Jockey Ruby Walsh believes young pretender Our Conor has something to prove when he takes on Hurricane Fly in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29.
Walsh admits the Dessie Hughes-trained Our Conor looked potentially top-class when running away with the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but that taking on a two-times Champion Hurdle victor is a different matter altogether.
“Our Conor looked like an exceptional juvenile. The way he won the Triumph was breathtaking, the way he travelled through the race, but this is a big step up for him,” Walsh said yesterday.
“He’s only a four-year-old taking on an older, hardened horse like Hurricane Fly. It will be a big step up for Our Conor.
“He looks potentially like he’ll make it, but he’ll have to prove he can.”
On potential contenders for Hurricane Fly’s Champion Hurdle crown, Walsh was impressed by The New One’s victory in the StanJames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.
“I thought The New One was very good. You had to like the way he quickened up from the last. He’s a very good horse,” he said.
Walsh is also excited at the prospect of riding Champagne Fever the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day.
Walsh is a big fan of the dual Cheltenham Festival winner, who made all the running on his debut of fences when easily beating Corbally Ghost by four lengths at Punchestown last month.
Walsh predicts fireworks from the Willie Mullins-trained grey when he goes for a fifth Grade One success in the two-mile-one-furlong contest.
“He’s a good jumper and he’s an athletic horse who likes to bowl along and get on with his business,” said Walsh.
“Defy Logic is also a front runner in that race over Christmas, so I’m sure there will be no hiding place for those behind us.
“I really like Champagne Fever. I think he’s a very good horse.
“I think he has the pace to win at two (miles), like all good horses, but I wouldn’t be worried about him getting four if he had to.
“Good horses have to have pace, staying horses have to have pace.”
Meanwhile, Moscow Mannon is set to make his debut over fences and first start for Henry De Bromhead in the Navan Racecourse Membership Beginners Chase on Saturday.
The seven-year-old won three bumpers for Downpatrick-based Brian Hamilton a couple of seasons ago and finished fourth behind Champagne Fever in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival.
He made a decent start to his jumping career last season, winning a novice hurdle at Navan before running well behind the likes of Annie Power and, most recently, Un De Sceaux at the Punchestown Festival.
De Bromhead is pleased to have added the talented gelding to his string and is looking forward to seeing how he fares over the larger obstacles at Navan this weekend.
“He’s grand and the plan is to go there. He’s a nice horse. We’ll see how he gets on,” said De Bromhead.
Moscow Mannon’s potential opponents include Willie Mullins’ high-class juvenile hurdler Blood Cotil, last seen beating stable companion Diakali in an Auteuil Grade Three event in May.
Elsewhere, Charles Byrnes will keep a check on the weather before deciding whether to keep Arnaud on the go.
The five-year-old made a triumphant return from a six-month break after two wins over fences with a smooth victory over hurdles at Downpatrick on Friday.
However, Arnaud is best on decent ground and with conditions easing, the Co Limerick trainer is making no definite decisions about his next run.
“We were very pleased with his run the last day. He did it well,” said Byrnes.
“He’ll probably go back over fences but we have no firm plan at the minute.
“It is unlikely he will run over Christmas. The ground’s getting soft. If the ground stayed good I may enter him at Limerick, but we are starting to get an awful lot of rain here now.”
Byrnes revealed Domination could make his chasing debut in the spring.
The six-year-old disappointed on his latest start when well-beaten in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October, but had previously been in sparkling form with wins on the Flat and over hurdles.
“He’s on a break at the moment. You won’t see him until April. He might start over fences. We schooled him before we left him off,” said Byrnes.
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