Ruby Walsh punches the air after leading Hurricane Fly home
Hurricane Fly powered up the hill to claim a thrilling Champion Hurdle victory for the Irish on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.
The 11-4 favourite, who had never raced in England before, provided jockey Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins with their first win in the race as he saw off Peddlers Cross, with Oscar Whisky in third.
Walsh, who only recently returned to action after a broken leg, kicked the meeting off with a win when he rode 10-1 chance Al Ferof to victory in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
And he completed a brilliant hat-trick when odds-on favourite Quevega cruised home in the Mares' Hurdle.
Captain Chris was impressive when landing the Arkle Chase for jockey Richard Johnson and trainer Philip Hobbs.
Hurricane Fly missed the two previous Cheltenham Festivals through injury and overcame the negative statistic that his sire Montjeu had never produced a winner at the meeting.
In a race missing last year's champion Binocular after a late withdrawal, the huge crowd saluted a new star.
Overturn had made the pace for stablemate Peddlers Cross, with Menorah in the chasing pack as the runners rounded the home turn.
Walsh rode a typically patient race on his seven-year-old, who had previously won seven Grade One races, and struck at the right time.
Hurricane Fly leads Peddlers Cross over the last
Despite his absence through injury, he used all his strength to urge Hurricane Fly home for a victory by one-and-a-quarter lengths from the previously unbeaten Peddlers Cross.
Walsh was earlier successful on the Paul Nicholls-trained Al Ferof, who had won last time out at Newbury after escaping injury when two horses died after a freak electrocution in the parade ring.
With favourite Cue Card in fourth, the Nicky Henderson-trained pair of Spirit Son and Sprinter Scare took second and third.
As the packed Cheltenham stands roared on the runners, Walsh saw off the challenge of Spirit Son and jubilantly raised his whip in the air as he passed the winning line.
Captain Chris had to be cajoled along by Johnson in the Ankle, but the 6-1 chance responded with some bold jumping to win from Finian's Rainbow and Realt Dubh.
"My first thought is the King George VI Chase (on Boxing Day) at Kempton would suit him just the job," said Somerset-based Hobbs.
The seven-year-old Captain Chris was given early quotes of about 12-1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase and 20s for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2012.
Later in the day, Quevega secured a third successive victory in the Mares' Hurdle and also gave Walsh his third victory.
The 5-6 favourite, trained by Willie Mullins, beat Sparky May by 10 lengths with 50-1 Ocean Transit taking third.
The Handicap Chase was arguably the race of day, where Bensalem (5-1) - a faller here last year - had a titanic tussle with Carole's Legacy before stretching clear at the finish to win by a whisker.
Tony McCoy's mount Sunnyhill Boy went into the race as favourite but was an early faller, along with last year's winner Chief Dan George, while Great Endeavour looked in good shape until falling two from home.
Ireland made it seven wins from seven in the Cross Country chase when 13-2 shot Sizing Australia took the honours, with Garde Champetre second and A New Story third.
The final race of the day was the Centenary Novices' Handicap Chase which was won by the Ferdy Murphy-trained Divers, ridden by Graham Lee.
The 10-1 shot pinched victory from Vino Griego and Quantitativeeasing.
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