Willie Mullins got off the mark for the Cheltenham 2022 Festival when Stattler ran out a clear-cut winner of the Ukraine Appeal National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys' Novices’ Chase.
It was quick compensation after hot favourite Gaelic Warrior had been agonisingly beaten a short head in the penultimate race of the day, the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Mullins – the winning-most trainer at the showpiece fixture – had also seen the well-fancied Dysart Dynamo fall in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle plus defeats for Appreciate It and Stormy Ireland.
Mullins’ amateur rider son Patrick bided his time on the seven-year-old, as Run Wild Fred set the pace in this three-and-three-quarter-mile test – in which all the runners sported saddle cloths in the colours of Ukrainian flag.
The jockey made his move from three out and Stattler (2-1) eased into he lead before pulling clear to score by eight lengths from the Gordon Elliott-trained 15-8 favourite. The first two were 22 lengths clear of Vanillier in third.
Elliott didn't have a winner on a day the hosts edged 4-3.
Mullins senior said: "This English dominance has been going on all day! I thought Patrick was very cool on him, certainly my nerves were in bits going round the whole time. Patrick got him into a rhythm, got him settled, got him jumping and produced him at the right time.
"I thought coming round the last bend, when he couldn’t put it to bed, I thought he might just be in trouble, but he got him round the last bend and just pinged him at the second-last.
"He knew he had his measure then. I think he only made one mistake, or put in one short one during the race – Patrick just sat there and got the horse to do the work.
"I think he’s a good jumper and that’s why Patrick nominated him early in the season for this race. He was thinking of himself the whole time, which is the right thing to do, it worked out! He probably has enough class win over two and a half miles or three miles."
On only six runners going to post, he added: "I suppose Cheltenham will have to look into that, perhaps the good horses are scaring away the other horses. There were very few runners today altogether so that will have to be looked at, I think."
WHAT. A. FINISH! 🔥— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) March 15, 2022
CORACH RAMBLER comes from way back to win the Ultima Handicap Chase. pic.twitter.com/akjnOuUusP
Corach Rambler came from the rear of the field to score an unlikely victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
Derek Fox produced the Lucinda Russell-trained eight-year-old with a incredible late run to land the spoils in cosy fashion, going away.
Fox was patient on the 10-1 shot after being slowly way due to the standing start. Corach Rambler only had one horse, Belargus, behind him in the early stages of the three-mile-one-furlong stamina test.
He still had more horses in front than behind him at the top of the hill, but he made relentless progress on the downhill section of the course to challenge the two leaders, Gericault Roque and Oscar Elite, at the final fence.
That pair looked to have the race between them but Fox had other ideas and Corach Rambler came between them in the closing stages to win by two and a quarter lengths from Gericault Roque. Oscar Elite was a head away in third with Tea Clipper eight lengths back in fourth.
Russell said: "It means so much. Driving here I said to Scu (partner Peter Scudamore) 'if we had loads of horses running at the Festival, it wouldn't matter so much', but we're so invested in the two that are here.
"Scu does everything with this horse and it's not just having a winner at Cheltenham, which means a lot, but it's about the horse and the owners, a lot of whom haven't had a horse before. It's amazing."
Brazil edged out hot favourite Gaelic Warrior to give Irish trainer Padraig Roche a first Festival winner in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
French import Gaelic Warrior looked like justifying his short price of 13-8 favourite on his debut for Willie Mullins, but he was collared close home by the former Aidan O'Brien-trained Brazil.
Both horses were up with the pace from the outset with Gaelic Warrior making virtually all until Brazil (10-1) got the upper hand close home in the hands of Mark Walsh.
"It’s fantastic, we’re lucky to have a horse like him. It’s great," said Roche, who took over the licence from his father, Christy.
"He’s a full-brother to Capri so we knew he’d definitely stay, Mark was brilliant on him so I’m just delighted. JP and Noreen (McManus) have been very good to me.
"It’s unbelievable, I’ve been coming here since I was young, when dad was training. It’s just unbelievable that it’s worked out.
"We just thought he was improving, it’s taken him a while with his jumping but he was improving."
Of Gaelic Warrior, who was a huge ante-post plunge, Joe Chambers, racing manager to owner Rich Ricci said: "He jumped a bit right and put down at the third-last. Then he went right at the last. He’s going to jump fences fairly shortly.
"Look it was worth a punt and it gave everyone a kick. There’s plenty of time, he’s not even eight years old."