PAT KEANE: Two chances of Ruby Walsh buckling under Cheltenham pressure

There he was heading to the final fence at Navan last Sunday and you were thinking this fellow won’t be far away at Cheltenham.

Yes, Black Hercules had a Grade 2, three-mile novice chase in the bag when disaster reared its ugly head at that fateful obstacle.

He was in the process of producing a really impressive pre-Cheltenham trial, before crashing out of the contest and it really was far from ideal.

Willie Mullins trains Black Hercules and he has, despite continuing to bang in the winners, had a rather trying time of late, the situation being greatly exacerbated by the defection of Champion Hurdle hot pot Faugheen on Wednesday from the Champion Hurdle.

Black Hercules now has to head to the festival on the back of a fall, as has Mullins’ Cheltenham Gold Cup candidate, Djakadam. But at least they are still in the mix.

Djakadam put up arguably the best Gold Cup trial seen this season when slamming Valseur Lido by 12 lengths in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown in early December.

Subsequent events revealed that to be a cracking effort, but Djakadam followed by falling at the tenth at Cheltenham late last month, which very much raises a question mark against him.

And then there was Mullins’ Killultagh Vic at Leopardstown, who made a shocking blunder at the last, before being galvanised to get back up to win in amazing circumstances.

But, of course, Killultagh Vic, a little later, was found to have suffered an injury, most likely at Leopardstown that day, and has been ruled out of Cheltenham and for the rest of the season.

All three horses were partnered by Ruby Walsh, who right now, let’s face it, has more or less cornered Murphy’s Law - if something can go wrong it will.

Take Thurles on January 28, for instance, and Walsh’s woes that afternoon. In a mares’ beginners chase he was riding the favourite, Uranna, who was holding every chance when getting it all wrong two out. She was eventually beaten into second by the ill-fated Carrigmoorna Rock.

Then in a Listed chase, Walsh’s mount, Avant Tout, was closing in on the ultra-smart winner, Smashing, when falling at the third last.

He rounded off his day aboard the 4-11 shot, Arbre De Vie, in a beginners’ chase, who failed to reel in front running Montys Meadow, after being almost on the floor at the sixth last.

Walsh’s most high profile exit, however, came in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown earlier this month off Valseur Lido.

I actually backed Valseur Lido, as did a couple of punting pals, on my recommendation, and he was given an absolutely superb drive by Walsh.

Sadly, though, the pair were on a different wavelength at the final fence and Walsh went out the side door and unseated.

His bad luck, and don’t have the slightest doubt in the world but that’s what it is, has been the subject of a fair bit of debate of late.

Plenty have had their say on social media, and elsewhere, and there is no disputing the pilot is currently very much in the spotlight, even more so than normal.

Indeed, the Racing Post entered the fray this week when wheeling out Peter Scudamore, what a powerful rider he was, who had no hesitation defending Walsh, describing him as “one of the best jockeys I have ever seen.’’

The paper also produced a statistic which said that since January 1, 2005, Walsh has suffered 68 falls or unseats at the last, 31 of which came when in contention for a win.

In any case what it all amounts to is the type of discussion and publicity that could be done without, as he prepares for many massive rides at Cheltenham next month.

So is he likely to curl under the unwanted pressure? There are two chances of that happening, none and you know the other one!

Isn’t it strange how you can see a jockey in a different light, once he gets an opportunity to showcase his talents?

The jockey I have in mind is Sean Flanagan, who has been filling in this season for the injured Paul Carberry on many of the Noel Meade-trained horses.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the majority of jockeys are regarded as being of the journeyman variety and Flanagan surely fitted into that category.

But at Punchestown at the end of last month he gave Meade’s Bonny Kate a beautiful spin to land the valuable three-and-a-half-mile Grand National Trial Handicap Chase.

Then at Navan last Sunday, he was entrusted with the ride aboard Meade’s Snow Falcon in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle.

Snow Falcon found a little trouble in running going to the second last, but Flanagan, who seems to be full of confidence, didn’t panic and had matters well in control in the closing stages.

Let’s just say that right now should his name appear next to the horse you fancy then it wouldn’t make you think twice about having a wager.

In his Racing Post column last Saturday, Willie Mullins was quite positive about the prospects of his Ballycasey at Gowran Park in the afternoon.

In his column in the Examiner, it is fair to say that Ruby Walsh was equally positive about the horse. But as we closed on the off time of the race, Ballycasey drifted to a remarkable 3.4 on the exchanges, which is almost 5-2.

He didn’t run very well, finishing a poor third and only managing to beat a 250-1 no hoper. This game certainly has the capacity to tame lions.


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