Walsh edges closer to return as Henderson issues warning
Ruby Walsh has edged closer to a competitive return from a broken leg with Willie Mullins' stable jockey reporting no ill effects having ridden out in Closutton over the weekend.
The champion jockey's recovery from injury is gathering pace after three months on the sidelines from a fall at Punchestown in November but the 38-year-old has always had his eyes firmly fixed on being ready for next month's Cheltenham Festival.
That is still the plan for Walsh, top jockey at the Festival in 11 of the last 14 seasons, with the Kildare pilot "tipping along" with just 20 days to flag fall at Cheltenham.
"I've been riding a couple of horses each day, I started that on Sunday when I rode out one at home so it's tipping along and hopefully it keeps going the way it's going," Walsh told Racing UK yesterday.
"It feels good. I'll just take it slowly, slowly, try not to do any damage and we'll see how we go. There's a buzz about the yard, things are just about to start cranking up. The horses are in good form and hopefully it keeps going that way."
Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson could make a four-pronged attack on the Champion Hurdle as he bids for a seventh victory in the race but admits that preparations with reigning champion Buveur D'Air have not been ideal.
The current 4/9 favourite will spearhead the Seven Barrows team once again - when he is likely to be joined by stablemates My Tent Or Yours (three-time runner-up in the race), Charli Parcs and Verdana Blue - having enjoyed a flawless campaign on paper.
Victories in the Fighting Fifth, Christmas and Contenders Hurdles have seen the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old harden at the head of the market while his chief rival Faugheen, the 2015 Champion Hurdle hero, has had a mixed campaign with two straight defeats and a mystifying display over Christmas when pulled up in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Henderson expressed some concern about the champion's preparation for the race, however, and is hoping to work him before racing at Kempton on Saturday although that plan may go up in smoke due to adverse weather.
"We were hoping to work Buveur D'Air at Kempton before racing on Saturday but Barney Clifford (clerk of the course) is worried about the weather. If the course needs covering up we won't be able to get on there before racing, which is frustrating," Henderson said yesterday.
"He needs an awful lot of work and he didn't have a race at Sandown the other day. So we've got to take him somewhere."
With questions marks still hanging over him, Faugheen is the general 5/1 second favourite for the showpiece on day one but Henderson said about the opposition: "There's an awful lot of others you can't write off.
"These races will be very, very competitive, whoever turns up, so it's no good worrying about what Willie (Mullins), Gordon (Elliott) and Paul (Nicholls) are doing. We've got to keep our heads down for three weeks and cross our fingers that we don't get any hiccups."
Elsewhere, McManus's racing manager Frank Berry has confirmed that Yanworth will run in the Stayers' Hurdle at the Festival as Alan King's eight-year-old reverts back to the smaller obstacles despite having won two of his four races over fences this season, including a Grade Two at the Cotswolds on his last run.
He holds entries in the JLT Novices' Chase and the RSA Chase at the Festival but the decision has been made to go back hurdling, partly as the current favourite, Supasundae, finished behind Yanworth in the Liverpool Hurdle last April.
Berry said: "We just thought his jumping hadn't been the slickest but we're not saying he won't go back over fences, maybe even later this spring, we'll just see how he gets on here first.
"He'll be taken out of the novice chases (at Cheltenham), though, and will definitely run in the Stayers'. He was in the Stayers' and we just thought it was an opportunity to go down that road. Later in the season he'll have all the options."