Thursday 17 January 2019

Shadow boxing over for Ruby

Champion fit and ready to rumble in bid to repeat Festival heroics

Ruby Walsh
Ruby Walsh

Fergus McDonnell

A good start is half the battle, they say, and after drawing a blank on the opening two days of last year's Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh will be hoping that they can kick-start their challenge this time around when Walsh faces the famous roar for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle aboard Getabird.

It'll be the first time Walsh has ridden the horse in public and it is likely to go off a short-priced favourite, but that doesn't seem to bother him. "Had I ever ridden Noland? Dun Doire? People make a lot of those things, but the horse I rode at Thurles in my first ride back, Lareena, I'd ridden her once. I don't think it's an issue."

Mullins reports the horse to be in good order and is "hoping he'll deliver a big performance". But surely Walsh feels some extra pressure given it's the first race of such an important four days? "It's still a two-mile novice hurdle," he insists. "It's another race, another winner if you can get your horse home first. It is risk versus reward."

Walsh has been engaged in a three-month battle to be fit for this week following his fall from Let's Dance last November which resulted in a broken leg - a battle he won last Thursday in a weather-delayed return to action in Thurles.

"On this weekend in a normal year, I wouldn't be doing too much, but it's not an ordinary year, so I've been doing a few bits over the last few days. Riding horses is like riding a bike, it's doesn't take you long to get back into doing it.

"I've never thought about being leading jockey at Cheltenham or stuff like that. I go there every year trying to do two things, to ride a winner and come home on the plane that I'm now booked to come home on.

"I've always done the former, one year I didn't do the latter, in 2014, after a fall off Abbyssial. That's the way I look at it, those two things make a successful Cheltenham. Obviously there have been years when I have been much more successful, brilliant years in fact.

"But I am old enough and wise enough to understand that that is not always going to be the way every year."

"We were a bit down on the Wednesday night last year. But when you look at it, we'd no reason to be. Douvan was out in the stable yard standing on three legs, so we knew why he hadn't won, but Melon had run his race, Footpad ran his race, the two mares ran well against Apple's Jade. Kemboy ran a cracker on the Wednesday, Bacardys was almost brought down, Bellshill ran well, and Next Destination ran well in the bumper.

"I was sitting down that Wednesday night with Gillian (Ruby's wife), David Casey and his wife and with James Nash and his wife having a cup of tea. And suddenly David banged the table and said two things, 'We're going to have a four-timer tomorrow' and we did, 'And Willie is going to be champion trainer at this meeting' and had Bapaume finished ahead of Mega Fortune in the Triumph Hurdle, instead of being behind him by a short-head, Willie would have done it.

"I don't blow my own trumpet, but I knew no-one had ever done a four-timer at Cheltenham before the Thursday of last year. That was special. I'd been so close to doing it with Annie Power and I never thought I'd get the opportunity to do it again."

Walsh has achieved so much in his stellar career, but there is still one ambition left unfulfilled - he would dearly love to ride the winner of the Gold Cup for Willie Mullins.

"It's getting harder every year, but yes I'd love to do that. Total Recall is an improver, but he may have to improve by a stone on his win in the Ladbrokes Trophy to get there. Killultagh Vic lacks experience, he has only run in three steeplechases in his life (in one of them he fell, in a second he almost fell). Djakadam has been there and done it, almost. He's trying to do what The Fellow did in coming back after three placed efforts, but The Fellow also won a 'King George'.

"They are all the pros and cons that I have to weigh up and see what comes out. Is Willie happy with them all, are the lads who ride them happy with them all? And then you throw it all into the mix and make a decision."

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