Ruby Walsh makes winning return ahead of Cheltenham Festival

Ruby Walsh made a successful return from his lengthy spell on the sidelines when steering Lareena to a clear-cut victory at Thurles.

Walsh had been out of action since suffering a broken leg in a fall from Let's Dance at Punchestown on November 18, but has always maintained he would be back in time for the Cheltenham Festival, where he has been leading rider 11 times.

He had hoped to come back last weekend before the weather intervened and instead made his return just five days before the start of next week's showpiece meeting aboard the Willie Mullins-trained Lareena in the Maiden Hurdle.

Ruby Walsh with the winning connections of Lareena after winning the Maiden Hurdle. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Runner-up on her last two starts, the five-year-old was the 11-8 favourite to open her account and travelled well throughout on the heels of the leaders.

Walsh allowed Lareena to stride to the front after jumping the second flight from the finish and although market rival Awayinthewest looked a big threat approaching the last, the favourite was away from it the quicker and kept up the gallop to score by five lengths.

Walsh said: "She did it well and jumped really well. Her last run was a good run and the winner then has won since.

"I thought she might struggle to beat Pat Fahy's mare (Awayinthewest) but she had fitness on her side and ground it out well and pinged the last."

Regarding his own fitness, the jockey added: "I thought I was all right anyway - she won didn't she!

"We'll see what Willie decides to do (over the coming days before Cheltenham) but I don't mind, and I'll do whatever Willie wants me to do.

"When you're back you're back and he's my boss now again!"

- PA

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