Walsh starts with an interesting Prospect

Ruby Walsh gets his challenge to be named top festival jockey at Cheltenham for a fifth successive time underway today on board Prospect Wells in the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Walsh is expected to have a good opening day with Hurricane Fly and Quevega hot favourites to win the Champion Hurdle and Mares’ Hurdle respectively, while Al Ferof is not without hope in the Arkle.

Prospect Wells is less fancied but trainer Paul Nicholls rates him “a lively outsider’’ in the day’s opening race.

The seven-year-old was beaten a neck by Jessie Harrington’s leading fancy Steps To Freedom at the track last November and though he followed that with victory at Newbury, he has been beaten twice since, most recently when disappointing in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January.

The trainer said: “Prospect Wells had a breathing operation and wants decent ground. He was beaten by Steps To Freedom, but he’s fresh and well and is a lively outsider.”

Walsh teams up with Prospect Wells rather than ride one of three runners for his other retained stable, that of Willie Mullins.

“Midnight Game looks the obvious one of the three and the ground will suit, but his last bit of work was not sparkling,” Mullins said.

“We just hope he fires on the day. I think the ground will be a big help to him.

“The ground will suit Allure Of Illusion and I think Simenon deserves a crack.

“We won this with Tourist Attraction at 25-1 and Ebaziyan was 40-1 and if you’re not in, you can’t win.”

Elsewhere Nicky Henderson expects Darlan to put the fall he had at Newbury behind him today.

The JP McManus-owned five-year-old was travelling well when he came down at the second-last flight in the Betfair Hurdle, won by Champion Hurdle hope Zarkandar.

He had been unbeaten up to that point, and connections are full of hope Darlan can put the record straight today.

“How Darlan took that fall I’ve no idea, as he schooled well after Newbury,” said Henderson. “I do think Darlan has that touch of class. Tetlami, our other runner in the Supreme, you’d call a good horse but Darlan might be a touch better.”

Darlan will be ridden by Tony McCoy, who admits he would not change mounts for anything else in the race.

“Darlan was going very well but it was a long way out at Newbury. Who knows what would have happened, but I wouldn’t swap him,” said the champion jockey.

Jockey Robbie Power is looking forward to a decent show from Steps To Freedom.

“The plan’s gone perfectly well with him, and he won over course and distance around there in November, which at Cheltenham is a major help,” he said.

“We know he handles the track and he has been going well at home.

“For every race at Cheltenham you need a little bit of good luck, he’s a tough horse off the flat and had plenty of hustle and bustle in the bumper at Aintree last year.”

Dermot Weld has only had one festival winner, Rare Holiday in the Triumph Hurdle back in 1990, but has a leading fancy in Galileo’s Choice.

“He’d never want it too firm, he’s been reasonably effective on soft ground,” said the Curragh trainer. “He’s won two from three and knows his job but Cheltenham is Cheltenham and it remains to be seen whether he has the experience.”

Charles Byrnes is upbeat about the prospects of Trifolium, although all his runs so far have come on soft or heavy going. “He’s in good shape, travelled well and settled in well, so we’re hoping for a good run,” said the Limerick trainer. “Our horse is unproven on better ground, but we think he’ll handle it okay. It’s an open race, so fingers crossed.”

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