Those who crunched across the remnants of Sunday’s snowstorm on Cheltenham’s hallowed turf at dawn were treated to the now traditional sight of the Willie Mullins string exercising in the middle of the course.
It might be smaller in both quantity and quality, if you believe the trainer, but if you were looking for a tip, it was the pairing of Ruby Walsh and Benie Des Dieux, the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle favourite with distinctive badger-like black and white streaks at the top of her tail.
This year’s Cheltenham Festival has survived equine flu and, if the weather forecast is right, it will have to batten down the hatches for 40mph winds. But the four-day racing extravaganza with 28 races worth £4.6 million on which an estimated £300 million will be wagered, will begin on time on Tuesday and be greeted by one of the most distinctive cheers in sport, the Cheltenham roar.
The first Festival winner Mullins sent out was Tourist Attraction, a well-bred mare he leased for his then 20-horse operation, in the 1995 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. For most of her early races, she was ridden by the trainer’s wife, Jackie.
He has saddled another 60 Festival winners since to become the meeting’s leading trainer, and has inherited father Paddy’s touch with mares, as well he might, having been brought up with Dawn Run, the only horse to win a Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, stabled just across from the kitchen.