Ruby Walsh wins another as Vautour storms Ryanair Chase
Vautour justified the late decision to bypass the Timico Gold Cup by running away with the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
Scoring at the Festival for the third time in a row, the even-money favourite was giving trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh their sixth winner of the 2016 meeting.
Village Vic did the majority of the donkey work until Walsh asked Vautour to go about his business after the fifth-last fence.
Road To Riches, who was also switched from the Gold Cup, tried to serve it up to the Rich Ricci-owned Vautour but it cost him second place.
Six lengths away, Valseur Lido snatched the runner-up spot for Mullins and Gigginstown House Stud by half a length from Road To Riches, also carrying the colours of Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary.
Al Ferof ran a creditable race in fourth.
Walsh said: "We went a good old gallop, he travelled well and jumped like a buck.
"He lengthened his stride off the bend and while he was tight at the last two, he was deadly at them.
"He's a pleasure to ride - we've had a fair battle with him since Christmas, but he was spectacular today."
On his well-being leading up to the meeting and the decision to swerve the Gold Cup, Walsh said: "If you were watching him at home I'm not sure you'd even have run him in the Ryanair.
"He worked half all right on Saturday morning, I wouldn't say he worked well. If you'd watched him up until then - I'd written him off in my mind, but Willie gets it right doesn't he?"
Ricci said: "I feel odd, to be completely honest. I wanted the horse to run in the Gold Cup, but of course I'm delighted to win. We just wanted to do the right thing for the horse."
Mullins: "He hadn't been exactly delighting me in his work and it is amazing to see him do a performance like that.
"I think the drying ground has been a huge help to him, he's a horse that just struggles in that winter ground, I think.
"He had a very hard race at Kempton (second to Cue Card in the King George) and it took him ages to get over it.
"We've been trying everything for the last three weeks, changing all sorts of things, and it's worked, I think.
"It looked like the right race. I think it was Djakadam he was working with when he was disappointing."
Walsh had recorded his 50th career Festival victory in the opening JLT Novices' Chase, and Mullins added: "I just said to Ruby on the way out, make it 51 please."
Ricci went on: "We had the whole hullabaloo about the Gold Cup, last year's Gold Cup third was behind us there, what could have been.
"They insist he hasn't been working well so when he does what is he capable of?
"Last year he looked a looked a lot better in his coat, but he's a hell of a horse, he loves this place, he's a joy to own.
"He was buzzy in the ring today but he's only had two runs. I don't know what we'll do with him next, he's lightly raced, probably Punchestown.
"Djakadam must be working the house down is my immediate reaction, so hopefully it bodes well for tomorrow."
Noel Meade, trainer of Road To Riches, said: "The winner is an exceptional horse and if he'd not been there, Michael O'Leary (owner) would have have been right going for this race.
"The change in plan for Vautour was a bit of a blow for us, but I think he's run a good race.
"I'm not sure why he didn't quite get home and he just didn't seem to get the last 100 yards, but I thought he was in very good form coming into the race.
"I don't know where we'll go next, he'll be entered at Aintree and Punchestown but he certainly didn't have as hard a race as he did in the Gold Cup."