Cheltenham Festival: Ruby Walsh back among the winners after injury comeback
Ruby Walsh made a triumphant return to The Festival as Footpad lived up to his lofty reputation with an emphatic 14-length victory in the Arkle Chase.
Any doubts surrounding the legendary Irish jockey on his return from injury were soon to put bed, as he was made to show all his Festival class to add to his record 56 winners at the meet.
It looked as though his charge had lost it after a serious error, but Walsh was rewarded for his patience, and passed the line to the familiar chants of â€˜Ruby, Ruby, Ruby' from the crowd.
"It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It's been a long winter and you wonder whether it's all worth it and then you win again and remember what it feels like," he said.
Footpad entered the race as an odds-on favourite but struggled to match the relentless pace of Petit Mouchoir and looked beaten after jumping through a fence on the back straight.
Ruby Walsh was victorious at Cheltenham.Eurosport
But as the front runners faded, the six-year-old rallied, chasing the leaders down and passing them in style to remain undefeated over fences for Willie Mullins.
The talented novice already had a massive reputation heading into the race and Walsh believes he has all the quality to go on to win bigger prizes, but remained coy on his future Gold Cup chances.
"The way he stayed from four-year-old would suggest that he should be able to go further. I made a prediction after Yorkhill won the JLT and was proved wrong so I will keep my cards to myself," he said.
Footpad's performance was difficult viewing for trainer Mullins who watched on anxiously as his charge staged his heroic comeback.
"We didn't plan on that mistake, the first one down the back, but it hasn't done my heart any good. I've never been as nervous watching a race, because for me he is our best of the week," he said.
"It was all going to be downhill if this didn't turn out well. After that fence I thought we can't win from here."
Mullins day got off to a difficult start in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, as favourite Getabird looked well-off the pace en route to a surprise 11th place finish.
The race was eventually won by Summerville Boy who stayed beautifully under Noel Fehily, despite a succession of jumping errors, to edge Amy Murphy's Kalashnikov on the home straight.
A return to the winners' enclosure has been a long time coming for trainer Tom George, who was full of praise for only his second Festival winner.
"After he made those two or three mistakes, I thought he would be doing well to get in the first four and he just kept on picking up again," he said.
"I suppose he won by four lengths going away at Sandown [in the Tolworth Hurdle] and without those mistakes he would have done the same today.
"But you can't knock him for what he's done â€“ he's still an inexperienced horse."