THERE was a fairytale opening to the Cheltenham Festival as Michael O’Sullivan rode a double with Marine Nationale and Jazzy Matty.
The 22-year-old from Lombardstown produced an ice cool ride to claim the opener and follow in the footsteps of his father William who won the Foxhunters back in 1991.
Ironically, he got the better of another Cork man Paul Townend who led into the straight with the favourite Facile Vega, but he made a serious blunder at the final hurdle.
But Townend didn’t take long to register a winner as he took the Arkle Novice Chase aboard El Fabiola for his boss Willie Mullins after a brilliant battle with Jonbon.
Elsewhere, on the card Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore claimed the Mares Hurdle for an emotional victory while the feature race was won by the magnificent Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle.
But this day will live long in the memory for the O’Sullivan clan who are steeped in the game and regular winners on the P2P Circuit.
Marine Nationale was unbeaten after four races and took the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse back in December.
Owned and trained by Barry Connell who shrewdly decided to put him away and come here fresh.
“They didn’t go a great gallop, but that suited me because my horse is quick. I was in a slightly wider position that I would have liked, but I was happy with the room because he doesn’t have a lot of experience," O'Sullivan said.
“I was alongside Facile Vega and travelling very well. At the bottom of the hill I was just saving him, Paul had kicked on Facile but I was happy enough that he’d come back to me.
"He had a good look at the last, we went and popped it and he actually won very snuggly in the end, I never got serious on him at all, I gave him a few flicks but that was it.
"We know he’s going to be better on better ground, it was an unbelievable performance, he’s not even having a blow.”
Former stock broker Barry Connell has pumped a fortune at the game and famously splashed out 1 million euro for the ill-fated Our Conor.
The jubilant owner/trainer was fulsome in his praise of the rising star of Irish racing.
“We’re absolutely blessed to have found the next superstar of the weighing room in Michael O’Sullivan, you mark his name," O’Connell said.
"Have you ever seen a cooler ride in Cheltenham? Unbelievable. If you gave me any jockey riding I wouldn’t swap him.” “It’s the best feeling of all time.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself saying he was the best horse in the race, but I genuinely felt he’s the best horse I’ve ever had.
“I came over on the boat and I told every Irish person on there to back the two horses (Marine Nationale and Good Land (who runs on Wednesday).
"I said they were the best two novices in Ireland, so at least I’m off the hook partially after today! I’d have had to go back in disguise if we’d got beat.
“This horse is unlike any horse I’ve had before as the previous Grade One horses were mainly stayers.
"This is a quick horse who is probably a Group One horse on the Flat – and we might get around to that at some stage.
"Today was his day. He’s had five runs and won all five runs, his jockey is a superstar and my staff are the best staff anywhere in the world."
El Fabiolo defeated Jonbon to provide Willie Mullins with his fifth Arkle in a pulsating clash under a typically patient ride from Townend.
El Fabiolo was winning his second Grade 1 and reversed the form of the Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree, where he was beaten a neck by Jonbon.
He follows in the footsteps of Un De Sceaux, Douvan, Footpad and Duc Des Genievres in winning the Arkle for Mullins.
“When I was left on my own he got a little idle down the back but when I wanted him to race he came alive for me," said Townend.
"He's not the most natural of jumpers at every fence but he knows where his feet are and gets away with it.
"He was brave to go through on the inner at two-out and there wasn't a whole lot there at the last, but again he found his feet. He galloped to the top of the hill, which is a good sign."