Owner Robert Waley-Cohen has hailed the genius of Emmet Mullins after his Grand National hero Noble Yeats forced his way into the Stayers’ Hurdle mix when claiming a thrilling Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Making just his third appearance over the smaller obstacles, the nine-year-old was the recipient of significant support in the week leading up to the Grade 2 event and was sent off the 3/1 second-favourite behind the evergreen market leader Paisley Park.

It was the two main betting protagonists that would ultimately fight out a brilliant conclusion to a contest that saw six of the seven involved in with a shout jumping the last, before Noble Yeats and Paisley Park’s staying power saw them come to the fore with the post approaching.

Only a head separated the two warriors at the finish, as Mullins pulled off another successful raid on one of the calendar’s big races.

“Emmet, as we all know, is unorthodox, but with brilliance, and what could be more thrilling than Saturday,” said Waley-Cohen.

“It was an unbelievable race and it was literally down to the last stride. You could have taken quite a big bet turning into the home straight that the three in front wouldn’t finish in the first three. I was sorry we spoiled Paisley Park’s party, but not very.

“It was only his third ever hurdle race and he wouldn’t be as quick and slick as some of those pros. However, he ran vigorously up the hill and I don’t think he quickened as much as Paisley Park, but interestingly, if you look at after the finish, he goes right away from Paisley Park.

“I don’t think he saw Paisley Park on the far side of the course. I think he thought he had the horses near him beaten and didn’t see the others because as soon as he crossed the line and they came close together he went on again.”

He went on: “He was getting 6lb on the day from Paisley Park and that perhaps made all the difference, but that’s where Emmet’s genius lies because traditionally you would go hurdles, regulation steeplechase fences and then occasionally the best go to the Grand National.

“No one does it the other way round. He’s won a Grand National, so then going for a Grade 2 hurdle is not normal.”

Noble Yeats was campaigned aggressively following his Grand National triumph in 2022, treading a path that saw his Aintree defence sandwiched by tilts at both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris last season.

Connections have plumped for a more considered route to Merseyside this time around and having been kept under wraps until running at Limerick over the Christmas period, he will continue to ply his trade over timber with a crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle set to tee-up this year’s Grand National bid.

“It was a great thrill (to win the Cleeve) and he had a very hard season last year,” continued Waley-Cohen.

“He won a Listed race at Wexford, won the Many Clouds Chase, came third in the Cotswold Chase, fourth in the Gold Cup, fourth in the Grand National and picked up money in the Grand Steeple. That is one hell of a year and he needed a properly good break afterwards.

“He came back to my place in Warwickshire and had a proper break and lots of TLC and we decided we needed a much more conservative plan this year and not run him at all until after Christmas.

“The race at Limerick didn’t suit him at all and he didn’t like the ground or the course, but Saturday just played into his hands.

“He’s entitled to take his chance (in the Stayers’), but whatever the outcome it will be great step to the National. It’s a better step for him than anything else and it sounds a bit bizarre to say a Grade 1 race is a prep, but it looks the suitable race.”

Noble Yeats is as short as 8/1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle and although he produced a performance that warrants his place in the Festival’s day three main event, Waley-Cohen has considerable respect for the Gordon Elliott-trained duo that are currently heading the ante-post betting.

He added: “I suspect when we are back at level weights there will be a few young horses from Ireland coming over and you don’t have to be a genius to fathom out that Teahupoo and Irish Point are really nice horses on the upgrade.

“One great thing Harry (Cobden) did riding him on Saturday, was ride him into hurdles with absolute confidence and the horse absolutely revelled in coming up that hill, so who knows, we dream, we always do.

“But in terms of getting to the National in first-class order, it’s a very good option and the National is really the target.

“Many would just go to something like the Bobbyjo (Chase) which is a recognised route to the National, but being the man he is, Emmet thinks this is the better route – he is definitely unorthodox.”