Saturday 24 August 2019

Leg break agony puts Walsh's season in doubt

Ruby Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruby Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile

Greg Wood

Ruby Walsh, top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival in 11 of the past 14 seasons, faces weeks and possibly months on the sidelines after suffering a broken leg in a fall at Punchestown yesterday.

Walsh had already fallen from two of his first three rides on the card when Let's Dance, the odds-on favourite for the Grabel Mares' Hurdle, fell at the fourth-last flight. The jockey received treatment on the track before being taken to hospital.

"I've suffered a fracture of my right tibia," said Walsh yesterday evening. "I'm going to Tallaght Hospital now to see a specialist and I'll know a lot more tomorrow."

Walsh was due to partner Faugheen, the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner, in the Grade One Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown today, the nine-year-old's first start since January 2016. Paul Townend, Walsh's number two at the Willie Mullins yard, is expected to switch from Vroum Vroum Mag, his original booking for the race, to ride Faugheen.

Faugheen is just one of a host of leading names from the Mullins stable that will need a new rider as the season unfolds, while the 38-year-old Walsh appears to face a race against time to be fit for the Cheltenham Festival, which opens on March 13.

The Professional Jockeys' Association estimates that the average time for a jockey to return to race-riding after fracturing a tibula or fibula is 130 days, a schedule that would keep Walsh on the sidelines until March 28.

Rain fell throughout the second afternoon of the November meeting at Cheltenham and every millimetre improved the chance of Splash Of Ginge in the card's feature event, the BetVictor Gold Cup. Nigel Twiston-Davies's nine-year-old, whose stable companion Foxtail Hill was one of the market leaders at 9/1, splashed through the mud to hold Starchitect at bay by a neck at odds of 25/1, having been available at 50/1 earlier in the day. The horse now has a second big-race success at long odds to add to his 33/1 win in the Betfair Hurdle in 2014.

"The soft ground is the key to him," said Twiston-Davies, as the "Ginge Army", led by the owner, John Nield, celebrated his latest success in a raucous winner's enclosure. "He'd lost his way a little bit, and it's great to give a chance to Tom Bellamy [the winner's jockey] who's not having a great time. Foxtail couldn't cope with the heavy ground, but he just bombed up to them, no trouble at all.

"Being a Liverpudlian, it's John's ambition to win the Grand National, and he's had a bet to win a million quid if he can win it, but we'd have to get him into the race with enough of a handicap mark. He probably will now."

Bellamy's first thought was for Ryan Hatch, Splash Of Ginge's partner for much of his career, who is recovering from injuries sustained in a fall here last December. "The person sitting here today should be Ryan Hatch," Bellamy said. "He is my best friend and I live with him. I am obviously gutted for him, but at the same time, I know he will be delighted for me.

"It's now two wins from three rides for Nigel. It's a big ride to get, let alone a big winner, so I'm very grateful. I lost my claim last year and it's been very quiet since."

Apple's Shakira, a full sister to the excellent Apple's Jade, is the new favourite for the Triumph Hurdle after an emphatic success in the opening race. While there are many juvenile hurdlers still waiting to make their debut over timber it will take a very good one to shift Apple's Shakira from the top of the market.

Gumball, a dominating winner of his first two starts over hurdles, looked like a fair opponent for Nicky Henderson's filly on paper, but he did not jump fluently in the first half of the race and was quickly left behind when Barry Geraghty opened up on Apple's Shakira on the turn for home. She crossed the line 17 lengths clear of Gumball and is now top-priced at 5/1 for the Triumph on March 16.

Geraghty took the same race last year aboard the subsequent Triumph winner, Defi Du Seuil, and while Apple's Shakira could also run in the mares' novice hurdle at the Festival, the Triumph appears an obvious target.

"She was green through the middle part of the race and jumped a bit big, but she kept learning as she went," Geraghty said. "She was as much learning as responding, the penny only really dropped halfway through the race. She has more to learn than Defi Du Seuil, he knew his job very well. This girl has a lot of talent, but doesn't quite know her job yet."

Bryony Frost steered home a valuable winner for the second weekend running as Paul Nicholls's Black Corton, the outsider of three runners, ground out victory in the card's novice chase. Frost took the Badger Ales Trophy last Saturday on Present Man, and has now won all five of her starts on Black Corton.

Frost sent Black Corton into the lead on the turn for home and while Twiston-Davies's runner Ballyoptic closed on the run to the line Black Corton held him at bay by four lengths.

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