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Ruby Walsh enjoyed the perfect start to day three of the Cheltenham Festival as he rode Black Hercules to victory in the JLT Novices Chase.
The win brought up a remarkable half century of wins at the Prestbury Park festival for Walsh as he guided his Willie Mullins-trained charge to a three-length victory with a strong finish which saw him move away from the field in the closing stages of a tight race.
Bristol De Mai was second with L'Ami Serge, who hit the front coming to the second last but faded badly on the run in, back in third.
Victory had looked unlikely for Walsh heading towards the last as L'Ami Serge appeared to run across Black Hercules's ground, but he recovered to make it five wins so far for Mullins at Cheltenham this week.
However, there was real drama before the race even began after Zaban unseated jockey Davy Russell ahead of the standing start after being bumped by Outlander. take the lead obstruct finished a further length back in third after failing to fully see out the trip.
It was a fifth victory of the week for Mullins, who had toyed with running Black Hercules in Tuesday's National Hunt Chase over four miles, but made the right call in dropping him all the way back to two and a half miles for this Grade One contest.
Speaking afterwards, Mullins said: "Patrick, my son, and my nephew Emmett, bought him and when he won his point-to-point they sold him on to Mt Wylie so it was a good bit of dealing for the two of them and I'd like to congratulate them.
"I thought he was gone at the second-last - he seemed to be wavering around a bit. But once Ruby got him balanced, he just powered up the straight.
"He would have been too free in the four-miler, so that's why we changed (target). I just thought coming home in the card that this horse is going to be too keen going over four miles so I thought maybe the RSA Chase and the more I thought about it I thought we'd come back to the JLT and it seems to have been the right plan.
"I thought maybe I was wrong at the second-last when he appeared to be beaten but maybe he was idling. When the other horse came around him he picked up again and ran on.
"The better ground has probably been a big help to him as well.
"He's have to improve a bit to be going for a Gold Cup and my first thoughts for next season would be to go for a Ryanair. He might start off in something like the John Durkan.
"Ruby's first ever ride for me was in a 19-runner bumper and he came from last to first and I said then he was the future - 50 winners is fantastic, he's always in the right place."
Meanwhile, Ruby Walsh was delighted to notch a half century of victories at the world's leading national hunt festival.
"It's amazing. When I joined Pat Taaffe here on 25 (winners), I thought that was unbelievable, but fifty is incredible," he said.
"I've been lucky round here. I'm in the privileged position to ride for Willie Mullins now and Paul Nicholls in the past and without people like that behind you, you wouldn't get anywhere near that number.
"I'm the lucky guy who gets to steer the ship."
He also paid tribute to Black Hercules, adding: "He's tough. We thought he'd win the Albert Bartlett last year but he was disappointing - we got it right this year.
"Willie is incredible and always has been. It's not just Cheltenham in March, it's Tramore in August. He picks the right race 12 months of the year.
"I know it irks some people that he leaves his decisions late, but that's Willie Mullins and he's a genius. I stand behind him 100 per cent, whatever he does."
By: Kieran O'Daly