Charlie Swan expects Ruby Walsh to desert Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, despite his historic fifth victory in the Irish equivalent on Sunday.
Swan partnered Istabraq to four wins in the Leopardstown Grade One between 1998 and 2001, as well as steering Aidan O’Brien’s charge to three triumphs in the big one at Cheltenham.
Walsh now faces the difficult decision of whether to keep faith in Hurricane Fly as he goes in search of a third Cheltenham crown, or to partner stablemate Faugheen, the red-hot favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
But Swan believes there can be no room for sentiment.
He said: “If the ground is in any way good, I think Ruby will probably ride Faugheen.
“You’ve got to ride the horse with the best chance on the day.
“If the ground came up soft you’d give him (Hurricane Fly) a chance, but you’d say the chances of that are probably slim.
“The ground always seems to dry out at that time of year.
“If it was to come up very testing, though, Hurricane Fly would have a right chance.”
Swan, who recently announced his retirement from the training ranks, heaped praise on trainer Willie Mullins and Walsh for keeping Hurricane Fly at the top of his game for so long.
He said: “It’s a great achievement and he’s a great horse.
“It wasn’t looking great for him down the back, but it shows you what a good horse he is that he managed to get it back.
“It’s fantastic for Willie and all his team who deserve a lot of credit for keeping him sound for so long.
“Ruby rides him so well. It’s all right having a good horse, but you need to give him a good ride and Ruby always rides him with loads of confidence.”
Swan is unsurprisingly not keen on comparing the two hurdling greats.
He said: “I suppose Istabraq was a bit like Jezki, in that he was better on better ground.
“He handled soft, but he was definitely better on better ground.
“It’s very hard to compare the two of them, being from different generations.
“They are just two great horses.”
Mullins reports Hurricane Fly none the worse the morning after his brilliant victory at Leopardstown
The countdown to Cheltenham can now begin in earnest. “Hurricane Fly is fine this morning,” said the County Carlow handler.
“That (Champion Hurdle) is where we’re heading and we’re looking forward to it.”
As far as the riding situation is concerned, Mullins would not be pressed.
He said: “We’re just enjoying the moment.
“Those are problems for another day.”
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