O'Gara praised for key role as Walsh proves his fitness
THERE was no fairytale return from injury for Ruby Walsh yesterday when his first mount since breaking a leg four months ago, Don't Turn Bach, managed to beat only one of his rivals home in a hurdle at Newbury.
Those who helped make the Paul Nicholls-trained Don't Turn Bach favourite out of sentiment, or an idea that Nicholls would stick Walsh on a sure-fire winner, probably regretted it as the horse dropped tamely out of contention turning into the home straight.
There were plenty of positives to take out of it for the jockey, however. He completed the course and, having pulled for his head early on and then found little when coming off the bridle, Don't Turn Bach ensured Walsh had a thorough workout.
"He's a free-going sort, who found little," he said afterwards. "I went from pulling to pushing, so I suppose it was good for me. It was grand, but I can't offer any excuses for the horse.
"It's nice to have the first one out of the way and (today) it'll be full steam ahead with four rides, all with chances, so I hope I get one on the board."
Before being applauded into the paddock, the jockey explained that he had always been optimistic of being back in time for the Cheltenham Festival.
"You're always anxious about missing it," he said. "They (the doctors) said it would take 12 weeks and you have to keep up hope. There wasn't much I could do except try to keep fit and have physiotherapy."
Walsh paid tribute to his surgeon David Moore and to Brian Green, the Ireland rugby physiotherapist. "Ronan O'Gara introduced me to him," Walsh explained. "His techniques and schedule in getting me fit, and keeping me fit, were amazing. I owe him a big debt of gratitude."
Walsh broke both the tibia and fibula on his right leg in a fall at Down Royal in November, shorlty after winning on Kauto Star.
With the pick of rides for the powerful yards of Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls and, no doubt, a lot of sorting out to do in that respect between now and Tuesday week, Walsh is in for an exciting time. "I'm definitely riding Kauto Star in the Gold Cup and Master Minded in the Champion Chase, but I haven't looked beyond them at the moment," he said.
However, Walsh is unsure if he will be riding Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle. Mullins' multiple Grade One winner has looked imperious this season and finally looks set to make his bow at Cheltenham.
The horse has missed the last two Festivals through injury but in Walsh's absence, Paul Townend has partnered Hurricane Fly to great effect and a decision on who rides him in the Champion Hurdle will be up to the owners. (© Daily Telegraph, London)