Sunday saw the brilliant bright flame of Vautour extinguished before anybody in racing was ready for it. The three-time Cheltenham Festival winner Vautour had to be put down after breaking his leg in a freak accident. The incident itself almost beggars belief Willie Mullins said: "It's been a lovely, dry day here and Vautour was out in the paddock with his usual companion Shaneshill."One of the girls went out to feed him. There didn't appear to be anything untoward as Shaneshill was grazing away, but Vautour was found to have broken his foreleg."He goes out there every day and it's just a freak accident". If you consider the amount of schooling, training, and racing at elite level Vautour has done over his career. It just seems so unlucky and unfair. I think Willie Mullins said it best "It's tough to take."
The career of Vautour was a spectacular success. Vautour won 10 of his 16 starts overall, including five Grade Ones, and was last seen finishing second at the Boylesports Champion Chase at Punchestown in April. The first time Vautour really came on my radar was at Leopardstown on 9/2/2014. The race was the Deloitte Novice Hurdle a Grade 1 on Irish Gold Cup Day. Vautour was second favourite to The Tullow Tank. The race notes say Vautour made all, asserted in straight, pushed out and kept on well run-in. I must admit for me it was how quick Vautour got away from his hurdles that day, as well as the way he moved over the ground. I had no doubt Vautour would win the Supreme at Cheltenham after that Deloitte Novice Hurdle
Vautour would become a Cheltenham Festival icon. Vautour's career centred around the Cheltenham Festival. He came alive at Prestbury Park, which isn't to say that he couldn't be brilliant elsewhere; just that at Cheltenham, on good, spring ground, he was unbeatable. Below are Vautour's Cheltenham Festival highlights.
Cheltenham 2014 Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Vautour arrived at his first Festival having won all three previous starts for Mullins. It seems remarkable, looking back, that he was allowed to go off a 7/2 chance, joint-favourite with Irving. Some pundits questioned if Vautour would be quick enough to win a Supreme. Vautour was supposed to be a stayer they said, Vautour may be done for speed on the quickest ground he'd faced, however under an aggressive ride Vautour produced a slick round of jumping and never looked like being beaten. Afterwards, Ruby Walsh called his willing partner 'a serious horse'. It was to prove a vast understatement.
2015 JLT Novices' Chase
Vautour would suffer his first defeat for Mullins in the second race of his novice chase campaign, when a shuddering error saw him unable to reel in Clarcam at Leopardstown over the Christmas meeting. A confidence-booster in January saw him arrive back at Cheltenham on the front foot, and that's where he remained under another positive, you-cannot-beat-us ride. Vautour winged fence after fence for arguably his most impressive display as he romped home some 15 lengths clear of a Grade One-winning runner-up Apache Stronghold with Valseur Lido third who were simply outclassed. I stood on the lawn in Cheltenham racecourse with friends watching it, this really was an I was there moment just like when Master Minded won his first Champion Chase.
2016 Ryanair Chase
A disrupted preparation following his gallant King George second meant, for the first time, Vautour arrived at Cheltenham without having raced that year. It was a setback which prompted connections to switch to the shorter, easier Ryanair, rather than the Gold Cup for which he was challenging for favouritism, and his six-length win over stablemate Valseur Lido left some pondering what might have been, had be been asked to take on Don Cossack and Cue Card on Friday. Still, those who backed Vautour into even-money will have had few complaints as, for the third time, he produced one of the standout performances of the week. It is a terrible shame that he will not be able to bid for a fourth success next spring.
The legacy of Vautour is three visits to the Cheltenham festival three wins. The real shame of the death of Vautour is the stolen future. I think Vautour would have won the Champion Chase last season. I stand over that view still now.The sense we will never get to see just how good Vautour was is what lingers. I think despite all Vautour's success he could have gone on to do even better things. On Sunday Vautour's flame went out long before his name and reputation ever will. It is a stark lesson to appreciate these really good horses while we can see and enjoy them. The commentator screamed it at the end of the Ryanair last season " VAUTOUR different gear" that sums it up in my view.