Ruby Walsh is confident Hurricane Fly will finally “show England what he’s shown Ireland” at Cheltenham next month and win a third Champion Hurdle.
Despite winning the Champion Hurdle twice in the last three seasons there remains a perception the 10-year-old has not yet been seen at his imperious best at Prestbury Park.
Walsh was asked about the issue at a question and answers session with Irish Examiner racing correspondent Pat Keane at the Clarion Hotel in Cork yesterday and said that despite the fact that last year Hurricane Fly won back the title he surrendered to Rock On Ruby at the 2012 Festival, he felt he had erred.
“He was too free the first year. I sat too far back on him the second year, he wasn’t 100% and last year I shouldn’t have followed the ones in front,” Walsh recalled. “They were going too fast and I followed them. I shouldn’t have. Racing is about pace, about judgment. I knew they were going too fast. I should have backed my own judgment and stayed where I was but instead I was thinking of all the criticism I got the year before and I kept following them. That was the mistake I made and the horse got me out of it. It won’t happen again.
“If I hadn’t followed the pace last year I’d have arrived turning in hard on the bridle and he’d have blown everybody away. But he still managed to win. I don’t think I’ve done things right on him at Cheltenham. The day I’ll get it right, he’ll show England what he’s shown Ireland.”
This year’s race looks a significantly tougher proposition than recent renewals but Walsh feels the fact Hurricane Fly has this season twice seen off two of the contenders for his throne in Our Conor and Jezki will stand to him.
“I think he’s in really good form, he’s dug in twice to win, beaten Our Conor and Jezki in Leopardstown and I think the two harder races than he usually would have had is going to stand to him and I think he’s an outstanding chance,” Walsh said.
One of the big pre-Festival conundrums facing punters is Annie Power. The unbeaten mare holds entries for the Champion Hurdle, the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle and the World Hurdle but trainer Willie Mullins remains non-committal on her Festival target. His stable jockey was singing from the same hymn sheet yesterday.
“She’ll run in whatever race Willie thinks she’ll win. She’s in great form. She looks really well, she’s done nothing wrong. I’d love to sit here and say she’s running in A, B or C but I don’t know and the way Willie Mullins works it will be ten o’clock on Sunday March 9 when he either has to declare her for the Champion Hurdle or he doesn’t declare her – that’s when he’ll decide. That’s the way he does things.”
Mullins recently hinted this year’s Champion Hurdle might be a year too soon for the hugely exciting Un de Sceaux. Walsh admits he has similar reservations.
“I don’t think he’s going to go but I don’t know. I’m only reading between the lines like everybody else. He is a horse with a huge future, a very, very exciting horse but is it the right thing for the horse to do? I wouldn’t be so sure. He’s mentally touched; he’s a bit out there. The worry would be if you revved him up for it — he might win — but I don’t think you’d be able to do anything with him next year. If you stepped him into that arena at this stage I’m not sure what you’d have left.”
Silviniaco Conti was one of the big what if stories of last year’s Festival, falling three out when looking a real danger under Walsh in the Gold Cup.
The King George winner will be ridden by Noel Fehily this year but Walsh holder Bobs Worth will be a tough nut to crack.
“He was travelling well,” Walsh recalled of Silviniaco Conti’s run last year. “Looking at the video you’d say he was going to win, I wasn’t so sure on his back. I was happy but I wasn’t exuding confidence. I still think Bobs Worth is the one they all have to beat. At Leopardstown at Christmas was the first time I thought Bobs Worth was a really good horse. I loved the way he quickened up from the last and I think he’s the one they’ll have to beat in the Gold Cup.”
And for those looking for a Dark Horse, Walsh nominated Blood Cotil (available at 16/1) in the Coral Cup on day two of the Festival.
“I think Blood Cotil in the Coral Cup is a great each-way bet. At a massive price he’s a great chance. If you’re big into form, he should have 12 stone in the Coral Cup but he’s still running off the same mark, I think he’s a great shout.”
Don’t say you weren’t told.
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