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Ruby Walsh: We could pop Champagne more in the UK this season

Ireland's record-breaking NH legend writes for the Paddy Power Blog and gives his thoughts on who's impressed already this season and why English rivals should be keeping an eye on Willie Mullins' army a little more this winter

by Ruby Walsh | October 29, 2014

I got soaked three times in 10 minutes on Tuesday at Willie Mullins’ yard. But it probably still wasn’t enough rain.

It was a good summer, weather-wise, and many horses came back carrying plenty of ‘condition’. But that means you can put more work into them and right now they’re taking all the work they are being given right now.

The first of Willie Mullins’ ‘winter horses’ is ready to run on Thursday. Urticaire is in the mares chase at Clonmel, Co Tipperary. Hopefully she will run well and give us a line on how forward the horses are.

There’s a chance this season we’ll go to the UK more a bit more often. There are horses who look like they suit some of the bigger races in England through the winter.

Ruby Walsh with Willie Mullins

For instance, Champagne Fever (above, with Willie) could be a King George horse, if he improves. Djakadam is out of his novice season and he could be a Hennessy Gold Cup horse. No decision has been made on Annie Power (she’ll tell us where she’s going to go). Boston Bob – he could go to the Betfair Chase at Haydock, if he doesn’t go to the North.

We have a team of very good horses at Willie’s which you could justify bringing to the big races in the UK on Saturdays and still have others to run in Ireland on the Sundays. Whether that will happen… horses have a great way of separating themselves. If they all stay sound, yes, we now look like we have horses that could target some of the bigger UK races.

But let’s talk about the horses we know about at this stage, and who have impressed me.

Davy Russell on Very Wood

Very Wood jumped like a beast

Very Wood (pictured above with Davy Russell on board) had a huge rep when he started in a maiden hurdle and onto novice hurdling last year. At times, he didn’t always live up to that. He was very much, in betting terms and the public eye, an outsider when he won the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham festival last March (33/1). His form had slipped away.

Even though Very Wood won the Albert Bartlett, he might not have been on many people’s shortlist as a top novice chaser. But I loved what I saw in Galway on Monday in the Beginners Chase. He jumped like an absolute stag. You can pick holes in the form of this race but Very Wood always looked in control under Bryan Cooper. While at times he looked one-paced over hurdles, the way he jumps he’s not going to look one-paced over fences. He looked faster, stronger and a more mature horse. I was very, very impressed.

It was his first run of the season and he beat The Job Is Right who had a run at Punchestown on October 15, so should have had a fitness edge. To me, there was nothing workmanlike about Very Wood. The only mistake he made was at the last, at the bottom of the hill – he lost momentum as he was starting to climb the mountain.

What do we take from this win? He’s going to be a better chaser than he was a hurdler. Looking at Very Wood now, he stands out for the three mile grade one at Leopardstown this Christmas.

 Wishful Thinking

What we learned from the Old Roan

UXIZANDRE – Alan King’s horse didn’t wear cheek-pieces he had for previous wins. He ran like a horse who’ll improve from that run. I’d say, definitely, there’s one eye on a bigger target with him – possibly the Paddy Power Gold Cup on November 15.

The caution I’d have is that usually second season novices have a big edge over the hardened handicappers at this stage of the season because their ratings leave them plenty of room for improvement and most are unexposed.

However, Wishful Thinking, a 14/1 winner, put them all in their place on Saturday in that race. A Couple of years ago, I thought this was going to be as good as horse as I’d ever seen. A magnificent horse (pictured above in 2011). He’s had wind issues since, whatever, but he looked back to being a very good horse. As for the second season novices, a horse like him really did put them in their place.

Arctic Fire up against it

Arctic Fire looks he might start his campaign on Friday at Down Royal where he might have to take on Tiger Roll who won last season’s Triumph Hurdle. Tiger Roll has won already this season at Cheltenham’s showcase meeting and therefore should hold a fitness edge over us but, then again, four-year-old can struggle in condition races against their elders at this time of year and I will be hoping this is the case.

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