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Ruby Walsh: This 7/1 shot could be ahead of the handicapper at Newbury and I’ve a decision to make for the Hennessy Gold Cup

A big weekend of racing coming up on both sides of the Irish Sea as the countdown to Cheltenham continues.

by Ruby Walsh | February 2, 2015

I don’t know why there was such a fuss made about Callum Whillans popping Gorgehous Lliege over the last at Ffos Las on Saturday after he initially refused to jump it.

He pulled up, gave his mount a breather and got on with it. I’d say he used his head and a bit of common sense.

It looked the logical thing to do to me. The owners got about £8k in prize money, punters who backed him each-way got a return and the horse suffered no ill effects.

I couldn’t see any issue with it.

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There’s some really informative racing this weekend at Newbury (Saturday) and Leopardstown (Sunday) that should provide a few more clues for Cheltenham 2015.

Reigning champion chaser Sire De Grugy is on the comeback trail at Newbury while the novice Coneygree takes on the more experienced Holywel and Taquin Du Seuil in the Grade Two Denman Chase.

The Betfair Handicap Hurdle is as competitive as usual with Paul Nicholls’ Calipto heading the market.

Paul’s been hoovering up the big Saturday races in the UK and trained Zarkandar to win this in 2012. You’d have to respect his chances.

His last run was in October when second to Tiger Roll at Cheltenham but he doesn’t look thrown in or anything and is near the top of the weights.

Balgarry made his seasonal debut in the same race at Ascot after a long lay-off and has since run second at Sandown so should be cherry ripe now.

Vautour 800

I’m hoping Sign of a Victory runs a big race. He was behind Faugheen at Kempton when not quite living up to expectation in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle but drops back to handicap company again. He’ll have to lump top weight around but the Henderson stable did strike with My Tent or Yours in 2013 under a big weight.

Willie (Mullins) has three entered at this stage in Daneking, Lucky Bridle and Wicklow Brave.

The first two were disappointing on their latest starts and Wicklow Brave needs to recapture the form that saw him run well in last season’s Supreme Novices Hurdle. If he came back to that sort of pre-Cheltenham form he might out-run his odds.

Cheltenian reverts to hurdles after running in a novice chase last month – and that’s a big ask in a race like this. He finished fourth in this last season though so connections must feel there’s something to work on if they’re having another crack at it.

JP McManus’s Snake Eyes best form looks to be in smaller fields while multiple winners On Tour, Fascino Rustico and Seedling look to have more to do here despite being multiple winners.

If I had to pick one I’d go for Harry Fry’s ACTIVIAL – who may still be a a winnable mark. He finished third to Bayan at Ascot on his seasonal debut as connections tried to exploit what they must have thought was a lenient rating. He should improve for that run and even with a 6lb penalty could still be under the radar.

Ruby Walsh on Boston Bob

I’ll leave the decision on whether I ride Boston Bob or On His Own in the Hennessy Gold Cup on Sunday until later in the week.

Boston Bob has a bit to find with his stablemate on their running in the Lexus Chase last December where he was fourth. On His Own finished second to Road to Riches. Bob was getting into it but made a mistake three out and faded a bit from the back of the last.

On His Own tends to jump to his right but has some solid form on left-handed tracks despite this slight preference. He’s also been second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and is a dual Thyestes Chase winner so always gives his all. Boston Bob though has won two Grade Ones at Aintree and Punchestown .

It’s hard to split the pair as they’re both in good form and there shouldn’t be a lot between them again.

Cheltenham NRNB

John Kiely’s Carlingford Lough ran a blinder in the Lexus on his seasonal debut and should improve for that outing while my dad’s Foxrock is improving but needs to bridge the gap from winning handicaps to Grade One races.

Lord Windermere has yet to produce his best at Leopardstown but he is the reigning Gold Cup champion. While Home Farm fell at the first in the Lexus so we’re none the wiser how good he could be after his win at Thurles last year.

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