Monday 18 December 2017

Ruby left spoiled for choice as Cheltenham approaches

Alan Lee

EIGHT days left on the countdown to Cheltenham and the jump racing community is tiptoeing on eggshells.

This morning, Ruby Walsh will arrive at Ditcheat to discuss and fine-tune his mounts, Nicky Henderson will give the periodically lame Punchestowns a critical gallop and Cheltenham's groundstaff will do what seemed unthinkable a week ago and water the course.

As odds-on favourite to be top Festival jockey, Walsh can expect no sympathy from his peers over personal dilemmas. Every other jockey would love to have the choices that exercise him in several Cheltenham contests and in the Aintree Grand National, for which he must now decide between the joint favourites. Big Fella Thanks complicated that one by winning at Newbury on Saturday.

Walsh has already stated he will ride for Mullins in two of the novice hurdles, aboard Blackstairmountain and Quel Esprit, but other key decisions are unresolved. Most notably, he must choose between Tataniano (Nicholls) and Sports Line (Mullins) in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy and between Advisor (Nicholls) and Secant Star (Mullins) in the Triumph.

Nicholls, fast closing on 100 winners for the season, reports that The Nightingale is likely to miss the RSA Chase in favour of Aintree. Kauto Star and Denman, meanwhile, will have their last strong piece of work before the Gold Cup later this week.

Down in Lambourn, Henderson was relieved yesterday over the condition of Punchestowns, whose presence in the RSA Chase had been in doubt. "He had two canters up the all-weather this morning and, if you'd seen him, you would never have known there'd been anything wrong. I'm optimistic we'll get him there now but he'll do some serious work tomorrow."

So, too, will Binocular, but Henderson is much less positive about a Champion Hurdle run after the interruption caused by a series of physical checks. "We've lost a fair bit of time with him and I would think we'll be going to Aintree rather than Cheltenham," he said.

Meanwhile, Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse said yesterday that watering will begin this morning.

(© The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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