Black Hercules gives Ruby Walsh landmark Cheltenham victory
Ruby Walsh recorded his 50th career Cheltenham Festival success when lifting Black Hercules home in the JLT Novices' Chase at Cheltenham.
Never far off the pace, the 4-1 co-favourite showed plenty of grit and determination as he gave Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins their fifth win at the meeting this week.
But there was high drama as the field got on its way when Zabana unseated Davy Russell ahead of a standing start, appearing to be cannoned into by Outlander and carrying on loose with the rest of the field.
Bristol De Mai made most of the running, but faced a strong challenge after both Garde La Victoire and Outlander came down at the fourth-last.
L'Ami Serge came through strongly and was upsides Black Hercules at the final fence, with Bristol De Mai and Three Musketeers just behind.
Black Hercules proved the strongest up the hill as he landed the spoils by three lengths from a rallying Bristol De Mai. L'Ami Serge was a length away in third.
Mullins said: "I thought he was gone at the second-last - he seemed to be wavering around a bit.
"But once Ruby got him balanced, he just powered up the straight.
"He would have been too free in the four-miler, so that's why we changed (target)."
The trainer said Walsh was "different gravy".
He told BBC Radio 5 live: "He's the best jockey I've ever had riding for me.
"For the first time I saw him as an amateur, he was different gravy.
"My last winner (as a jockey) was beating him a short head and when I hung up my boots, I said, 'That's enough'.
"I always knew he'd be going for the top - he just oozed class."
Walsh said: "It's amazing. When I joined Pat Taaffe here on 25 (winners), I thought that was unbelievable, but 50 is incredible.
"I've been lucky round here. I'm in the privileged position to ride for Willie Mullins now and Paul Nicholls in the past and without people like that behind you, you wouldn't get anywhere near that number.
"I'm the lucky guy who gets to steer the ship."
Of the winner, Walsh said: "He's tough. We thought he'd win the Albert Bartlett last year but he was disappointing - we got it right this year.
"Willie is incredible and always has been. It's not just Cheltenham in March, it's Tramore in August. He picks the right race 12 months of the year.
"I know it irks some people that he leaves his decisions late, but that's Willie Mullins and he's a genius. I stand behind him 100 per cent, whatever he does."
Owner Graham Wylie said: "He was touted for the four-miler, but Willie got it right because he wouldn't settle.
"He was great today but his stamina held out, I thought he was beaten at the second-last.
"We had a great day yesterday with every emotion. We had a winner (Yorkhill), a second we weren't expecting (Shaneshill) and a faller at the last when it looked like he was going to win (Voix Du Reve) and then one just beaten in the bumper.
"Any winner and you're happy, though.
"Willie buys good horses, that's the most important thing, and then he places them in the right races and his whole team work tirelessly."
Mullins continued: "I thought he was a stayer at first, but he showed a lot of speed when he won at Navan.
"The better ground has probably been a big help to him as well.
"Ruby's first ever ride for me was in a 19-runner bumper and he came from last to first and I said then he was the future - 50 winners is fantastic, he's always in the right place.
"I don't know where this horse will go now."
Bristol De Mai was looking to give Nigel Twiston-Davies a third winner of the week and he said : "He ran a great race, we've no excuses.
"Maybe we could have done with the ground a bit softer, but he was coming back at the line.
"We'll look at Aintree and maybe Ayr, something like that."
Anthony Bromley, racing manager for Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, who own Bristol De Mai and L'Ami Serge, said: "That was much more like what we expect from L'Ami Serge, the trip was OK but he was just outstayed by the first two.
"We're very pleased and it should set him up perfectly for the two-and-a-half-mile race at Aintree."
Russell was visibly furious about the start and said: "It was a poor show to be honest, I'm disappointed for the owner and trainer as we thought he'd run a big race and we didn't get a chance.
"It was obvious we were taking a turn. We had to come back off the tape but the only way I could was to turn around. Did they miss me or what? I don't know.