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Ruby Walsh: The A-Z of my best rides at Cheltenham – one week out from the Festival

Just seven days to go to the greatest show on earth. This is the state of play at the moment. And no, I haven't decided on my Champion Hurdle mount ... yet

by Ruby Walsh | March 3, 2015

The winning most jockey at Cheltenham (41) gives the Paddy Power Blog his thoughts on his best chances, who’s got to improve and why he can’t wait to get Paddy paying out twice – on his day one offer.

The more winners you ride there the more you crave, but it’s not as simple as just turning up. It’s a relief when you do past the line in front because Cheltenham is so competitive. The expectation on you is so big, – but the reality is – it’s damn hard to win races there.

 

Alvisio Ville

He was too keen and ‘ran with the choke out at Leopardstown’ when third to Nichols Canyon so he needs to learn how to race properly. You can’t win races doing that and he’ll have to be taught to settle. We think he has a massive engine but he has to learn to race properly and hopefully that will come with maturity and time. Worked well last Tuesday morning.

Annie Power

She’s in great form – she had a rest over December and has been working well since then. The Mares Hurdle looks the obvious target – you need that real hard fitness to win a 3m World Hurdle after a lay-off. I’m delighted with her and I can’t wait to ride her.

Arctic Fire

He’s a very good work horse who improves with runs so there could be more left to come from him. He hasn’t gotten past Hurricane Fly yet though. He has to produce a career best – and probably improve 10lbs in the ratings – to win a Champion Hurdle.

Cheltenham NRNB 1430

Black Hercules

The Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle is the only Grade One at the Festival I’ve never won. He was third in the bumper last year here but it’s going to be a tough race to win. I wouldn’t swap him for anyone and if he finishes in the places you’d have to be happy as there’s a bit of depth to this race.

Briar Hill

Has slowly been coming back to himself and should go for the World Hurdle. It’s a very open race and I’d give him an each-way squeak. Former Champion Hurdler Rock on Ruby has a similar profile to 2013 winner Solwhit and might surprise a few.

Champagne Fever

We set out looking for a Gold Cup horse but after the run in the King George it wasn’t really going to happen.

The thing to do then is to step down in trip and he goes to the Champion Chase having won twice at the Festival and was a head second to Western Warhorse in the Arkle last year.

He’d join some serious winners like Remittance Man, Deep Sensation & One Man who dropped down in trip to win this 2m contest.

I don’t think Sprinter Sacre is the horse he was and while Sire De Grugy was impressive at Chepstow (his highest rated performance) he’ll only half two and a half weeks to be at his peak again, It’s hard to see the form horse Dodging Bullets out of the first three.

Horse-Racing-Jumps3-840

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Djakadam

He fell at Cheltenham last year but has been very good this term. He ran out of gas in the English Hennessy on his first run of the season but won the Thyestes well carrying top weight.

He still has a long way to go on ratings to win a Gold Cup but he’s in good form and did a nice bit of work after racing at Leopardstown on Saturday.

Don Poli

I’d love to see him going for the four-miler (and so would Willie Mullins) on the Tuesday but its up to the owners Gigginstown who have a few in that race. If I was an amateur I’d love to ride him. I can’t but he stays well and jumps great and I think he’ll win if he runs in it.

He’s probably the best novice chaser in Ireland and has the option of the RSA Chase also. But he’ll have to face Coneygree there and he’s rated 15lb higher than Denman when he won it as a novice in 2007.

Douvan

Willie says he’s as nice a horse as he’s sent to Cheltenham and I hope he’s right. He’s definitely a faster horse than last year’s winner Vautour but you also have to stay to win this race.

He’s working really well and we’re very happy with him and that’s a brave offer Paddy Power have to give Money Back all losers in that race & Un de Sceaux’s Arkle tilt.

I hope they’re handing out plenty of vouchers after those races are over.   I’m f****** sure I’ll be doing my best to make it happen anyway.

Douvan certainly has the speed to win a Supreme Hurdle but there may be stronger stayers in the field – but I wouldn’t swap him for any of them.

L’Ami Serge is a danger and going left-handed will suit him while Jollyallan could do without any hurdles as jumping seems to be his problem.

Faugheen

There was nothing to gain by running him on heavy ground at Gowran Park.

We talked about it a bit and I didn’t think we’d anything to gain by giving him another run. More things were likely to go wrong than right by taking him to the track. There was nothing that would have replicated a Champion Hurdle test and he learnt a lot at Kempton on Boxing Day that will stand to him on March 10.

The faster pace of the Champion Hurdle should help his jumping as he was a bit sloppy at Cheltenham last season and at Punchestown.

Hurricane Fly

He worked on Tuesday morning and is in really good nick. He’s been tipping away since his Irish Champion Hurdle win at Leopardstown (below) and is being built up to be at his peak again on Tuesday week at the Cotswolds.

On form you would say he’s probably done more this season than Faugheen to justify his price in the market.

I’ve said it before but it will be the biggest kick in the rocks if I pick wrong between these two and that decision is due this weekend.

Hurricane FlyIrish840

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Kalkir 

Was second to stablemate Petite Parisienne at Leopardstown in the race that has thrown up the Triumph Hurdle winner in the last two years. Even the third horse Prussian Eagle franked the form of Willie’s other runner Dicosimo.

It’s no gimme for favourite Peace and Co as it’s a bloody good race. I was very impressed with Nicky Henderson’s Hargam and Beltor could be value after his winning performance at Kempton. If he was with a bigger stable he’d be a lot shorter in the betting.

Nichols Canyon

He was good the last day at Leopardstown when I thought Alvisio Ville might beat him. He’s not an impressive work horse and is a hard one to gauge but keeps it producing on the track. I wouldn’t want to make the running on him in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle though. Shaneshill is in the same ownership and is coming back to himself after a while off since his Navan run so I wouldn’t discount him yet.

Un-De-Sceaux-feature

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Un de Sceaux

I rode him (above) work last Tuesday morning and at Leopardstown on Saturday and I was delighted with him ahead of his Arkle tilt. I think the only horse that could give him a race isn’t running in it – and that’s Vautour. Vibrato Valtat is decent but I wouldn’t have Josses Hill. None of the others look good enough.

Two mile chasers live on the edge. Moscow Flyer was the same. With normal luck in running I’ll think he’ll win.

Vautour did a few tough pieces of work last Saturday week and on Tuesday morning as Willie felt he was probably a bit ‘grosser’ than he wanted him. He jumped super in a school last week and went well at Leopardstown. He’ll spend this week being tuned up with a few gallops back at Closutton.

I love him and I think he’d a Gold Cup horse for the future. The JLT Chase trip should suit him down to the ground and I think he’ll win.

Bumper Horses

With the other decisions I’ve to make the Champion Bumper is a bit down the pecking order yet

Willie could run as many as he’ll get into the race. An outsider who would be half his price if trained at Closutton is Gordon Elliot’s General Principle who won by 22 lengths at Punchestown.

Best price guaranteed 1430

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