The Willie Mullins pair of Eglantine Du Seuil and Concertista were virtually inseparable, but the former got the verdict in the Grade Two National Hunt Breeders Supported by Tattersalls Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Registered as The Dawn Run) at Cheltenham.
22 mares lined-up for this two-mile and half a furlong race.
Emily Moon led the field down the home straight from Posh Trish and a bunched field.
With a circuit to run, Emily Moon was a length ahead of Elfile and Posh Trish, as the runners entered the back straight.
At the fifth, Emily Moon led from Elfile and Sinoria, with Posh Trish close-up.
They reach the third last, at the top of the hill and began to run down to the second last, with Emily Moon quickly passed by the French runner Presidente Line, with Tintangle and Sinoria close.
Running to the last, Presidente Line was tackled by Concertista and Black Tears.
But the complexion of the race changed quickly and Concertista, on her hurdling debut, went into the lead at the last from Black Tears.
However, Noel Fehily was galvanising a run from Eglantine Du Seuil and just as Concertina got the measure of Black Tears, her stable mate came to join her on the line in a desperately close finish.
After a photograph finish, Eglantine Du Seuil was called the winner from Concertina, in a Willie Mullins one-two. Tintangle finished third to complete a clean sweep for Irish-trained horses, with Black Tears fourth.
Mullins has won all four renewals of this race, named after his father’s great Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup winning mare.
Discussing the race, Fehily said: “I was fairly sure Eglantine Du Seuil’s head was down on the line. I would have been very disappointed if I hadn’t got up as I have come from a very long way back.
“Ruby Walsh said to me beforehand that she was very keen, so I dropped her right in. I was a long way back, but she was very tough and very hardy. She hasn’t had a lot of racing but she ran well last time out, which was good form at Listowel in September.
“We weren’t sure if that form at Listowel flattered her or whether she was that good and it turns out, she was that good!
“She will probably get further, but I think a fast-run two miles would really suit her as she is quite keen. She’s a hardy little thing who enjoys coming through horses and her heart is as big as herself.”
Fehily has ridden seven Cheltenham Festival winners in total. That includes Unibet Champion Hurdle victories aboard Rock On Ruby (2012) and Buveur D’Air (2017) and a thrilling win aboard Special Tiara (2017) in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The 43-year-old continued: “This is going to be my last Festival as I am getting a bit old for this job – that will be it now.
“I am not getting any younger and it’s a young man’s game. I’ve been thinking about retiring for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t well for a while and I just thought t was time to let the young lads get on with it.
“I have spoken to my agent Chris Broad who has been brilliant and my wife and kids. I haven’t spoken to the trainers I ride for, so it will probably be in a couple of weeks, but we’ll play it by ear.
“This is going to be my last Festival and I was obviously hoping I would get a winner here to be able to say it. Cheltenham is a very hard place to get a winner and you can’t take it for granted.
“I won’t forget this victory. I’ve had great support over the years and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I suppose I have to start working now!
“It has been a fantastic time. I love riding horses, but it’s time to let everyone else get on with it.”
It was a 64th Festival winner for Mullins, and means he takes the lead in the list of most successful trainers in Festival history after Nicky Henderson tied with him on 63 yesterday.
He said: “They have both run so well. I was watching Danny on Concertista the whole time, and the next thing I saw something coming on the inside and I thought, ‘keep going, Danny’, then thought ‘hopefully it’s one of my own, as I had so many runners in it [seven]. It was a fantastic performance from Noel Fehily – and both horses and riders.
“I said to Noel, ‘she’s not the fastest in the world, so just get her jumping and try and get her to run well.'”
Asked why he chose this race for Concertista’s first race over hurdles, he replied: “She’s a good jumper! I couldn’t run her this year on the ground at home but I felt she was well enough and her jumping was good enough to run over hurdles here. I said to Danny the same thing as to Noel – ‘get her jumping and then if you can, get her into the race.’
“I could see her coming round the outside, full of horse the whole time. She just got into a little bit of trouble before the last and I was hoping he might come wide, but there you are. She’s run a great race.”
Jockey Danny Mullins, who rode Concertista, said: “Willie is the master and I’m lucky enough to be riding for him. I’d ridden her a lot at home and we knew she had a big engine, and her jumping was good, but second is no fun.
“It was a great run though and she’ll have a big future.”
Anthony Bromley, racing manager to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, gave all the credit for the bold decision to go straight to Cheltenham with a hurdles’ debutante to the trainer and said: “The trainer had obviously seen something. He said she had been in some schooling hurdles and she is all right, and that was it, but you have to take note when he ran a debutante in a race like this.
“She was all right on the Flat, and she’s very well bred.”
Gordon Elliott, trainer of the third home Tintangle, said: “I thought she ran very well. I am very pleased.”