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Ruby Walsh exclusive: Big weekend for Hurricane Fly and Big Buck’s in the countdown to Cheltenham 2014

Ruby's been there, done that and sweated to prove it. His weekly column will mark your card ahead of the March 11-14 Festival

by Ruby Walsh | January 20, 2014

Hurricane Fly

He seems to be in great form ahead of the Irish Champion Hurdle on Sunday (1.55pm) and this looks to be a re-match from the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas. The only difference is we’re racing on the inside track this time and it’s a bit sharper. We’re happy with Hurricane Fly though. He came out of the race well in December and has been  training well.

We don’t have to improve. It’s the others that have to improve or try different tactics to narrow the gap on us.

Our Conor and Jezki oppose again and I think Jezki is the main danger. Our Conor is only five. It’s a difficult time of year for five-year-olds and he could be better in March than he is now and could be better again in April.

Annie Power holds an entry in a mares race at Doncaster over two miles. Un de Sceaux will probably wait until Gowran Park. They’ll all run again before Cheltenham so we’ll all be a lot wiser about a lot of things once the weekend is over.

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Big Buck’s

If he’s the horse he was before his injury in December 2012, he should win. But his Cleeve Hurdle comeback run is a step into the unknown even for trainer Paul Nicholls. There’s no doubt he’s sound or else he wouldn’t be running. But at his age now, an 11-year-old having missed a season is the sparkle still there?

We won’t find out for certain until he turns for home at Cheltenham on Saturday whether the overdrive will kick in.

But he’s a very, very good horse who was never really pushed to the limit. Sam Twiston-Davies rides him now and I’m sure he’ll get the best out of him as he chases win number 19 on the bounce.

Felix Younger

Felix Younger & Champagne Fever

Things just didn’t happen for Felix Younger at Limerick over Christmas. The ground might have been a little testing for him and if the real Felix Younger turns up on Sunday in the Irish Arkle Chase on Sunday he’ll give Defy Logic a race of it. It’s a big ask for Jackadam as a five-year-old to win a Grade 1  on just his second start.

Paul Nolan’s horse beat Champagne Fever into third at Leopardstown three weeks ago and is talented but Felix Younger beat him well at Punchestown.

Triolo D’Alene & Rocky Creek

The Argento Chase looks wide open at this stage and it will take a very big performance for something to match the form shown by Bobs Worth or Silviniaco Conti in their Lexus Chase and King George VI Chase wins this season.

Triolo D’Alene beat Rocky Creek in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and both are improving  – but they’ll have to improve a bit more to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup come March.

Sire De Grugy

He’s definitely a challenger for the Champion Chase after his Ascot success. He reminds me of Kauto Star in that he leads on his off fore (right) but jumps to his near fore (left). You’d think he’d be a better horse going left-handed, yet the form book suggests he better on right-handed tracks. Kauto Star was the same as well, he always jumped and hung a bit left but he still won five King George VI Chases on a right-handed track at Kempton.

His win at Ascot last Saturday was a very taking performance. The way he jumped, travelled and  quickened away was impressive.

The only worry you’d have is that the ground at Cheltenham in March should be much quicker but with the balls up in the air on Sprinter Sacre and his heart condition at the moment he looks a major player.

Ivan Grozny

One to Note: Ivan Grozny (Triumph Hurdle, Cheltenham, March 14)

I was very impressed by his win at Naas on Saturday. He travelled much better and jumped really well. If you look at his Flat form he definitely ran better on quicker ground so the better ground at Cheltenham in the Triumph Hurdle come March the better his chance will be.

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