Walsh baffled by Hurricane fears
Ruby Walsh says he is "utterly perplexed" by the negativity surrounding Hurricane Fly as he aims to regain his crown in Tuesday's Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
The 2011 winner was a disappointing third when odds-on favourite 12 months ago, but has appeared as good as ever in three starts this season. "I know there has been much negativity of late about the horse, but it has left me utterly perplexed," the jockey said in his Irish Examiner column.
"All I will say is that those of us closest to him are more than happy at where he is at the moment."
Rock On Ruby's trainer Harry Fry has revealed that last year's Champion Hurdle winner will wear blinkers for the first time in public when he defends his crown. While the decision will come as a surprise to many, Fry has revealed it's something connections have been considering for some time due to the way he has tended to idle in front at the end of his races.
"We had our final schooling session yesterday morning with Noel (Fehily) on board and he was awesome. That is due to the fact that he's going to run in first-time blinkers on Tuesday. It's something we've quietly been discussing throughout the season and we feel now is the time to use them."
Friday's Gold Cup sees 12 remaining at the latest entry stage with all the big guns standing their ground. Bobs Worth and 2011 winner Long Run give Nicky Henderson a strong hand as he attempts to wrestle the championship from Paul Nicholls.
Long Run will be wearing cheekpieces in public for the first time, while Bobs Worth has not had a run since the Hennessy Gold Cup over 100 days ago. Sir Des Champs will be aiming to give Willie Mullins a first win in the race and a first Irish winner since War Of Attrition in 2006. First Lieutenant has also been left in by Mouse Morris, under the same Gigginstown House Stud ownership, who also could run Bog Warrior. Nicholls has dominated the race in recent years and has just one chance this year with Silviniaco Conti.
Cape Tribulation, Captain Chris, last year's runner-up The Giant Bolster, Sunnyhillboy, Wayward Prince and Monbeg Dude complete the list of possible runners.
All the major ante-post fancies are among 21 acceptors for Friday's JCB Triumph Hurdle. The Dessie Hughes-trained Our Conor, Paul Nicholls' Far West and Nicky Henderson's Rolling Star are the three main market fancies and all appear.
As well as Our Conor, the Irish challenge could be supplemented by Willie Mullins' Blood Cotil and Diakali, among others. Gary Moore's Chris Pea Green, the John Quin duo of Kashmir Peak and Hidden Justice and John Ferguson's Grade One winner Ruacana are all there.
Nicholls has also left in Lac Fontana and Sametegal while Henderson could also run Vasco Du Ronceray.
Mullins has given himself plenty of options in Friday's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. The trainer has one of the ante-post favourites in Ballycasey and has also left in his Supreme Novices' Hurdle candidate Un Atout, red-hot Neptune favourite Pont Alexandre and last year's bumper winner Champagne Fever.
Empiracle, a leading fancy for Wednesday's Weatherbys Champion Bumper, has been ruled out of the race. The six-year-old was an impressive winner at Huntingdon last October and trainer Jeremy Scott had been preparing him for his Festival date since that victory. However, Empiracle has now sustained a minor injury which means he will miss out at Prestbury Park.