Irish punters got day three of Cheltenham off to a perfect start when the Willie Mullins-trained Sir Des Champs (3/1) landed the Jewson Novices Chase.
The six-year-old, who won the conditional jockeys’ race at the festival a year ago, was patiently ridden by Davy Russell as Champion Court (8/1) made much of the running.
The locally-trained horse shook off the attentions of Zaynar coming down the hill and only had the eventual winner for company travelling to the second last.
The pair were still locked together over the final fence but when Russell finally went for Sir Des Champs the response was immediate, Mullins’ charge galloping on strongly to beat the gallant Champion Court by four-and-a-half lengths.
There were a further nine lengths back to For Non Stop (8/1) while the well-backed 5/2 favourite Peddlers Cross was beaten a long way out and trailed home after a disrupted preparation that clearly left its mark.
Mullins said: “He was very good and I’m really looking forward to next year over longer trips.
“He was foot-perfect. Davy asked him plenty of questions and he came up every time.
“Davy rode him with great confidence. A good pace and plenty of jumping will suit him best.”
Owner Michael O’Leary, who sponsors the feature race of the day, the Ryanair Chase, said: “It was a wonderful ride by Davy.
“We’ve been hitting the crossbar all week so it’s great to finally stick one in the net.
“It’s hard to know what you’ve got until you get here. Willie brought him along slowly and probably thought he wanted a lot further – he could have run in the other race (RSA Chase).
“We went close in that with First Lieutenant but we’ve won this.”
Russell added: “He’s a very good horse. A lot of the credit should go to Aaron Madden who absolutely adores this horse, and since the first day he landed he’s looked after him and he’s done such a wonderful job.
“He jumped every fence, he never missed a beat.”
Donald McCain, trainer of Peddlers Cross, was not too disheartened and said that his chasing career will be put on hold for now.
“I think we’ll have to go back over hurdles,” he said. “Jason (Maguire) said he was neat and grand, but just isn’t as effective over fences as hurdles.
“It was still the right idea to try it and his work has been as good as ever – he worked all over Overturn (Champion Hurdle runner-up) last week.
“We’ll put him away now and maybe start off over two miles hurdling.”
Trainer Martin Keighley said of runner-up Champion Court: “I think the winner is a Gold Cup horse so that was a great run and everything went to plan.
“We’ll see how he comes out of the race and maybe look at Aintree and Punchestown.”