WILLIE Mullins recorded his third victory on day one of the Cheltenham Festival and his 57th winner at the meeting following 9/2 chance Rathvinden's narrow success in the G2 National Hunt Chase over four miles.
Travelling sweetly entering the home straight under Mullins' son Patrick, the 10-year-old son of Heron Island denied Anthony Honeyball's Ms Parfois (11/2) in the closing stages to score by half a length.
Front-runner Sizing Tennessee (8/1) was 21 lengths further back in third.
Successful with Footpad in the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase and Benie Des Dieux in the G1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle, the Closutton handler, registering a 54.46/1 treble said: "We're delighted. The horses are performing well.
"The first two days were tough last year, but thankfully things are better this time around and it's been a fantastic day for us."
Unbelievable finish! It's a treble on the day for Willie Mullins as Rathvinden digs deep to win the National Hunt Chase @CheltenhamRaces. #TheFestival— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) March 13, 2018
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Rathvinden did not return to the winners' enclosure after the race but the trainer reported the gelding to be fine.
He continued: "Rathvinden was slightly wobbly. He is fine but like any athlete, he got tired and just was wobbling slightly, so that's why he didn't come back into the winner's enclosure.
"Knowing the way Patrick rides given his body language, I knew he had a bit in the tank.
"I thought he would win it a bit easier than he did but Ms Parfois was very tough in second despite not jumping the second-last great, so that was an excellent performance from that mare.
"They pulled a long way clear and it was a tough finish after four miles on that ground so full marks to both riders and horses as it was nip and tuck the whole way.
"I think one day, he could be a Grand National horse as he jumps, stays and travels."
Rathvinden was providing Mullins with a second victory in the contest following Up For Review's success in the 2013 edition.
RATHVINDEN MAKES THE MULLINS FAMILY'S DAY
The Festival 2018 is shaping up to be yet another great one for Willie Mullins. Rathvinden gave him a third winner of the day - following Footpad and Benie Des Dieux - by taking the National Hunt Novices' Chase by half a length at 9/2; a 54.46/1 treble.
But it was a particularly special victory, because Rathvinden was ridden by Mullins' amateur jockey son Patrick, for whom it was a fourth Festival winner. His most recent came in this race in 2013 aboard Back In Focus.
Rathvinden was dismounted fairly quickly after the race and didn't come back into the winner's enclosure but went straight back to the stables.
There are a lot of people who are more talented me and work harder than me who don't get the opportunities I get, so I have to make the most of them
Patrick Mullins said: "He's 100%. I got down off him [at the finish] to undo his over-girth, and the vets here are being very cautious and wouldn't let me get back on him, but he's 100%. He's given me everything, yes, but I'm pretty tired myself, too! He jumped great and settled fantastically. He's the ideal candidate for this race because he's got lots of experience and a bit of age [the horse is 10].
"I'm getting on now because it is 10 years since Cousin Vinny [his first Festival victory, winner of the 2008 Weatherbys Champion Bumper. There are a lot of people who are more talented me and work harder than me who don't get the opportunities I get, so I have to make the most of them."
Asked to describe how the race panned out, he said: "I wanted just to drop out and settle and get him relaxed, which he did. They went a good gallop and he jumped well. I was just taking my time, and then wanted to make my bid after the last, having watched the other races, and the plan worked out for once.
"It's drying up out there and [the ground] is getting tacky now - it would be better for a shower of rain. But my horse is very tough."
4.50pm National Hunt Chase (Grade 2)
1 RATHVINDEN (Ronnie Bartlett) Willie Mullins IRE 10-11-06 Mr Patrick Mullins 9/2
2 MS PARFOIS (M Chapman) Anthony Honeyball 7-10-13 Mr Will Biddick 11/2
3 SIZING TENNESSEE (Ann & Alan Potts Ltd) Colin Tizzard 10-11-06 Mr Barry O'Neill 8/1
4/1 fav Jury Duty (PU)
Distances: ½, 21
Tote Win: £5.30
Places: £2.20, £1.90, £2.70
Last-gasp Mister Whitaker provides Mick Channon with Festival winner
The Mick Channon-trained Mister Whitaker (13/2) landed a thrilling renewal of the Listed Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase to close the first day of the Festival.
Ridden by Brian Hughes, the six-year-old son of Court Cave stayed on well after the final fence to beat Nicky Henderson's Rather Be (12/1) in the last strides by a head.
Tom George's Rocklander (25/1) was three and a quarter-lengths back in third with a further eight lengths to Fergal O'Brien's Barney Dwan (15/2) in fourth.
Winning rider Brian Hughes, registering his third victory at The Festival, commented: "The ground is a bit tacky and he took a while to pick up on it.
"He winged the second last but just popped the final fence which didn't help but to be fair he put his head down and galloped away.
"I didn't know if he had got there as I was driving away but it was a good performance and I'm delighted.
"When you look at him, he's quite tall and athletic so I think better ground will see him in a better light."
Henrietta Knight, assistant trainer to Mick Channon for his jump horses, said: "What a race Brian Hughes rode. It was a perfect ride and Mister Whitaker jumped so well.
"I've loved the horse from a young age because of his jumping and he is just an athlete - he wasn't too expensive either!
"It's great for Mick to have a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. He is my next door neighbour and one of my closest friends, so I'm delighted for him."
TIMICO'S RADFORD DELIGHTED WITH FESTIVAL FIRST
Owner Tim Radford, led the celebrations like an ecstatic teenager, but will be back in refined form on Friday when presenting the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is sponsored by the company he founded, Timico.
Radford exclaimed: "This is what it's all about! My first winner at the Festival - I've had five winners at Cheltenham's other meetings, but only seen one because I've been away, and four previous seconds at The Festival. You have no idea of the pain!
"To see this horse coming up the hill, and to come in here to the number one spot, is the best. It's amazing, and I'm thrilled. I said to Brian [Hughes, winning jockey], 'Don't come to the front too soon because he idles in front', and he only just got there. When he came in he said, 'Was that late enough?' and I said, 'It was nearly too late Brian!'
5.30pm Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed)
1 MISTER WHITAKER (Tim Radford) Mick Channon 6-11-02 Brian Hughes 13/2
2 RATHER BE (Matt & Lauren Morgan) Nicky Henderson 7-11-08 Jeremiah McGrath 12/1
3 ROCKLANDER (D O'Donohoe, J Cavanagh, S Nelson) Tom George 9-11-07 Adrian Heskin 25/1
4 BARNEY DWAN (Paul & Clare Rooney) Fergal O'Brien 8-11-08 Paddy Brennan 15/2
5/1 fav Any Second Now (8th)
Distances: hd, 3¼, 8
Tote Win: £5.60 Places: £1.80, £2.90, £5.80, £2.00 Exacta: £90.10
Mick Channon - 1st winner at The Festival
Brian Hughes - 3rd winner at The Festival
BetBright Cup - standings after seven races
Great Britain 4
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