Ruby Walsh has hailed Down Royal’s Champion Chase as the perfect pathway to success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
And the racing legend knows better than most, having ridden the great Kauto Star to victory twice in both races.
The prestigious two-day Winter Festival starts at Down Royal on Friday, with the feature £100,000 Champion Chase on day two, when crowds will flock to the Maze track again after the easing of Covid restrictions.
Walsh, who retired from race riding in May 2019 following a glittering career, said: “The Champion Chase is a superb race, the first Grade One of the season. It’s ideally placed in the calendar for Cheltenham Gold Cup horses. It’s a great race at just the right time of the year, and is run on a fine course.”
Walsh also won the race on Taranis in 2007 and Valseur Lido in 2016, with his triumphs aboard racing royalty Kauto Star in 2008 and 2010.
“Kauto Star was a special horse I was very fortunate to ride, and I feel very privileged to have done so,” said Walsh, who is also synonymous with Hurricane Fly, winner of the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle in both 2011 and 2013.
“I was lucky enough to get to ride a horse like Hurricane Fly as well, the hurdler of a lifetime – very talented and very tough,” said Walsh, high praise from a man whose CV boasts wins in all the major races, including Aintree Grand National successes on Papillon and Hedgehunter.
And he was thrilled to see Rachael Blackmore triumph in the great race onboard Minella Times last April, the first female jockey to achieve the feat, with Ruby’s sister Katie Walsh also going close on a few occasions.
“Rachael Blackmore’s win was huge for racing,” he said. “The growth of women’s sport in the last few years has been phenomenal, and rightly so. Rachael and other female jockeys compete on a level playing field with male counterparts, they don’t get weight allowances or other advantages.
“The Grand National is way ahead of anything else, so that really highlighted Rachael’s win for the great achievement that it was.”
Walsh is currently involved in championing a mental-health app aimed at jockeys.
He said: “It’s not like having to attend an appointment. It’s a brilliantly simple idea, and 88pc of jockeys who tried it are still using it.”
Meanwhile, Minella Indo heads seven confirmations for the Champion Chase at Down Royal on Saturday.
Henry de Bromhead’s eight-year-old defeated his stable companion A Plus Tard to take the blue riband prize after being beaten at Leopardstown on his two previous starts.
Road To Respect, the winner in 2018 and 2019, could make a belated return to action. Noel Meade’s charge has been on the sidelines since finishing third in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December 2019.
Delta Work is one of three possibles from Gordon Elliott’s stable. The others are Galvin, winner of his last six starts, and Ravenhill.