RUBY WALSH: Quel Esprit can rebound in Champion Novice

A year ago I was injured, working for RTE and watching Willie Mullins and Paul Townend combine to land winner after winner at Punchestown.

As I prepared to put this together yesterday, on my way to ride at Limerick, the thought did cross my mind that getting injured again, and missing another Punchestown, would be less than pleasant.

Thankfully, I got out of Limerick unscathed and it is now a case, hopefully, of all guns blazing for the next five days.

I walked the track at Punchestown the other day and it is in fine condition, with a great sod and grass. They have done an excellent job with the watering and the ground will be safe, but certainly won’t be on the slow side.

My hopes for the week are quite simple, to ride a couple of winners and to leave the place on Saturday in reasonably good shape.

I think Quel Esprit, in the Grade 1 novice chase, is my best chance of a winner today. When we began to school Willie Mullins’ horses last October he was a stand-out and it is hard to believe he has fallen in two of his three races over fences.

He was still going well in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, when hitting the deck at the third last. Willie has given him a nice break since then and Quel Esprit is now going really well at home. The trip and track will not be a problem.

Loosen My Load has been knocking on the door, but to me has been found wanting when meeting better company.

I thought Davy Russell gave Quito De La Roque an inspired ride to win, on what should have been unfavourably fast ground, at Aintree.

The horse could have been on the floor once or twice, Davy was brilliant and very strong in the finish.

Reve De Sivola doesn’t like jumping fences and is one I definitely won’t be tracking, while Western Charmer had a very hard race when second in the Irish National at Fairyhouse.

The highlight, of course, is the Champion Chase and, while I’m as optimistic as any jockey riding, I’ll be surprised if I figure at the business end aboard J’y Vole.

She ran a cracker behind Albertas Run in last year’s Ryanair at Cheltenham, but hasn’t sparkled at all this season.

Punchestown has to be delighted to attract the first four in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, Sizing Europe, Big Zeb, Captain Cee Bee and Golden Silver respectively, but it is far from certain those placings will be confirmed.

This whole contest revolves around which Sizing Europe turns up. He was superb when winning at Cheltenham, but is either breathtaking or else runs a stinker.

Big Zeb chased him home and I’m not sure he has been at his best this season. Golden Silver mugged Big Zeb near the line at at Punchestown in January. Barry Geraghty was critical of the way he rode Big Zeb then, but maybe was being a bit hard on himself.

Captain Cee Be is a really good sort on his day and he was partnered by Tony McCoy at Cheltenham.

I was chatting to Tony recently about that race and he felt he would do things a bit differently, if given the chance again.

It is well documented how well Paul Townend gets on with Golden Silver and they were impressive winners of this race last year. I won’t be surprised if they do it again.

I start on Ottestown Lady in the Champion Novice Hurdle, but again we are up against it.

She found two and a half miles too far at Fairyhouse and this is more suitable. I’d imagine her owners would be delighted if she was to get some black type and I’ll be trying to achieve that for them.

This is a puzzling race. Hidden Universe disappointed at Cheltenham, but will love the ground. Rathlin had a very hard race at Fairyhouse only eight days ago and this is a quick reappearance.

Shot From The Hip was a good bumper horse, but I don’t think has delivered over hurdles. Oilily idled a bit when second at Aintree, so I’m going to leave this for someone else to sort out!

I’m on Wee Giant in a handicap hurdle and he needed the race when third at Ballinrobe last week. But this is his first handicap and it looks a big ask.

Tony Martin’s Nearest The Pin went up 12lbs for winning at Fairyhouse, but blew in and is the one to beat.

I fancy last year’s winner, Zest For Life to repeat the feat in the first and, if you’re tempted to do a forecast on the race, then put in my father’s Wedger Pardy.


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