RUBY WALSH: Rocky up for a fight

First of all this morning let me reveal that I am definitely going to partner Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next month.

The alternative was obviously Zarkandar for Paul Nicholls. That horse heads to the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton today and earlier this week Paul asked me which one of them I intended to ride at the festival.

He posed a straight question and I gave him a straight answer - Hurricane Fly. It is getting quite close to Cheltenham now and Paul needed certainty. As a result Daryl Jacob will be aboard Zarkandar this afternoon and that is perfectly understandable.

In the meantime, I will be at Ascot, where I ride four for Paul and one for Kevin Bishop. The feature is the Grade 1 Betfair Chase and I team up with Ghizao.

I’m not overly optimistic that he will prove good enough and, on ratings, has it all to do against the likes of Captain Chris, Cue Card and Finian’s Rainbow.

I don’t think the two miles, five furlongs plus will be any problem to my horse, but realistically he has to step up appreciably on anything done before to be a major player.

Captain Chris ran a cracker when beaten neck by Long Run in the King George at Kempton and that represents quality form.

Finian’s Ranbow hasn’t run since finishing a poor fourth of four behind Captain Chris at Ascot in November, so has a bit to prove.

Cue Card was a fair way adrift of Captain Chris when fifth in the King George, but travelled like a dream for much of the trip.

He is a really classy individual and dropping down in distance will work in his favour. I hope Ghizao can surprise me, but I’ve a feeling this may be destined for Cue Card.

My day starts on Aaim To Prosper in a novice hurdle and I have to say he’s another I will be riding more in hope than confidence.

Mind you he did improve plenty from his first outing over jumps at Newbury to his latest effort at Doncaster. His jumping was better and he did show more enthusiasm.

But he’s a nine-year-old now and doesn’t have huge scope for improvement. I’ll be giving it my best in an effort to get a real tune out of him.

Then it is what I regard as my best ride of the day, Rocky Creek, in the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Chase. He jumps, stays and will love the trip.

This is a competitive little contest, but I think Rocky Creek is improving at a rate of knots and believe he’ll win.

Kevin Bishop provides me with Queens Grove in a very valuable handicap hurdle and it’s a lovely spare to get. I actually rode Queens Grove’s mother, Just Jasmine, to finish third in a Cheltenham handicap for Kevin some ten years ago.

Anyway, Queen Grove has won four in-a-row, handles soft ground, no problem, and has a nice weight. After that, who knows?

I end my day on Far West in a novice hurdle and this is a horse I like. He is ex-French and unbeaten in three races for Paul.

He started at Chepstow and then won twice at Cheltenham, the last time by 19 lengths. If he wins this, I think we can safely say will be the new favourite for the Triumph Hurdle.

The problem now, of course, is that he has to take on Rive Maigue, who is two years his senior. I know Barry Geraghty really rates River Maigue, so this is going to tell us an awful lot about Far West.

I will be very interested in how Zarkandar gets on at Wincanton. His form is rock solid, I think he’s a good horse and will be hard to beat.

Navan on Sunday went west yesterday morning and punters in Ireland for the weekend are left with just six races at Gowran Park today.

Willie Mullins has a strong hand in the Grade 2 Hurdle, with Zaidpour and So Young. Both horses are working well at home, but my preference would be for Zaidpour.

Willie’s other runner is Djakadam in a maiden hurdle.

He came from France and would have won at Thurles, on his Irish debut, if I hadn’t fallen off him at the last. He has been improving nicely at home and Paul Townend should get it right on him on this occasion.

And just a quick word about the Cheltenham Gold Cup, following the exploits of Silviniaco Conti and Sir Des Champs last weekend.

I watched the Hennessy at Leopardstown from Newbury and formed the impression that the extra two furlong of the Gold Cup are made for Sir Des Champs.

Silviniaco Conti jumped and travelled great at Newbury, but did get tired. Paul assures me there will be buckets of improvement to come.

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