Sport Horse Racing

Monday 29 May 2017

Comment - Mark Walsh has earned the right to ride Yanworth at Cheltenham

Mark Walsh ridden many big-race winners for JP McManus in this country Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Mark Walsh ridden many big-race winners for JP McManus in this country Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Johnny Ward

There was a rumour going around on Saturday evening that Barry Geraghty might do the unthinkable and ride at the Cheltenham Festival.

Apparently, Geraghty had received a much happier assessment of his rib injuries than had first been the case last weekend after his bad fall at Kempton seven days earlier.

It turned out that this was true, but X-rays nevertheless confirmed that he has three broken ribs, while his collapsed lung will need some time to repair itself. He is optimistic about making it to Aintree's meet.

This followed another outlandish rumour that Tony McCoy was coming out of retirement for one last Festival in his old boss JP McManus' apparent hour of need. In a subsequent interview, the 20-times champion jockey of England admitted that he was tempted to a degree, but added: "The only fellow that made a successful comeback was God, really."

Earlier in the week, Yanworth's trainer Alan King said publicly that the issue of who would partner the Champion Hurdle favourite needed to be sorted.

With Noel Fehily announced as the rider of Buveur D'air, it has looked as though one of Aidan Coleman, Wayne Hutchinson, Richard Johnson or Mark Walsh will ride Yanworth.

Coleman rides almost exclusively for McManus as second jockey when Geraghty has been in action in Ireland, but the Cork native has teamed up just 33 times with King in the last five seasons.

McCoy likes to quote his former boss: "Imagine all the fish in the world that'd be alive if they'd learned to keep their mouths shut."

Mark Walsh can attest: one of the best jumps riders in the world tends to turn down interviews and tends to let his riding do the talking.

A colleague didn't even reach the conclusion of his sentence when asking the rider if he might be willing to do a small piece for another paper yesterday.

For all of his desire to keep a low profile, the Clane, Co Kildare native is respected as one of the gentlemen of the weighing room and, now in his 30s, he is at an age where he deserves a proper platform.

Walsh, like McManus and racing manager Frank Berry, is unassuming and certainly not one to brag about his talents. One wonders if he is making a modicum of effort behind the scenes to lobby for the ride on Yanworth.

The McManus operation has been keeping pretty quiet about what might happen, but a decision on the horse is possible tomorrow. King has apparently been quite flexible and the understanding is that Walsh has a chance of riding the horse for the first time.

This is how it should be. The only jockeys other than Geraghty to steer the son of Norse Dancer, which takes a bit of knowing, are Gerard Tumelty and McCoy. So the case for Walsh above the British-based riders is compelling.

Partner

He's second rider to McManus and, while he rarely takes mounts in Britain, now is the time for him to be truly treated as Geraghty's deputy. I'm told he will partner some British-trained horses for McManus next week - which opens the door for Yanworth and other high-class mounts.

The shortest-price favourite he will get on will be Cantlow in the cross-country. He is also booked for More Of That in the Gold Cup.

Walsh is arguably better than any jockey based in Britain, yet he has never ridden a Festival winner. His time is surely nigh and nobody in the Irish weighing room will consider that anything other than overdue.

Turf Club issues strong signal on non-triers rule

That two horses have already been done under the Turf Club's revised non-trier regulations can only be interpreted as a signal of intent.

There was a feeling that Rachael Blackmore was hard done by after the Look Closer affair at Fairyhouse - Ellmarie Holden's charge was banned for 42 days and the rider got five. But what the trainers are perturbed about is how veterinary evidence was treated by the stewards and Turf Club Appeals Committee.

The horse was found to be lame post-race and even lamer the next morning. According to the chairman of the committee, the veterinary evidence presented was not deemed "particularly relevant".

The Irish Racehorse Trainers Association (IRTA) is to meet the Turf Club's Dr Lynn Hillyer, Chief Veterinary Officer, to discuss the ramifications of the judgment. In many ways, however, the bolder attitude from the integrity body is to be welcomed. Too often in the past, trainers sought the vet as a means to get out of jail.

Upping the ante

Any drama first came to prominence when winning a bumper at Thurles for Pat Fahy by 22 lengths over a year ago.

He was thus a valuable commodity and switched from Pat Fahy to Harry Fry, who won the Albert Bartlett last year with a horse he managed to improve dramatically from another stable, Unowhatimeanharry.

So, can he repeat the feat 12 months on?

Any Drama has a chance and perhaps a better one than is implied by the 33/1 at which he can be backed. He was well-held on his hurdles debut, but won his next one by 38 lengths, earning a rating of 144.

That gives him 6lb to find with the long-time favourite Death Duty, about which Gordon Elliott has been so bullish in recent weeks. Death Duty seems the horse to beat, yet he is a best-quote 5/2.

Any Drama's last hurdles start saw him take a novice contest from the front by 15 lengths. On this occasion he jumped better and it seems a case of him learning through racing.

This column already put Penhill up in the race and Any Drama can be supported as well.

BET: Any Drama in Albert Bartlett, 1pt e/w at 33/1

Ride of the week

Rachael Blackmore persevered on Folsom Blue on Saturday and, having looked more likely to pull up, the 4/1 shot conjured up a rally to win the veterans' chase at Navan going away.

Quote of the week

"I hope to God they start rising the weights. There'll be no Irish or English jockeys left. It'll be like America now: no American jockeys."

- Former rider Joseph O'Brien on the future of racing in Ireland.

Tweet of the week

"Anyone else living on just bread & water and wiping their arse with leaves from the back garden till Cheltenham to save cash or just me?"

- Antepost Racing (@AntepostRacing) is counting the days.

Gamble of the week

Claiming winner Split The Atom went off even-money on Friday night having been 3/1 and won by a neck, despite being costly to follow this season at Dundalk, for David Marnane and rider Oisin Orr.

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