Ruby Walsh: Aspire looks capable of towering above rivals in Spring Hurdle

Ruby Walsh: Aspire looks capable of towering above rivals in Spring Hurdle
Aspire Tower: Looks the banker of the Dublin Racing Festival weekend action at Leopardstown. Picture: Healy Racing

So much will happen between lunch time today and dinner time tomorrow that looking backwards to last week and as far back as last weekend seems pointless with how much the future has to offer.

I have never been one who has spent too much time looking backwards anyway, but I will make comment further down the page on one event from last Saturday. Not David Clifford’s equaliser in Croker either as he rose to the challenge of his first game as Kerry captain. If the game ever goes pro, how much will he cost the Mayo lads to buy. You know me: always sitting on the fence!

Dublin in February. Seamus Heaney or Patrick Kavanagh probably wrote a poem about it at some stage, but it won’t have included the Dublin Racing Festival and if they did, it may have mentioned a Five Nations, not a Six.

As a Kildareman, you don’t get many All-Ireland Final weekends in Dublin - one in my lifetime, in fact - but today you don’t need a county alliance or a ticket for Andy Farrell’s first game in charge of Ireland, you don’t need to know what blitz defence or attacking phases are, you just need to turn up in Leopardstown and watch.

Watch the brilliance on offer: Gordon v Willie v Henry, Joseph, Jessica, Noel et al. Paul v Rachael v Davy v Mark and God knows who else. Leopardstown this weekend is like the US National Championships in an Olympic year. These races count.

Who can glide into Cheltenham with the confidence of knowing they are the best? Gordon, of course, will also want a large slice of the prizemoney on offer in his bid to wrestle the trainers crown from Willie. He will have walked to the last hurdle and back 15 times by tomorrow night to watch each race. Away from strangers, hiding his nerves as he walks to and fro from flag-fall to finish.

The significance of that won’t be lost on Willie either and expect him to fire plenty of bullets. He may or may not make the first race today – the nap of the weekend is he won’t make the first on Sunday - but chances are he will be standing square and straight by the number one a few times.

Joseph will probably have a new overcoat with matching scarf and gloves. He will come ready to be pictured with a winner, on time and nerve-free to the naked eye.

But who will dominate in the saddle? Davy could get a fast start on Fury Road and ease any pressure. He says he doesn’t feel much pressure anymore. Maybe so, but if he draws a blank between now and tomorrow evening, there won’t be a queue for the passenger seat in his car.

Paul has a massive choice in the second race, and plenty to make for the weekend. Some he will get right and some he will get wrong.

Min or Chacun or Cilaos? But win, lose or draw, if he gets that one wrong, he has to bury it and move on – it’s too early in the game to be looking back after two races.

Jack will float along like Jack does, never looking to worried about it - youth is a wonderful way of dealing with pressure. Mark won’t have said a word all week (in public anyway) but will have been plotting and thinking his way through each race since Christmas.

But For Henry and Rachel what would a fairy-tale weekend be? Four Grade 1s with Notebook, Honeysuckle, A Plus Tard and Aspire Tower. They will tell you they would take one right now.

They will talk it down, manage expectations - their own - but that is the dream.

Break it down: Notebook beat Fakir D’oudairies at Christmas, so he’s the form horse. A Plus Tard won the Christmas equivalent of this, form horse again. And Honeysuckle is unbeaten, form horse, and Aspire Tower simply is the form horse amongst the four-year-olds.

They will need a rub of the green somewhere and horses are not robots but for now that dream is well and truly alive. Good luck to each all. I am happy not to be taking part but can’t wait to watch.

Anyway, whichever of Fury Road, Elixir D’ainay, Longhouse Poet and Latest Exhibition wins today’s opener will be Ireland’s leading fancy in the Albert Bartlett. It’s a really difficult race to solve but I’ve been impressed with Latest Exhibition.

If Chacun Pour Soi, Cilaos Emery or A Plus Tard have ambitions of being a Champion Chaser, they will have to get up to and then surpass the level Min brings to the table in the Dublin Chase. He sets the standard and has won this race for the last two years.

The Arkle is fascinating. I can see Cash Back, Notebook and Fakir D’oudairies going hammer and tongs and that could set it up for Melon or Bapaume.

Honeysuckle is favourite for the Irish Champion Hurdle, but she’ll have to jump better than she has done in the past. Even though she is unbeaten and has been very impressive, she has never clocked a really good time. I’ve been beating the Klassical Dream drum for a long time but somewhere along the way you have to look at form and, on that, Sharjah is the one to beat.

Buildmeupbuttercup runs in the in the two-mile handicap hurdle and could still be well treated, while the bumper looks a match. I’m a big fan of Appreciate It, but even I’ve been impressed with Eric Bloodaxe.

I don’t have a strong opinion on the Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle which opens tomorrow’s card but, if you pushed me into a selection, I might suggest La Sorelita each-way.

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Aspire Tower runs in the juvenile hurdle and is the nap of the weekend – he looks the one horse you’d say will win.

If Blue Sari hadn’t run at Christmas, I’d say he was a good thing in the two-mile novice hurdle, but he did run, and he bombed out. Mt Leinster was very good the last day but has to improve, as has Asterion Forlonge. Paul has gone for Mt Leinster and he’s a fast horse so should be suited by the track, but I’m all into horses that stay and keep going and Asterion Forlonge fits that bill.

The novice chase looks like Faugheen versus Battleoverdoyen: do I really need to say anything more?

The Gold Cup is a belting race. Delta Work improved from the north and is going in the right direction, but I think he needs to jump as well as he did. Kemboy will improve for the run but will the watered ground suit him? I’m not certain. Presenting Percy could improve for his run at Christmas, but, at 20-1, I think Bellshill, who won the race last year, is the value.

At The Acorn will take beating in the two-five handicap chase, and Carrigeen Lotus could be the one in the Grade 2 mares’ bumper.

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