The usual huge Irish contingent were on the Cotswolds on Tuesday for the opening day of the Greatest Show On Earth.
Despite plenty of support in the previous days, Klassical Dream was sent off at 6/1 for the Supreme Novices and he delivered for the Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh team who have such a formidable record in that opening contest of the magical Cheltenham Festival.
But it took an absolute masterclass from Ruby as Klassical Dream was all buzzed up even going to the start, and was proving a right handful. The last thing all concerned needed was one of those ridiculous false starts that the Cheltenham starters seem to delight in calling.
This did an already over keen Klassical Dream no favours at all and he was clearly sulking and reluctant afterwards. But Ruby cajoled him as only he can, and suddenly turning for home they had slipped the field.
For Ruby though the day turned from the sublime to the ridiculous when he took a tumble in the Mares Hurdle on 10/11 hotpot Benie Des Dieux at the last hurdle, thus reviving memories of a similar fall on Annie Power in the same race and place a few years before.
That was a huge blow to punters, particularly after the fortunes lost on Apple’s Jade, Buveur D’Air and Laurina in the Champion Hurdle.
And while A Plus Tard 5/1 was a popular winner for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore, the majority of Irish punters were very much on the back foot by then.
And then in the last 9/4 jolly Ballyward came down at the 17th in the four miler and was fatally injured, a crushingly cruel blow for all concerned. A day that had started so brightly for the Willie Mullins team with the first two winners, finished on a very sad note indeed.
In the same race Discorama was hammered in from “sixes” to 9/2 and looked home and hosed for Paul Nolan and Barry O’Neill only to be collared on the line by the Ben Pauling trained 14/1 shot Le Breuil ridden by Jamie Codd.
Codd will get no pleasure at all from beating close friends and Wexford neighbours Nolan and O’Neill, but racing is a very unsentimental business at times.
So while there was an Irish winner of the Champion Hurdle in 16/1 shot Espoir D’Allen – and for two of the most popular guys in the game Gavin Cromwell and Mark Walsh – the mood among most Irish punters in the pubs and clubs on Tuesday night was sad and sombre.
The Gordon Elliott team and supporters were licking their wounds big time after Apple’s Jade – though delighted for their farrier and winning trainer Gavin Cromwell – and when their “bet of the week” Delta Work had to settle for third in the RSA things were looking equally bleak on Wednesday – but then came that little diamond Tiger Roll and they were all back in love with the world again.