Un De Sceaux produced a brilliant display to win the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
1st Un De Sceaux 7/4 favourite
2nd Sub Lieutenant 8/1
3rd Aso 40/1
Un De Sceaux produced his brilliant best under Ruby Walsh to prevail in a thrilling renewal of the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old won the Arkle Trophy at this meeting two years ago, but found a rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre a step too far in the Queen Mother Champion Chase 12 months ago.
Beaten after that in the French Champion Hurdle, he has returned at the top of his game this season, recording victories in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and Clarence House Chase, which was run at Cheltenham this year.
Mullins avoided this year's Champion Chase, where stablemate Douvan had been expected to carry all before him, and instead stepped up in trip. It proved a masterstroke.
Walsh eventually conceded to let the strong-willed gelding go to the front at the fifth fence and he gave a display of controlled aggression from there, producing a number of spectacular leaps.
Sub Lieutenant did his best to reel him in after the last, but the damage had been done and Un De Sceaux saw it out to score by a length and a half as the well-backed 7/4 favourite. Aso ran a huge race in third.
Ruby Walsh: "I was a passenger. I got him back at the first fence down the back, but he attacked and jumped and he stayed.
"The jump at the last was special. He's a cracking little horse and he's so consistent, he must be a joy to own, he's a little tiger.
"He wants soft ground at two miles which is why we went two and a half miles on better ground.
"It's been a tough year for Willie but he's taken it great, I've worked for him since I was 17 so could eulogise about him all day."
Willie Mullins: "He was very keen, I was a little worried with his huge jump at the first but he got him settled. When he saw a line of fences he just went for them, but he sort of settled in front. For him, that's settled.
"He's an absolute iron horse, he's like that on the gallops every day, he wears his heart on his sleeve and I wonder how he can do it without wearing himself out.
"He's so hard on himself, so I'm trying to train him not to do that, this fellow has the button pressed the whole way, I don't know how he keeps the energy and keeps wanting to do it.
"Every time he needed a good jump he got one and I thought it would take something out of the others to catch him. He saved his best jump until last."
He added: "I was confident he'd stay, after the third-last I knew it was bar a fall, I was always confident he'd stay. Anyone horse who wins over two-four at Auteuil at four should have no problems here.
"As for the King George I don't know if you'd want him doing that over three miles. His owners certainly enjoy it, they all have their scarves and everyone in Cork has one."
Part-owner Colm O'Connell: "It's my birthday today, so this is wonderful
"We've only got three horses with Willie. He's the horse of a lifetime, defeat last year in the Queen Mother to Sprinter Sacre hurt, but we're back with a bang now.
"Ruby is a genius because he lets him do his own thing, he doesn't panic. Our job is to pay the bills, they told us he'd stay and that was it. It all makes sense now."
Henry De Bromhead, trainer Sub Lieutenant: "He ran a blinder and I am delighted with him. He is a lovely horse to have in the yard. He has had a super season and shown he is decent already.
"I am not sure where he will go next, I will talk to Michael and Eddie (O'Leary) and see what they would like to do. I presume Aintree or Punchestown. Today was always the plan."
Venetia Williams, trainer Aso: "We're really thrilled. He's come out of it as the best British two-and-a-half miler in the race. He ran well here last year in cheek pieces in the Arkle, so we decided to put them back on.
"Charlie (Deutsch) couldn't claim his allowance, but he was the man for the job and he's ridden a fantastic race and always had the horse in the right place at the right time."