Walsh set for Big Buck's collision
Ruby Walsh could be poised to lead the efforts to thwart his loyal old partner Big Buck's on Saturday after the British authorities raised the possibility of him taking in Cheltenham as well as Doncaster by rearranging the race schedule.
Willie Mullins confirmed yesterday that his high-class mare Annie Power is "a definite" runner in the two-mile Grade Two OLBG.com Mares' Hurdle on Town Moor and that Walsh will ride.
With that race originally pencilled in for a 2.40 start, the prospect of Walsh getting to Prestbury Park in time to ride Boston Bob for the perennial champion trainer in the Cleeve Hurdle at 3.35 was non-existent.
However, it was revealed yesterday that the British Horseracing Authority had agreed to bring the Doncaster race forward to 2.05, which should give Walsh sufficient time to complete the 235km journey in a helicopter if desired.
Mullins also has Mikael D'Haguenet in the three-mile Grade Two at Cheltenham, although Boston Bob is now emerging as his chief hope for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Festival in March. Annie Power is the clear second-favourite in the World Hurdle market at 7/2 behind Big Buck's (2/1), the sensational four-time winner of the Grade One that Paul Nicholls asked Walsh to resume his glorious association with before controversially turning to 21-year-old Sam Twiston-Davies ahead of his main rider Daryl Jacob.
The decision to drop Rich Ricci's classy mare back to the minimum trip on Saturday follows the owner's recent admission that the reason her chasing career had been delayed was because of his desire to see her contest the Champion Hurdle.
As such, events on Saturday have the potential to be hugely informative.
If Annie Power stretches her 100pc record to 10 and impresses in her hurdling, which has been improving steadily, then she would surely be destined to lay down the gauntlet to her illustrious stablemate Hurricane Fly in the two-mile showpiece on March 11, for which she trades at between 7/1 and 10/1.
Of course, the dual champion will complete his own Festival preparations by attempting to secure a fourth BHP Irish Champion Hurdle and an incredible 19th Grade One success at Leopardstown on Sunday.
If Annie Power's assignment at Doncaster appears relatively straightforward on paper, though, the prospect of Walsh plotting the downfall of a horse that he partnered to 16 of a record 18 consecutive victories is a tantalising one.
Mullins had suggested that Boston Bob might run in today's Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park following his smooth reappearance win at Punchestown, but his absence from the final line-up for that looks to have paved the way for him to tackle Big Buck's instead.
Nicholls' equine superstar's sensational record means that his place among the immortals is already assured.
Still, on his first start since December 2012 at 11 years of age, he might never be more vulnerable than he will be on Saturday, and while Reve De Sivola might be his principal threat on paper, Walsh's unique affinity with him surely makes him better qualified than anyone to exploit any shortcomings.
Mullins has other entries at both of Saturday's high-profile English meetings. Final plans won't be unveiled until this morning, though day one of Leopardstown's fixture – featuring the €100,000 Boylesports.com Hurdle and a potentially red-hot novice chase – now looks certain to pass off without the gifted jockeys' championship leader.
Meanwhile, Horse Racing Ireland has announced that a new four-year deal has been agreed with RTE for the broadcast of live Irish racing.
Starting tomorrow, there will be a minimum of 24 days' coverage each year until 2017, with major festivals at Galway, Punchestown and Leopardstown all included in the package along with marquee events such as the Irish Grand National, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Irish Derby.
At the Dubai carnival in Meydan today, seven Irish-trained runners contest five races. Regular raiders David Marnane, Ger Lyons and Mick Halford are joined on this occasion by Patrick Prendergast, who saddles Manalapan in a 10-furlong handicap.