Mullins concedes defeat with Mikael
THESE are nervous times for most major stables as the countdown continues to Cheltenham.
With only 11 days remaining, Willie Mullins admitted defeat in his battle to get Mikael D'Aguenet to the festival while jockey Ruby Walsh survived a horrendous fall at Taunton when his mount crashed through the wing of a fence.
It is enough to make even the strongest reach for the bottle. Mullins reported Mikael D'Aguenet to be "stiff and sore" following his schooling session after racing at Leopardstown at the weekend. The winner of last year's Ballymore Properties Novices Hurdle and tipped as a future Gold Cup winner, he had been 25/1 for the Arkle and 14/1 for the RSA Chase.
"While we were happy enough with the way he jumped, it was his second racecourse school in the space of a few days and he has not come out of it as well as we would have hoped," Mullins explained.
Meanwhile, Walsh, who has been installed 1/2 to be leading jockey at Cheltenham, must have seen this year's festival flashing in front of him. His mount, Earth Planet, veered sharply right approaching a fence in the home straight the first time around in the opener, crashed through the inside rail, and demolished the wing.
Twenty years ago, before the installation of plastic railing, horse and rider would almost certainly have not been so lucky.
Walsh dusted himself down and completed his book of rides, landing the finale aboard the Paul Nicholls-trained King's Legacy in a photo from Sir Kezbaah.
Earlier, Walsh had been beaten seven lengths on odds-on shot Pistolet Noir, who chased home Duke Of Lucca. Nicholls ruled out the Fred Winter Hurdle at Cheltenham for the four-year-old, whose future surely lies over fences when he reaches maturity.
Meanwhile, Queen Mother Champion Chase contender Kalahari King went for another outing to Redcar beach, which he clearly enjoys, as he continued his preparation for the two-mile championship.
Trainer Ferdy Murphy reported: "He's one of those horses, who goes paddling in the water and has a roll on the beach and a look around. Graham Lee said there were a few lads having a five-a-side football match there the other day and the horse was like a spectator."
Today at Newbury, Nicky Henderson pulls the wraps off his French import Super Kenny, who has his first hurdles outing in this country. He is as low as 16/1 for the Triumph Hurdle, and for those sceptical about the prospects of a young horse progressing from this meeting to Cheltenham, there is a precedent.
In 1985, Henderson ran First Bout in his first hurdles race at Plumpton on February 26, then again in the corresponding race to today's Newbury contest, before he landed the Triumph Hurdle later that month. (© Daily Telegraph, London)