Ruby Walsh: Gold Cup call not ‘life or death’

Ruby Walsh admits he faces a Gold Cup dilemma but insists choosing between Djakadam and Vautour won’t be a “life or death” decision.
Ruby Walsh: Gold Cup  call not ‘life or death’

Djakadam chased home Coneygree in last year’s renewal while Vautour ran his rivals ragged in the JLT Novices’ Chase.

However, they will return to Cheltenham with questions to answer after Djakadam fell in his prep race in January while Vautour was nailed on the line in the King George at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day, a defeat that raised questions over his stamina.

Walsh has faced the same dilemma before when he had the choice of Kauto Star and Denman and knows a decision will eventually have to be taken.

“Vautour was to me the best horse in training leaving Cheltenham last year,” he said at last night’s Irish Examiner sporting event at the Everyman.

“He looks in good order. It’s a decision to make. I had to make it twice before, got it wrong once, got it right once.

“But it won’t be life or death either way.”

Pressed on his likely mount by Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, Walsh said: “LVG doesn’t pick his team until hour before kick off.

“You don’t make it until you have to, 12pm Wednesday week.”

Walsh’s comments came after Rich Ricci said the Gold Cup is the only option for Vautour at this month’s Cheltenham Festival.

There has been speculation Vautour may be aimed at the Ryanair Chase instead.

However, his owner has made it clear that is not an option and claimed Vautour will not travel to Cheltenham if the Gold Cup is ruled out.

“We want to win the Gold Cup and if for whatever reason Vautour wasn’t going to run in the Gold Cup he would stay at home,” Ricci said.

Meanwhile, seven-times champion jumps jockey John Francome has stood over his belief that Victoria Pendleton is an “accident waiting to happen” on a racecourse.

Francome claimed last month that the double Olympic champion cyclist “can’t ride” and wants “saving from herself” after she was unseated from Pacha Du Polder on her first start over regulation fences at Fakenham.

Pendleton, 35, went some way to silencing the naysayers at Wincanton on Wednesday when she made all of the running aboard the same horse to claim a first victory as a jockey.

Her maiden success sharply brought back into focus the possibility of riding the Paul Nicholls-trained Pacha Du Polder in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham on March 18.

But when asked if he felt Pendleton was still an accident waiting to happen in the saddle, Francome replied: “Absolutely, yes.”

He added: “Every time she gets round in one piece, I’m absolutely delighted, but I’ll leave it the people who are advising her.

“She won, and I’ve done nothing but wish her well.”

Nicholls now believes Pendleton is “more than qualified” to compete at Cheltenham, with a final decision set to be announced on Monday by a team of well-informed judges that also include AP McCoy and jumps guru Yogi Breisner.

Pacha Du Polder’s owner Andy Stewart expects both horse and rider to be in action in what is widely recognised as the Gold Cup for amateur riders. He said: “She did exactly what Paul Nicholls and Tony McCoy told her to do at Wincanton.

“I’m not the decision-maker, but the committee will get their heads together on Monday — she is also riding in point-to-points this weekend — and they will decide.

“The horse is entered at Cheltenham, though, and it is highly likely it will be a yes.”

Staying on the Cheltenham theme, leading amateur jockey Derek O’Connor has switched allegiances from Native River to Minella Rocco in the National Hunt Chase.

The Irish rider had been pencilled in to partner the Colin Tizzard-trained six-year-old, but he will instead get the leg-up on Jonjo O’Neill’s ante-post favourite, owned by JP McManus.

Minella Rocco is as low a s 9-2 for the four-miler after he finished a close second in the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot on his last start in February.

O’Connor, who won the race in 2011 on Gordon Elliott’s Chicago Grey, said: “I’m delighted to get the opportunity to ride a good horse like that.

“He was a very good hurdler, and if he can produce his best form over fences then hopefully he’ll have a very good chance.

“I was delighted to get the call to originally ride Native River, and I hate to let connections down, but Minella Rocco is favourite for the four-miler.”

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