Late dash pays off for Ruby
A FEATURE of the Cheltenham Festival build-up is the shortage of Paul Nicholls-trained horses for the novice hurdles. Yet anyone surprised by the detail could have seen the explanation for themselves at Huntingdon yesterday.
It came in the raw-boned shape of Sang Bleu, a French import with talent to burn but a large and immature physique. He will be plying his trade successfully over fences long after yesterday's limited rivals have burnt themselves out.
It took Sang Bleu the length of the Huntingdon straight to wear down Stars Du Granits near the finish. And Ruby Walsh was vigorous enough aboard the four-year-old to suggest that a trip to the JCB Triumph Hurdle could leave the horse in a mental spin.
However, Sang Bleu's connections have not yet concluded the Cheltenham debate. "He wasn't bought to be a Triumph Hurdle horse," Anthony Bromley, who represented Nicholls, said afterwards. "Paul will decide what happens but he is a big baby who wants to be jumping a fence. Hurdles get in his way."
Walsh must have been keen to ride Sang Bleu, who was beaten at Chepstow under Tony McCoy on his first run for Nicholls. So determined was he to make the acquaintance that he scrambled aboard a 10.20am flight from Ireland when Thurles was called off.
Unsurprisingly, Walsh is a firm odds-on favourite to complete a hat-trick of leading rider awards at the Cheltenham Festival which he dominated a year ago with an unprecedented seven winners.
The Kildare pilot is 2/1 on with Paddy Power to follow up his outstanding feat of last season, which saw him overtake fellow multiple champion Tony McCoy as the most successful current Festival jockey.
Heading to the Cotswolds again, Ruby is on the 24-winner mark, just one behind the long-established record achieved by Pat Taaffe, while McCoy has achieved 21 victories though managing only a single scorer in each of the past three renewals.
Next best is another Irish horseman, Barry Geraghty, whose trio of 2009 winners leaves him with 16 on the board.