Ruby can’t come back soon enough

LESS than a year ago, prior to Cheltenham, Paul Nicholls was in Cork for a Festival preview night at Fermoy.

Shortly before proceedings began, I asked him if he would oblige and do a Cheltenham story for this newspaper.

He could not have been more accommodating and duly came to a quiet corner of the pub and answered every question openly and honestly.

I have long found that the more people achieve in life the fewer chips they seem to have on their shoulder and Nicholls really was a joy.

During a very interesting chat, I recalled to Nicholls the days when he was attempting to take on the Martin Pipe-Tony McCoy combination with, essentially, one hand tied behind his back. This was a reference to the fact Nicholls’ horses were often ridden by journeymen and he would have had a better chance firing a pea-shooter at a tank. It was an opinion with which he didn't disagree.

Nicholls soon realised he had to fight fire with fire and, if he was ever going to be able to match the legendary Pipe, then had to have a top man on his side. And so he eventually moved for Ruby Walsh and, as we all know by now, this proved to be a perfect marriage and they have enjoyed enormous success.

Walsh, of course, is currently on the sidelines, but Nicholls’ choice of Noel Fehily to replace him, temporarily, was an inspired one.

That was until Fehily too bit the dust and so, for the moment, Nicholls is left scrambling for what he can get.

And it is not working out, with many journeymen, names like Scholfield , Skelton, Popham and Mahon, appearing next to horses trained by him.

It almost reminds one of the bad old days, when it was Pipe and McCoy versus Nicholls and say Joe Tizzard.

Joe is still riding, and is the partner of the potentially high-class Cue Card, but even he would never have claimed to be in the top ten of National Hunt jockeys.

So what prompted this kind of reminiscing? Well, it has to do with a horse called Brampour in a juvenile hurdle at Kempton last Saturday. Ruby Walsh, in his Saturday column in the Examiner, told us this was a horse Nicholls loved and that punters could do worse than have a few quid on him for the Triumph Hurdle.

I didn’t back him on Saturday, or for Cheltenham, but did take more than a passing interest in his performance. It was his debut over jumps, but he did possess some smart form on the level in France.

He was ridden by Harry Skelton, and if ever Nicholls must have yearned for Walsh, or Fehily, then it had to be on this occasion. Poor Harry, with due respect to him, had no idea what was required. Okay, he wasn’t helped by Brampour taking a keen hold, but that wouldn’t amount to much of a defence.

Brampour was shown the whole of Kempton and appeared to be in charge for all of the two mile journey.

There was no possibility of him getting home and the fact he was still in contention jumping the final flight was a miracle.

The Racing Post analysis, written by a Ron Wood, said he was now “impossible to fancy for the Triumph Hurdle”.

I’d say Mr Wood knows a lot more about English racing than I do, so one has to take that on board. But I still can’t wait for Brampour to reappear, obviously with a change of pilot.

THERE are plenty of people willing to give Kauto Star the benefit of the doubt, following his below-par effort in the King George at Kempton last Saturday.

He remains a high-class chaser, of course, but only romantics could now envisage him playing a leading part in the Gold Cup.

This was his third disappointing effort in-a-row. He had a particularly bad experience in last year's Gold Cup, was less than impressive on his reappearance at Down Royal and Kempton was confirmation that he is yesterday’s horse.

Talk of retirement, though, is surely premature. He's still well capable of winning his share of races and the world doesn't start and end with Cheltenham!

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