Willie Mullins had concerns about the heavy ground ahead of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, yet he need not have worried, as Facile Vega quickened up smartly to take the concluding race on the second day of the Festival.
The son of Walk In The Park, out of six-time Festival winner Quevaga is bred to be a champion, and while it is early days in his career, he has passed every test thus far.
Facile Vega (13-8 favourite) was ridden patiently by Patrick Mullins, who tracked Jamie Codd aboard American Mike and gained the inside berth running down the hill, as long-time leader, the free-going Houlanbatordechais, faded.
Mullins quickly asserted turning in and soon had his rivals in trouble, powering clear to score by three and three-quarter lengths from the Gordon Elliott-trained American Mike, with James's Gate filling third for the Closutton handler, who was recording a treble on the day following earlier victories of Sir Gerhard and Energumene.
The race had been delayed after the rain that hit the track from late morning and never stopped left standing water on certain areas of the track where hurdles were removed. Ground staff teams sectioned off the areas where the rain water pooled and jockeys were shown a map of the course to aid them in avoiding the most testing points.
None of that ultimately mattered to Facile Vega, who gave his trainer a record-extending 12th victory.
Anything you can do Mum, I CAN DO TOO! 🤩— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) March 16, 2022
FACILE VEGA emulates his Mum QUEVEGA and wins at The Festival, in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper 😍 pic.twitter.com/QlhYdfS3dp
Mullins said: "Facile Vega was very good, he's shown me at home that he’s always good.
"We were really worried about conditions here today, but he relished it. It was a tough decision by the stewards to do what they did and it was great that they did it quickly and they got the race run.
"That’s what I see every day, this horse just travels when we do work – now you’re seeing what I see.
"He’s a real sort. Gordon thinks a huge amount of American Mike and he just ranged up beside him and went forward when he wanted to."
Commander Of Fleet got up on the line in a thrilling, head-bobbing finish to the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle under a well-judged ride from 5lb claimer Shane Fitzgerald.
The Gordon Elliott-trained winner, sent off at 50-1, was one of the few guaranteed to enjoy the testing ground and big field, having won a 23-runner handicap at Navan in early December.
The Jessica Harrington-trained Ashdale Bob set sensible fractions in front for the conditions and was still going well in front turning for home, jumping the last three lengths clear of his 22 rivals.
However, the stamina-sapping ground proved his undoing. Jack Foley's mount tired soon after, as Fastorslow and Commander Of Fleet bore down on the seven-year-old, who faded quickly, eventually finishing third, a further five and a half lengths behind the front two in the two-miles-five-furlong contest.
Darragh O'Keefe’s mount looked to have got the better of the scrap to the line and in a titanic battle, briefly got his head in front, only for Commander Of Fleet to get his head down when it mattered to score by a short head.
Camprond who was always stalking the pace, did not find much from the second-last and finished fourth.
The victory was the first for Elliott at the Festival after missing last year’s meeting due to the suspension he was given when an image emerged on social media of him sitting on a dead horse on his gallops.
Elliott, who made it a double on the afternoon with Delta Work beating stablemate Tiger Roll in a thrilling finish to the cross-country race, was denied a treble when Global Citizen caused a 28-1 shock in the two-mile Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.
The Elliott-trained Andy Dufresne (100-30 favourite), named after the main protagonist in the blockbuster movie Shawshank Redemption, eventually got out of jail and threw down a challenge approaching the second-last, but by then the bird had flown.
The 10-year-old Global Citizen, who was having his first run over fences since December 2020, was always up with the pace, although looked cooked for the minor honours when Editeur Du Gite went on four out.
Yet Kielan Woods' mount was soon on terms again and after jumping upsides at the second-last, drew readily clear.
Though he got lonely in front as Editeur Du Gite tired, the Ben Pauling-trained Global Citizen never looked like being collared by Andy Dufresne, and went on to score by three lengths, with Frero Banbou, almost tailed off approaching the top of the hill, staying on stoutly another three lengths further back in third.
Pauling, who moves into a new yard the week after Aintree, said: "He’d needed time to come back to himself and dropped to a good mark having completely lost his way. But I’ve always had faith in him.
"He filled himself up and went for home on a track that suited him.
"It was a great ride by Kielan who had won the race before."