all want to win.
Mullins has yet to do so, but after the day that was, the portents are stacking up for Djakadam to make it third time lucky.
Mullins has been second six times, consecutively since 2013, the last two in the shape of Djakadam.
With last year’s winner, Don Cossack, retired and the ante-post favourite, Thistlecrack, injured, the field has rarely been more open.
Mullins reports the eight-year-old Djakadam has never been in better condition, and though not one to ring a bell beforehand, there is a degree of confidence about his chances.
s“He’s in great form. He’s had better prep this year. I’m not worried about the ground. I think he might be old enough to do the job this year.”