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Ruby right to leave his Champion Hurdle choice until very late

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Ruby Walsh

Ruby Walsh

Ruby Walsh

Cheltenham is now less than six weeks away. Unfortunately, it is inevitable that in that time we will have news of at least one high profile horse being ruled out of the Festival. It's the cruel nature of the sport.

If all of Willie Mullins' big guns get there on the opening day, the champion trainer looks set to be in for a very memorable afternoon, and it'll be the first time in seven years that Quevega won't be on site.

With Faugheen heading the Champion Hurdle market, and Hurricane Fly being Hurricane Fly, the biggest question at the moment revolves around which of the two Ruby Walsh will ride in Tuesday's opening day feature.

Mullins, Walsh and nearly everyone associated with Faugheen thinks he is too short a price for the race on the basis of what he has achieved to date, but that doesn't mean they don't think he should be favourite or at least near the head of the betting.

How could Walsh get off a 22-time Grade One winning hurdler, who has won the Holy Grail of the two-mile hurdling division twice, in favour of a horse who hasn't beaten a quality Grade One horse this season and just over 12 months ago was winning a three-mile hurdle at Limerick over Christmas? I'd love to have the choice but I'd hate to have to choose.

Walsh is right not to commit himself to either. There is nobody that understands the perils of the game like Walsh. He knows better than anybody that both Mullins horses have to make Cheltenham first and, most importantly, he appreciates that he has to make it himself, with a lot of racing and schooling to go in the meantime.

The time of when Walsh will make his decision is as close as we've got to an inkling on which way he'll side. Eleven o'clock on declaration morning, which is the Sunday before the race, is the time Walsh has predicted his decision coming.

He'll weigh up all the options with the finest of combs and the best of advice. Willie Mullins will give his input and you can be sure that father Ted will be involved in a discussion or five.

'The Fly' has won two around there as well as losing two around there. He is hitting flat spots in his races which may not be as easy to recover from on nice ground around Cheltenham, like it is on softer ground around Leopardstown.

But it's 'The Fly'. Whether he is able to show it as an 11-year-old around Cheltenham or not remains to be seen, but he'll undoubtedly be the best horse in the race and none will come close to equalling his battling qualities. But unless he is in contention jumping the last hurdle, his battling qualities will be no good to him.

Faugheen is the new kid on the block, 'The Machine' he is being nicknamed. He is clearly way above average and is at a stage in his career where he's crying out to reach his prime and set new personal bests.

Is he too short in the betting? Definitely. Does he jump well enough? He did at Cheltenham last year. Will Ruby ride him? There's the famous question again. Nobody needs reminding but Ruby got it wrong before. Kauto Star or Denman and he stuck loyal to the horse he'd already won a Gold Cup on.

Will he abandon a horse he has won two Champion Hurdles and 16 Grade Ones on? Paddy Power make it 1/10 that he will. That's short.

In all of this debate, one man is purring. Paul Townend is going to have a hell of a ride in the Champion Hurdle either way.

Let's see what happens, but as stated earlier in this article, let's just hope they all get there.


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