Ruby Walsh has promised that his head will rule his heart when it comes to making a decision on whether to ride Hurricane Fly or Faugheen in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next Tuesday.
Hurricane Fly is a two-time winner of the race and has won a world record 22 Grade One races, while Faugheen is in his first season out of novice company but is a strong favourite with bookmakers to prevail.
Walsh chose Kauto Star over Denman in similar circumstances in the 2008 Gold Cup and had to look on as the latter galloped away from him up the famous hill.
“That was sore” says the Irish Examiner columnist. “There is nothing worse than making the wrong decision. Those decisions could happen again but it wouldn’t be made for sentiment anyway.
“It is just a horse race. It is not life or death. But when you are a professional you still like to be on the right one.” The weather is likely to be one of the factors Walsh takes into account when he does make his final call, with soft ground certain to suit Hurricane Fly.
Whatever way he goes, the Kildare jockey is satisfied that the 11-year-old legend and his seven-year-old stablemate at Willie Mullins’ Closutton yard are shaping up well ahead of next Tuesday’s feature.
“They are both in great form at home. Hurricane, for me, is the form horse at the moment. Faugheen has the potential. We’ll see how they work in the next few days and we will make a decision then.
“I’m delighted with both of them. Faugheen is working really well, he is a good work horse, so you would be expecting him to. Hurricane Fly is definitely in really good fettle at the moment.”
Meanwhile with just over a week until the start of the Cheltenham Festival, clerk of the course Simon Claisse has not ruled out the possibility of watering during the meeting. While Claisse is content with the current state of the ground, temperatures are set to rise towards the end of the week and with little rain forecast, the ground looks set to dry out.
“The ground on the Old Course which is used for the first two days is good to soft, soft in places and it is the same on the cross-country course,” he said.
“The New Course is slightly quicker and is good to soft.
“We are forecast some heavy showers for the next two days, some wintry but only two to three millimetres in total and then it is due to get significantly warmer towards the end of the week.
“The forecast says it could be 6C or 7C overnight and double figures through the day but there is no sign of any more rain beyond Wednesday.
“It’s looking like Festival week will be warm and dry with chilly nights, but there are currently no signs we’ll see the frost covers.
“Watering through the week is a possibility. We aim to start with ground on the slow side of good, it is difficult to know how fast the ground will dry out, though, so we may need to water through the week which we have done five or six times in the last 14 years.”
Leading Irish amateur Jamie Codd is excited about the prospect of adding to his tally after firming up a couple of rides at the Cheltenham Festival next week. Codd will partner the JP McManusowned Cause Of Causes in the opening day’s National Hunt Chase for trainer Gordon Elliott, while in the Foxhunter Chase on Gold Cup day he is hopeful Liam Kenny’s Vital Plot can make his presence felt after having undergone a wind operation.
The jockey enjoyed his first taste of Festival glory when coaxing the John Quinn-trained Character Building home in front in the 2009 Kim Muir and doubled up in the same race two years later when David Pipe’s Junior ran out a wide-margin winner. Codd has not yet finalised a ride for the Kim Muir, but his services will surely be in demand.
He said: “Hopefully we get through the weekend point-to-pointing and then we’ll head over and it’s obviously exciting.
“Cause Of Causes is a great ride to pick up. He’s a good, tough handicapper and it’s hard to believe he’s still a novice.
“He’s probably vulnerable to an upand- coming novice who’s less exposed, but I’m sure he’ll be a great ride all the same.
“Vital Plot was second to On The Fringe in the Champion Hunters Chase in Punchestown last year and has run in a few point-to-points during the season and won a couple.
“We felt his wind needed looking at so he’s been cauterized and hopefully that will help him.
“I think there’s three weeks between Cheltenham and Aintree this year, so the plan is to run next week and then go for the Fox Hunters’ in Aintree.
“It’s our Olympics, at the end of the day, so it’s great to be part of it.” Shay Barry is hopeful that Bentelimar can make his presence felt in the opening race of the Festival, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Formerly trained by Philip Fenton, the son of Beneficial has five wins to his name, recording his biggest success to date in a Listed novice hurdle at Punchestown last month. The James Ryan-owned chestnut holds entries in four races at the Festival, but Barry confirmed the Supreme is the target.
“He is 99 per cent sure to go for the Supreme. The owner is keen to go for it and that’s what he’ll go for. He is in the Neptune and two handicaps as well, but they are just as a precaution,” Barry said.
“He is in super form and he galloped after racing at Leopardstown on Saturday. “Fingers crossed now that he will travel to Cheltenham in good order.
“He will be my first runner at Cheltenham and it is great to be going with a chance. Brian O’Connell will ride him.” Gold Cup winners Kauto Star and Denman will be joined by four-times World Hurdle hero Big Buck’s in a Retraining of Racehorses’ parade on the opening day of the Festival.
The former Paul Nicholls-trained trio will be the star attractions among a string of 10 horses that also includes David Pipe’s 2008 Grand National winner Comply Or Die and the highclass hurdler and chaser Grands Crus. Di Arbuthnot, chief executive of RoR, said: “To have Gold Cup, Grand National and World Hurdle winners in the parade is fantastic and it will be great for the Cheltenham racegoers to see so many old favourites.
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