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Ruby Walsh: Expect another close battle between Hurricane Fly and Jezki – and don’t discount Arctic Fire

Top jock Ruby Walsh on Sunday's Irish Champion Hurdle, Sprinter Sacre's return and whether Un de Sceaux is up to Grade One class.

by Ruby Walsh | January 19, 2015

It’s amazing to think we’re still talking about Hurricane Fly as an Irish Champion Hurdle and possible Cheltenham Champion Hurdle contender at 11 years old. That just shows how durable he is.

He was written off after Jezki beat him at Cheltenham and Punchestown – but I’ve always had faith in him.

I’ve been there before with Kauto Star when people said he was finished. You can’t write off champions after one or two under-par runs.

Hurricane Fly is as good as ever this season and his two wins were proper Grade Ones contests – not the ‘gimmes’ or walkovers that some would have you believe his career consists of.

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We’re two-nil up on Jezki going into Sunday’s Irish Champion Hurdle – but the reigning Cheltenham champ has been getting closer every time.

Given the history between these two – there won’t be much in it again.

But even though I’m on a 21-time Grade One winner who is unbeaten at the Dublin track – I don’t think this is just a two-horse race.

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Arctic Fire was breathing down our necks as we hit the line in the Ryanair Hurdle over Christmas and has come on a lot from his first runs at Down Royal and the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

We always thought a fair bit of him and he seems to be coming of age now and could be could be the real improver in the two-mile division over the next few weeks. He could be a bit of value from a punter’s perspective on Sunday.

What you have to remember is that the Irish Champion Hurdle is a Grade One contest. We’re going there looking to win it in its own right – not as a prep or a stepping stone to March 10.

That’s the difference between Sunday’s contest and The New One’s run at Haydock last Saturday. That was a trial, a Grade Two prep for the Champion Hurdle so you have to look at it in that context.

Maybe he wasn’t that impressive visually but connections have left plenty to work on and I expect him to be a lot slicker on Champion Hurdle day.

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Sacre Bleu

Dodging Bullets looked a pretty snug winner to me at Ascot in the Clarence House Chase and Sprinter Sacre still has to prove that he’s the horse he was.

Granted he was having his first run for 13 months and Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty (above) have said he will improve. But he’ll have to if he wants to win another Champion Chase. Turning in he looked like he would win – but didn’t seem to see out the race.

You could put that down to fitness or the deeper ground and that’s a valid reason given his enforced absence with an irregular heartbeat. I still think Paul Nicholls’ runner beat him cosy enough though.

Dodging Bullets sets the standard now in the Champion Chase division ahead of Sire De Grugy’s return from injury next month.

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Un de Sceaux

Vautour did what he had to do at Leopardstown last Sunday and I’d have no worries about him stepping up in trip – if that’s what Willie (Mullins) decides to do.
I wouldn’t be heading into the 2m 4f JLT Chase asking myself will he stay. I’m confident he will stay that trip – but if Willie decides to go for the shorter race (the Arkle) that’s fine by me too.

Un de Sceaux faces his biggest test to date this Sunday in the Irish Arkle when he steps into Grade One company over fences for the first time.

I rode him work this morning and he’s well but it’s a whole different ball game in a Grade One Novice Chase against the likes of Gilgamboa, Clarcam and Apache Stronghold.

Cheltenham NRNB

Clarcam has three runs under his belt and gets the five-year-old’s allowance on Sunday too while Gilgamboa was impressive at Limerick.

Apache Stronghold is dropping back in trip after a great run behind Don Poli in the Grade One Topaz Novice Chase.

Make no mistake – this is  a very good race and whatever comes out on top will have earned their place at the top of the Cheltenham Arkle betting.

We’ll find out on Sunday whether Un de Sceaux is up to it or not.

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