Weld woe a boost for Quevega
Quevega's chances of bagging a record-equalling fifth successive OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham next month have gained a considerable boost with Dermot Weld's revelation that Unaccompanied is to miss the Festival.
While Willie Mullins' star mare was already odds-on to reclaim her crown on her traditional seasonal reappearance in the Cotswolds, the absence, due to injury, of one of the few horses capable of making a race of the Grade Two prompted bookies to slash her odds to as low as 1/2.
Unaccompanied's defection means that Kentford Grey Lady, outclassed when second in 2012, and Une Artiste, last year's Fred Winter winner, are the only horses left trading at single-figure odds-against in the race.
It is also a considerable blow to Weld's prospects of ending a 23-year drought since the Brendan Sheridan-ridden Rare Holiday swooped late to secure him his only previous success at Prestbury Park in March in the Triumph Hurdle, a Grade One that Unaccompanied and Hisaabaat finished second in for the last two years.
"She has pulled a muscle ever so slightly and it will mean a week to 10 days' rest," Weld said of his Moyglare Stud-owned six-year-old, which finished second to Hurricane Fly on her only start over flights this season at Leopardstown after Christmas.
"She'd been in great form and it (the setback) is only ever so slight. She may run next back on the Flat in Listed class in late March, early April."
Aside from his dual Grade One-winning mare, Weld has the out-of-sorts Hisaabaat entered in the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle at Cheltenham, with Supreme Novices' Hurdle entries Rock Critic and Waaheb – on duty at Fairyhouse today – others that could make the journey from his Rosewell House base on the Curragh.
Mullins, of course, is responsible for the lion's share of genuine contenders that will travel from these shores, and he also dominates the ante-post Grand National market, with On His Own and Prince De Beauchene the first two listed by most firms.
As such, it is remarkable to think that Ruby Walsh might yet partner something else in the Aintree showpiece on April 6, but the eight-time champion has the option to ride Seabass, on which his sister Katie was a brilliant third for their father Ted in 2012.
As low as 10/1 joint-second favourite alongside Prince De Beauchene in places, the 10-year-old was an eye-catching runner-up to Rock Critic on his seasonal bow under Walsh in a Fairyhouse hurdle race earlier in the month.
Back at the Meath venue last Saturday, he again pleased connections when keeping on well for Katie to finish third behind Roi Du Mee and Prince De Beauchene in the Bobbyjo Chase.
Speaking yesterday, Pat Glynn, head of the Gunners Syndicate that owns the six-time chase winner, confirmed that Ruby could usurp his sister come Liverpool.
"We don't know about the jockey yet. Ruby has first choice, as Ted always says. Katie rode him last year and she knows the horse. We'll be happy either way," said Glynn.
"That was his last run before Aintree. He's a year older and a stronger horse this year.
"He had five runs before he went to Aintree last year and he has had just the two this year. We've just got the one big target."
Martin Lynch has stated that his 2011 National runner-up Oscar Time will have another outing before the National after finishing last of six in the Bobbyjo.
Meanwhile, last year's Tommy Carmody-trained Irish St Leger hero Royal Diamond will warm up for a tilt at the Gold Cup on Dubai World Cup night (March 30) when he contests a 14-furlong Meydan Group Three under Johnny Murtagh on Saturday.
Declan McDonogh has been declared to ride John Oxx's Goodwood Cup hero Saddler's Rock for a first time in the same race, with Jamie Spencer on Certerach for Mick Halford and Tadhg O'Shea aboard Pat Shanahan's Chicago.