By Brendan O’Brien
Ruby Walsh has no worries about his physical readiness for next week’s Cheltenham Festival as he brings 15 weeks out of the saddle to an end tomorrow aboard the Willie Mullins-trained Lareena in the thurles.ie Maiden Hurdle.
The 38-year old broke a leg falling from Let’s Dance in Punchestown in md-November and has a handful of other potential rides lined up Friday and on Saturday to work out the rust before he seeks to extend his record of 56 winners at the famous Cotswolds meet.
“I’m going back to work,” he said in his role as Paddy Power ambassador in their Dublin HQ yesterday evening. “Ah, just excited. It’s great to be back. Awayinthewest will be hard to beat but you have to start somewhere. (Lareena) has been second her last two runs and she seems to be improving.
"She is a handy little mare and she jumps well. Hopefully she can get around and I can move on to Leopardstown on Friday or Gowran on Saturday and then get to Cheltenham, where I want to be, walking into the parade ring for the Supreme Novices’ (next Tuesday).”
Walsh has always declared with some certainty that he would be fit again in time for the festival but his plans to return to the saddle last week were put on ice thanks to the Siberian blast that struck the country. An annoyance, he insisted. A storm in a teacup.
“If I didn’t have to ride at all (before Cheltenham) I wouldn’t. It wouldn’t bother me. What difference is three rides going to make than none wouldn’t have? I’m not exactly going to ride 30 races. It’ll be great to get back and get a feel for it alright.
“But I’d say it’s probably harder working, riding out than it is race riding, getting on multiple horses in one hour compared to one ride every half-an-hour at the races, going much slower and longer distances. Physically, you probably do more riding at home than you do at a race.”
Match fitness? Doesn’t appear to concern him.
The logic is sound enough. The horse is the one doing the running, he pointed out. Walsh’s role, that of all jockeys, is to be the tactician even if there is a certain amount of physical exertion involved. Then again, even the Gold Cup is run in well under seven minutes.
“That’s not a huge length of time,” he said.
“So, physically you’d be fit enough. It’s about mental sharpness, awareness. Is a fresh mind as good as a stale mind, or better? Who knows? I’ll find out. The last time I came back I hadn’t much riding done (and won on) Al Ferof, Hurricane Fly and Quevega.
“I’d settle for that now.”
That was in 2011, when he returned from a break to the same leg.
Walsh has plenty to keep his brain sharp until Tuesday. He spoke for over half-an-hour yesterday about his various options over the four days of the festival. His biggest decision between now and next week is whether to opt for Douvan or Min in the Champion Chase.
“There’s huge pros and cons for both. Obviously Douvan hasn’t run in 12 months so do you ride Min who has had three runs this year? He only lost a race in a steward’s room so you could say he is technically unbeaten over fences.”
He described it as the toss of a coin. Both are impressing in the run-in but the choice is complicated by the fact that whichever one he chooses will face the tallest of orders in having to overcome Altior. And he seems similarly perplexed by the options in front of him for the Gold Cup.
“The (greatest) potential in a Grade One race is probably Killultagh Vic but the improver could be Total Recall,” he explained. “And, I dunno, I just always had it my head that there was a Gold Cup in Djakadam.”