Monday 19 March 2018

Ruby between Rock and a hard place in battle for top jockey title

The most curious betting market at next week's Cheltenham Festival concerns the identity of the meeting's top jockey.

Ruby Walsh is a red-hot favourite for riding honours even though his book of rides remains a well-guarded secret. Even WikiLeaks has been unable to penetrate the wall of silence.

Although Walsh is a best-priced 6/4, his supporters are braced for one or two surprises when details emerge over the coming days. Important decisions must be made between horses trained by Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls, notably in the novice hurdles.

The outcome is sure to prompt some hasty revision of their available odds, and the small matter of whether Paul Townend retains the Champion Hurdle ride aboard Hurricane Fly is another outstanding item on the agenda.

In recent days, English bookmakers have fielded an avalanche of cash for the Mullins-trained So Young, which is now favourite for the Neptune Investments Management Novices' Hurdle on Wednesday. Whether Walsh is aboard this one is becoming increasingly relevant within the leading rider conundrum.

The other option for Walsh in that race is a horse almost certainly named after him. Rock On Ruby is owned by The Festival Goers syndicate, which now has its wish. Man and horse combined twice to win a pair of bumpers last season, so it would be ironic if Rock On Ruby won without his namesake aboard.

Intriguingly, while the money talks loudly for So Young, the French recruit has done all his racing with a decent cut in the ground.

More immediately, Walsh would love to visit the winner's circle for the first time since he returned to action last week. A midweek fall at Naas further detained him, but his wait could be over after Mon Parrain contests the Handicap Chase (2.25) at Sandown today.

The selection makes his English debut here, but he was a progressive force over fences in France. He has been with Nicholls long enough for the champion to work his magic, and with Nicholls happy to leg Walsh up so close to Cheltenham, we can take Mon Parrain's jumping on trust. He rates the day's best bet.

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