Exclusive: Ruby Walsh confirms he will be recovered for Punchestown
A mouth-watering clash between Willie Mullins' high-class mare Annie Power and At Fishers Cross could be on the cards for Punchestown – a Festival, which Ruby Walsh has targeted as his comeback date.
The Rebecca Curtis-trained At Fishers Cross embarked on a superlative six-race winning spree last term, culminating in facile Grade One triumphs at Cheltenham and Aintree.
Little went right for him this season until he recaptured some of his old spark when short-headed by Knockara Beau in the Cleeve Hurdle and he followed with an admirable third behind More Of That and Annie Power in an epic edition of the World Hurdle.
However, he failed to capitalise on the absence of those two heavyweights when sent off favourite for Saturday's Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree, just foiled by Whisper. Video evidence showed that he had spread a plate with over a circuit to run and Curtis is keeping an open mind about going to the well once more at Punchestown, where Annie Power would likely prove a formidable rival.
"He came back good, although his foot was a little bit sore where he tore off the shoe," Curtis said of the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old. "It's possible he could run at Punchestown. We haven't made a decision yet and we'll just see how he is in the next week or so."
While More Of That is finished for the campaign, a bout between At Fishers Cross and Annie Power in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle would ensure a proper championship race at Punchestown. With At Fishers Cross ridden by his great rival AP McCoy, Walsh's presence on Mullins' gallant Cheltenham runner-up would add further spice to the encounter.
The champion jockey-elect fractured his humerus and dislocated his right shoulder when he took a crashing fall from Abbyssial in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. Having initially suggested that Punchestown might come too soon, he revealed yesterday that his recovery is proceeding faster than expected after a session in the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry on Monday.
"I'd imagine I will be riding at Punchestown," he said. "I got on very well (at Santry) and am making great progress.
"The plan is to continue with physio and gym work. I had an hour and a half of physio and conditioning today. If I had ridden 10 lots in the morning, I would not have been blowing as hard or felt as bad afterwards."
Walsh will require surgery, but, with the Mullins team always primed for Punchestown, he hopes to put that off until the French Champion Hurdle is out of the way in June.
Ruby reaffirmed his belief that he will return for Punchestown at a North Kildare Chamber of Commerce lunch at the K Club today.
A cracking line-up of equine stars is emerging for Punchestown, which gets under way on April 29. McManus' Jessica Harrington-trained Champion Hurdler Jezki and Mullins' vanquished dual title-holder Hurricane Fly are pencilled in for a rematch, with Tiger Roll, Guitar Pete, Boston Bob, Silviniaco Conti, Balder Succes and Beat That all top-class horses that won at Cheltenham or Aintree that could yet grace the grand finale.
Big Shu, which was successful in the cross-country races at Cheltenham and Punchestown under Barry Cash last year, failed to win in either the Cotswolds or Liverpool this time.
Third to the Grand National runner-up Balthazar King at Cheltenham when ridden by Paul Carberry, he fell at the third under Peter Buchanan on Saturday.
He is now poised to return to the banks discipline in a bid to retain the La Touche Cup for his local handler Peter Maher, who was philosophical about his Aintree mishap.
"It was disappointing, but that's the National," Maher said of his early exit. "If it was easy it wouldn't be worth a £1m and you wouldn't have 40 lunatics galloping down to the first!
"He came back in one piece, which is the main thing, and he is a National horse – I'm still sure of that. He didn't go half a mile on Saturday, so I would imagine he'll go to Punchestown now for the La Touche Cup."