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Bally burns off rivals with consummate ease

Ballyburn and Paul Townend in complete controlBallyburn and Paul Townend in complete control
© Photo Healy Racing

Ballyburn made impressively light work of the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The 1-2 favourite was one of five runners for the all-conquering Willie Mullins and travelled strongly behind the leaders under Paul Townend.

When the field rounded the final bend there was no question whatsoever as to the outcome, with the Ronnie Bartlett-owned six-year-old strolling away from stablemate Jimmy Du Seuil to win by a yawning 13 lengths.

Another Closutton runner, Ile Atlantique was a further three and a half lengths back in third. Just for good measure Mullins was also responsible for Mercurey (fourth) and Predators Gold (fifth).

“It’s the first time he’s wowed me, I thought ‘wow, what a performance’ and to me that was a Champion Hurdle performance,” said Mullins.

“It was really really spectacular. With his size, scope and pedigree our owners might decide to go chasing with him next year, I don’t know. But with that performance he can go anywhere.

“Our team are in flying form, but we are just so sorry for Nicky Henderson that he has had to pull his good horses out. It could be us, so our sympathies go to him.”

He went on: “My heart hasn’t skipped a beat when a horse jumps a hurdle since Annie Power, but it skipped a beat there!

“I thought he was a good horse, but I didn’t view him as the horse that people were saying until today. When he jumped the last and went away up the hill I just thought ‘wow’.

“This fellow could be anything, he could be a Champion Hurdle horse, a Gold Cup horse or both with his size, scope and pedigree. He’s made for fences but looks to have the ability for a Champion Hurdle.

“I didn’t realise we’d had the first five, Michael Dickinson obviously did it in the Gold Cup but it’s nice to do it in a Grade One at Cheltenham.

“I hadn’t even got my licence then, but it was extraordinary to look at a man having so much firepower in one stable and now it looks like we’re in the same position at the moment.

“It’s nice to do that at the Festival.

“I know how good our others are, they would be top-class horses any other year and they deserve to be here, the strength behind him – he blew me away.

“When we saw Slade Steel win yesterday that really franked the form and gave us an even better chance.”

Bartlett said: “He jumped well, we didn’t know how he was going to handle the ground, but that was exciting.

“Let’s enjoy the day and the future is in front of him, so we’ll just keep our fingers crossed.

“He had lots of different options and in typical Willie style he didn’t want to tell us too much, but listen it all came right in the end.”