Cheltenham Festival opens with Willie Mullins claiming 3 wins to close in on extraordinary milestone

CHELTENHAM, England (AP) — The Cheltenham Festival opened Tuesday with top Irish trainer Willie Mullins claiming three victories on Day 1 — including State Man in the marquee Champion Hurdle — to close in on the extraordinary milestone of 100 winners at the prestigious jumps meeting.

Mullins is now on 97 career wins at Cheltenham, 34 more than any other trainer, after triumphs for Gaelic Warrior in the Arkle and Lossiemouth in the Mares’ Hurdle either side of State Man in soggy conditions on the English track.

On a dominant day for Irish racing, horses from Ireland filled the top five positions in the opening race — the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle won by Slade Steel under jockey Rachael Blackmore.

Then Mullins entered the frame, with 2-1 favorite Gaelic Warrior timing his finish to perfection in the Arkle to secure the trainer’s 95th Cheltenham success.

“The first one steadies the whole thing,” said Mullins, who then saw State Man go off as the 4-11 favorite and win by a length in the Champion Hurdle.

“You’ve got to turn up to win a Champion Hurdle and we turned up,” he added.

Mullins completed an opening-day hat trick when he won the Mares’ Hurdle for the 10th time in 17 editions, with Lossiemouth winning as the 8-13 favorite.

Mullins could reach the century mark as early as Wednesday because he has a number of top horses running on Day 2, including El Fabiolo as the favorite in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Up to 250,000 spectators are expected to attend the festival this week.


AP sports:

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