Ruby raring to go on Festival fancies

Ruby Walsh has an enviable book of rides at Cheltenham as he bids to add to his record tally of winners at the Festival.

With his mounts including many punters idea of bankers in the shape of Hurricane Fly, Quevega and Big Buck’s, the Irish ace is a short price to be top jockey for a seventh time.

He has already amassed a total of 32 Festival winners, overhauling two years ago the record of 25 set by the late Pat Taaffe.

The latter is remembered for his association with three-times Gold Cup hero Arkle and Walsh has built up a similar relationship with Kauto Star.

They have already won two Betfred Gold Cups, but their prospects of going for a third depend on whether the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding recovers well enough from a schooling fall to take his chance.

“I hope Kauto Star gets there 100%, but whether he’ll win or not he’ll be a great ride,” Walsh told Racing UK.

“Realistically, I think over that trip Long Run will be very hard to beat.

“It’s not Cheltenham that suits Long Run, it’s the trip.”

He gets the leg up on Kauto Star’s half-brother Kauto Stone in the sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase and is expecting a big run.

“I’ll probably ride Kauto Stone in the Champion Chase and I think he’ll finish second,” he said.

Walsh, who has the pick of rides from the Nicholls team and Irish trainer Willie Mullins, took the Stan James Champion Hurdle on Hurricane Fly for the latter last year.

And the Mullins stable star is a hot favourite to repeat the trick next Tuesday.

“He was a really good winner last year, but probably travelled a bit too keen for me on the day,” Walsh said.

“Luckily enough, he was good enough to get away with it.

“He’s been good ever since and fingers crossed he gets there in the same sort of form.”

Walsh reports Quevega from the Mullins camp to be in fine shape as she tries to win the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle for the fourth year running.

“She’s in good nick. I schooled her last week and she jumped well. She’s been working well,” he said.

“She’s a bit of a lady. Willie looks after her and she’s in good old form at home.

“Obviously she (Unaccompanied) would be a danger if she runs. She beat Thousand Stars at Christmas and she’d be in there with a challenge.”

The Nicholls-trained Big Buck’s also seeks to land the Ladbrokes World Hurdle for a fourth time, with Walsh full of praise for the stayer who goes for his 16th win in a row.

“He’s a very good horse. The more winning he has done, the easier he is to ride,” he said. “You definitely wouldn’t get off him. He used to stop when he got to the front and he used to idle – he’s not like that anymore.

“He’s an unbelievable stayer.”

Walsh is hopeful Nicholls’ Al Ferof can give the exciting novice Sprinter Sacre a race in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy.

“He likes good ground, he schooled last week and he’s in great form,” Walsh added.

“It does hinge on Sprinter Sacre, who has looked breathtaking.

“If I can keep on his tail, there’ll be nothing finishing faster than Al Ferof.”

Walsh feels that Al Ferof’s form is stronger than Sprinter Sacre's last run where he beat French Opera and I'm So Lucky by six lengths at Newbury in a Grade2 without coming off the bridle.

He told Racing UK: “Sprinter Sacre was breathtaking, but to me he beat two handicappers. Al Ferof on the other hand ran in a proper Grade 1. I thought it was a great run and that he would benefit greatly from it.”

Walsh went on to nominate Blackstairmountain, winner of the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown in December, as the best each-way chance in the Arkle, explaining: “It will be fairly frantic from the word go and that gives a horse like Blackstairmountain a chance to come from the back.”

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