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Gaelic Warrior romps home in impressive Arkle triumph at Cheltenham Festival

Gaelic Warrior came out on top in the My Pension Expert Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase, to get Willie Mullins off the mark on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Twice runner-up on his previous Festival visits, the Rich Ricci-owned bay was one of three Mullins-trained contenders in the race and was partnered by first choice jockey Paul Townend.

Having stayed out of trouble throughout, despite the Gordon Elliott-trained Found A Fifty looking dangerous Gaelic Warrior was cruising in behind and powered up the hill to canter to an easy victory as the 2-1 favourite. Another Mullins runner, Il Etait Temps, took third.

Mullins said of his winner, who was well-beaten when unseating Townend at the Dublin Racing Festival: “You could see what difference a hood made to him. He wasn’t trying to jump right and Paul could ride a race on him.

“I thought coming down the hill ‘what was I doing running him over three miles last season when he has that speed’. I think he has enough class now to do two miles and he’ll probably stick to that game now, although you could push him out to the Ryanair distance as well. He’s very adaptable.

“When you saw how good he was at Limerick at Christmas you wouldn’t believe he could run like he did at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival, I don’t know what happened.

“I thought he was going to boil over again in the parade ring, but once he got out and away from the crowd he became a lot more settled. It made him so much easier to ride in the hood.

“I think he’s found his calling now, he looks a Champion Chaser, he could be a Ryanair horse and he won over three miles over hurdles.

“It’s satisfying to get a win here with him after watching what he does at home all the time, to do it in the Arkle is fantastic.

“It’s a huge relief to get one on the board, when we got beaten in the first I felt ‘oh no’ when it looked like we had it won.”

Former England cricketer Craig Kieswetter, whose family are part-owners of Il Etait Temps, said: “I say it every time and I mean it every time, as a family and as part-owners we’re delighted to be part of the big festivals and have big runners, but the most important thing the horses are coming home safely.

“Il Etait Temps is a small fella with a big heart, he tried his best and we’re very, very chuffed.

“There were a couple of poor jumps coming home, but we know that he’s an inconsistent jumper and with his (lack of) size and scope the ground may not have suited him, but still the team are very happy.”

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