Saturday 1 October 2016

Walsh bids to Bash the Aussies

Published 08/08/2015 | 02:30

Bashboy – seen here winning in Melbourne last year – will be partnered by Ruby Walsh for the Australian Grand National
Bashboy – seen here winning in Melbourne last year – will be partnered by Ruby Walsh for the Australian Grand National

It might be a weekend of low-key action across the water, but tomorrow promises a day of racing with a truly international flavour to it.

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At home, the Curragh hosts the best two-year-olds' race of the year to date. Despite its status as an elite Group One, the Phoenix Stakes winners in recent years have failed to fully justify the reputation of the old '1500'.

It is seven years since Mastercraftsman triumphed en route to wins in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and St James's Palace Stakes, and it is 10 years back to the victory of George Washington.

A mercurial talent that won the 2,000 Guineas and the QE II Stakes in 2006, George Washington probably never truly fulfilled his enormous potential. In the context of other recent winners' subsequent failings, though, he is a beacon of enduring achievement.

Most likely, it is simply the nature of the season's earliest juveniles' Group One that it lends itself to more precocious types. Tomorrow's edition features the two market leaders for the opening Classic of 2016.

Mark Johnston sends over his devastating Coventry Stakes hero Buratino, with Air Force Blue, his closest pursuer at Ascot, leading the quest to secure Aidan O'Brien a 14th win in the race.

It is 14 years since O'Brien plundered the Prix Maurice de Gheest with the Jamie Spencer-ridden King Charlemagne. The six-and-a-half-furlong Deauville Group One hasn't come this way since, although Louth-born Yorkshire-based Richard Fahey did claim it with Garswood last year.

Tomorrow, Fahey's fellow Yorkshire-based ex-pat David O'Meara will strive to continue his fine season in the race with Watchable.

Tom Hogan's venerable Gordon Lord Byron runs under Richard Kingscote, with Tracey Collins bidding for a breakthrough Group One triumph with Majestic Queen (James Doyle).

It would constitute a stunning training performance should either succeed, though Charlie Hills' Muhaarar sets a tall standard following his last-gasp coup in the July Cup.

Before all that, at around 5.30am Irish time, Ruby Walsh will embark on his quest to add the Australian Grand National to his illustrious big-race haul.

A late booking to replace the suspended Steve Pateman on two-time winner Bashboy, Walsh showed when he excelled on Blackstairmountain in Japan's Nakayama Grand Jump two years ago how exquisitely he can adapt to an unfamiliar foreign challenge.

His Ciaron Maher-trained mount is 12 years old and his previous National successes came at the race's traditional Sandown home, rather than Sunday's temporary location in Ballarat.

Bashboy will be trying to carry 11st 10lb to victory, something that hasn't been done since 1957. The bookmakers make him fourth choice of the 10 runners at 4/1.

Clearly, the new partnership face an enormous task, but it is a $250,000 (€170,000) event that Walsh will do everything in his power to claim.

"I'm really looking forward to it," said Walsh, who also rides Arch Fire in a $100,000 (€67,500) hurdle.

"I didn't have that many commitments in Ireland so I was glad to take the opportunity. He looks to be an incredible horse and a really good stayer.

"He seems to handle testing conditions, which it looks likely to be. There are a lot of things in his favour."

At Ascot today, Pat Smullen makes a flying visit to participate in the Shergar Cup. A more contrived international jockeys' challenge, it is an event that has established some novelty appeal but lacks any real equine quality.

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