Saturday 17 February 2018

Ruby Walsh hoping for more festive gifts from Kempton big guns Vautour and Faugheen

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh are plotting a big-race double at Kempton with Vautour and Faugheen but both horses have something to prove Photo: Sportsfile
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh are plotting a big-race double at Kempton with Vautour and Faugheen but both horses have something to prove Photo: Sportsfile

Nick Robson

While for most of us Christmas means plenty of presents and copious amounts of food, for Ruby Walsh it usually brings big-race winners.

For five years out of six Kauto Star delivered Walsh his own festive gift in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton when Paul Nicholls' chaser ruled the roost.

Not long after the great horse retired Walsh decided to give up his job with Nicholls, citing the endless travelling from his home in Ireland as taking its toll on his family life, to concentrate solely on riding for Willie Mullins.

That decision has coincided with Mullins becoming the pre-eminent force in National Hunt racing, dominating the Cheltenham Festival for the past few seasons and breaking records in the process.

It is at this time of year Walsh would love to be in two places at once as Leopardstown's showpiece meeting clashes with Kempton.

But the King George has maintained its hold on him and he will be back again to ride Vautour in the big one and reigning champion hurdler Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle.

"Christmas is a great time of year, especially when you have kids, but as a jockey Christmas really starts when the day itself is over," said Walsh.

"I always enjoyed the present Kauto Star gave me and I wouldn't mind Vautour doing the same.

"Kauto Star's longevity was incredible, he had it, Hurricane Fly had it and that's what you need."

It would be stretching things a bit to expect Vautour to match Kauto Star's achievements, but his performances in winning the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the JLT Novices' Chase at the last two Cheltenham Festivals have been nothing short of breathtaking, with Walsh visibly taken aback.

"I suppose the excitement I got off Vautour when he first started out was a bit like Kauto Star, he certainly had more luck as a novice than Kauto Star did," said Walsh.

"Do I think Vautour could have won a Tingle Creek if we'd gone that way? Possibly. Do I think he's capable of winning a King George - I went with Kauto hoping he could so that's what I'll be hoping with Vautour, that's what you're looking for, always the next one. I suppose that's greed.

"I rode Kauto, when you think of all the thrills he gave me that is the adrenaline rush you want and with Vautour there's a chance that could happen again. The chances of it are highly unlikely, but that's the dream and I would dearly love it if he was.

"This Christmas I've got the likes of Vautour, Faugheen and Un De Sceaux to look forward to, but it was the same in the days of Kauto Star, Denman and Big Buck's.

"Not many get it (clutch of class horses) once, never mind twice and I guess that's the lucky position I'm in, it's great and it's a great spread of racing at Christmas."

Faugheen needs to bounce back from the first defeat of his career when beaten by stable companion Nichols Canyon in the Morgiana Hurdle on his reappearance.

Mullins and Walsh have always rated the winner that day highly, and the fact he was put in his place by Faugheen in a gallop in the days leading up to the race the result left them scratching their heads.

"Nichols Canyon was a very good novice last year and put in a hell of a performance in the Morgiana, Faugheen was just probably rusty on the day," said Walsh.

"I think you'll see a sharper, more improved horse at Kempton. We're happy with his work, he won the race last year and I haven't lost faith, anyway.

"It's not devastating when a champion loses, but it is disappointing. It's like anything, if you had a second chance to do a lot of things in your life you'd do them differently, but unfortunately you don't.

"I got beat in the Morgiana, so of course I'd ride it differently, if you get beat you've done something wrong - how many times do you think 'I wouldn't mind another go at that' but that's life.

"Me being me I'm looking at it that I got it wrong and the horse is still amazing.

"I'm the optimist so I'm hoping you'll see a different Faugheen, he was very very good last year, I thought he was good at Cheltenham and even better at Punchestown."

It sounds like Ruby Walsh is expecting the Christmas gifts to keep on coming.

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