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Willie Mullins has trained three winners on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival with two ridden by Ruby Walsh.

Footpad (5-6 favourite) extended his unbeaten record over fences to four with a brilliant display in the Arkle Trophy under a jubilant Walsh.

The champion jockey returned to action last week after breaking his leg in a fall in November.

“It sent the hairs down the back of my neck,” Walsh said.

“It’s been a long old winter and this makes it worth it.”

Mullins said Footpad could be a Gold Cup horse.

Benie Des Dieux (9-2) gave Mullins his ninth victory in 11 years in the Mares’ Hurdle under an inspired Walsh ride and Rathvinden (9-2) completed the hat-trick in the hands of the trainer’s son, Patrick, in the National Hunt Chase.

Mullins came within a neck of training four winners when the Nicky Henderson-trained Buveur D’Air defeated Melon to successfully defend his crown in the Champion Hurdle.

It was a seventh Champion Hurdle win for Henderson.

“It was a good race, a proper race. It’s the first time he has had a race all season (after three easy wins) and that did worry me, I must admit,” he said.

“He had a good blow, as he simply hasn’t had to knuckle down before. It was job done. He is young horse and he has done everything right the whole way.

“That is a big relief, you are expected to collect and he has done. It’s a relief it is over.”

 
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