We are at the halfway stage and I am starting to feel that riding may have been the easiest way to survive the Cheltenham Festival, writes Ruby Walsh
We are at the halfway stage and I am starting to feel that riding may have been the easiest way to survive the Cheltenham Festival.
Ok, not literally, I have absolutely no chance of ending up in Gloucester General this year- I hope - but by God this place is stamina-sapping. I was laughing at Anthony Daly’s take on this place last week, but Dalo, I hear you now.
There was great racing again yesterday, and some unbelievable finishes. Envoi Allen delivered. I thought Davy Russell was very cool on him, for a horse there was so much pressure on. I thought he gave him a super ride. The RSA was a great race to watch, with Champ coming from the clouds.
Minella Indo lost a bit of momentum at the last but he should have made more effort to jump it better than he did.
I was delighted for Harry Skelton winning the Champion Chase. When I was in Paul Nicholls’ he started there as a conditional jockey. He’s a grafter, a really, really nice fella, and I was delighted to see him ride the winner of a race of that magnitude.
And then for the bumper. When all else fails, Willie always wins the bumper. It was the wrong one for me, but nevertheless great for Willie and for Paul.
Chacun Pour Soi having to be pulled out of the Champion Chase in the morning was a sickener but, as Willie always says, ‘keep going forward, keep looking for the next race because tomorrow’s a new day’.
And looking ahead to today, what was known as the JLT and is now the Marsh was kind to me in years gone by and Willie will be hoping it stays as kind to him. He runs a big team here and has three live chances of adding to his tally.
Melon, back in cheekpieces, will outrun his odds, and Tornado Flyer does not have that much ground to find with Faugheen. But, of course, Faugheen is the one people will be talking about.
At 12 years of age, he’s trying to become the first horse of his age to win a novice chase here, but age is only a number - says the 40-year-old not wishing to acknowledge his advancing years!
To watch the old guy at home there is no way you would think he’s coming towards the end of his career. His enthusiasm, energy and hunger for work is incredible. He is in terrific form and if he can win it may just blow the roof off the stand. Bapaume is Willie’s fourth runner but he has to leave a very poor run the last day behind him.
The Pertemps Final is a very competitive race but The Storyteller and Relegate make appeal to me, and whilst tipping two horses in one race may not make much sense, I really can’t split the two of them. Both were eye-catching in their respective qualifiers and it’s easy to see either stepping up to the mark here.
Frodon, last year’s winner, is back to defend his crown but I feel this is a stronger contest.
Both Min and A Plus Tard are quality horses and I think they will battle out the finish. My heart is obviously with Min, but my head is telling me that his finishing efforts here over shorter distances in the past may make him vulnerable.
A Plus Tard was spectacular here last year when he won a handicap of a much lower mark. This, of course, is a Grade 1 and a whole different ball game, but I have been impressed with what I have seen of this horse this year and I think his finishing effort could just be too strong for Min.
The Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle is the feature event and it probably has the star name too in Paisley Park. He was brilliant winner last year in what I think was a stronger race than this year’s, so he will be hard to beat.
Outside him, Willie has two runners in Penhill and Bacardys. Penhill won this race two years ago but hasn’t managed to scale those heights since. Bacardys has had a little break since a poor run at Christmas and seems to be in great form, therefore making him one to chance each-way.
Willie runs Livelovelaugh, Blazer and Robin De Foret in the fifth race, the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate.
Willie’s record in handicap chases at this festival is far from outstanding and I think La Bague Au Roi could be the value here, but I do fancy one of Willie’s four in the mares’ novice hurdle.
Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Melody won the Solerina Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse in January, which is a good pointer for this race, but I like Colreevy, who was second that day and I just think on this stiffer track she could turn the form around.
The last is the Kim Muir and Patrick Mullins riding Fitzhenry over Cabaret Queen catches my eye.