52 AND COUNT­ING

(IN­CLUD­ING THE ONE I STILL WATCH EV­ERY WEEK WHEN THE FAM­ILY’S IN BED...)

Irish Examiner - Racing - - CHEL­TENHAM PRE­VIEW 2017 -

1,7&38:Bumper:Alexan­der Ban­quet (1998), Missed That (2005) & Briar Hill (2013)

Alexan­der Ban­quet and Missed That were well fan­cied, and duly obliged, and Alexan­der Ban­quet be­ing my first win­ner at the fes­ti­val is a mem­ory I’ll al­ways cher­ish. But Briar Hill was an al­mostun­con­sid­ered 25-1 chance when he stormed up the Chel­tenham Hill, and we could have a re­peat this year. Wil­lie’s ob­vi­ous can­di­date is Carter McKay, but we could also be rep­re­sented by an out­sider, Next Des­ti­na­tion, and I wouldn’t put any­body off hav­ing some­thing each-way on him.

2 : Mild­may of Flete: Blow­ing Wind (2002)

We got up in the shad­ows of the post to deny AP McCoy on Lady Cricket. AP and I have had some close fin­ishes at this meet­ing over the years, no­tably Cham­pagne Fever beat­ing My Tent Or Yours in the Supreme, and Fi­nal Ap­proach get­ting up on the line to Get Me Out Of Here in the County Hur­dle.

Blow­ing Wind was a late out­side ride in this race, and I’ll prob­a­bly need an­other of those again be­cause I don’t see an ob­vi­ous ride for me in this year’s re­newal. Also, Wil­lie’s record in hand­i­cap chases in Eng­lan­dis­prob­a­blyas­goodas mine in the last five or six years — not very in­spir­ing — so I can’t see a sec­ond win in this race.

3, 43 & 46: Arkle: Az­er­tyuiop (2003), Un De Sceaux (2015) & Dou­van (2015)

Three won­der­ful horses, and I think the Arkle will be won by an­other su­per­star this year: Al­tior. Un De Sceaux and Dou­van are cur­rently favourites for their re­spec­tive races this week and, with a lit­tle luck, could en­hance their and my record at the meet­ing.

4, 15 & 19: Cham­pion Chase: Az­er­tyuiop (2004), Mas­ter Minded (2008 & 2009)

Mas­ter Minded was a spe­cial horse, but Az­er­tyuiop gave me my first cham­pi­onship race vic­tory at the fes­ti­val, and so will al­ways be spe­cial to me. But Mas­ter Minded prob­a­bly put up the sin­glebest­per­for­mance­o­fany horse I’ve ever rid­den, when he won it as a five-year-old. He came back and won it in 2009, but all he did was win it — he wasn’t near as good a horse. But this year I ride a su­per­star, in Dou­van, and I think all he needs is not to have bad luck. He’d be a won­der­ful horse to give me a fourth vic­tory in this great race.

5: Grand An­nual Chase: St Pir­ran (2004)

He was a real hold-up horse, that I en­joyed rid­ing. It’s a com­pet­i­tive hand­i­cap which, for my money, suits a hold-up novice. St Pir­ran’s vic­tory put me level at the top of the stand­ings for lead­ing rider at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val, which I would go on to win for the first time by also win­ning the fol­low­ing race. It isn’t a race I’ve had a whole pile of luck in since, but my abid­ing mem­ory of the race will al­ways be Paul Car­berry’s ride on Bel­l­vano — that was one of the great­est rides of all time. I fell at the fourth-last, from Free World, and Paul was just in front of me at that point. A bril­liant ride.

6,11,23&32:Coun­tyHur­dle: Spo­razene (2004), Desert Quest (2006), Amer­i­can Tril­ogy (2009) & Fi­nal Ap­proach (2011)

This has been a lucky race for me. Spo­razene was thrown-in when he won the race and, in vic­tory, en­sured I was lead­ing rider at the meet­ing for the first time. Desert Quest was a bit of a mon­key, but had a lot up his sleeve, and ar­rived at the last to chal­lenge and go on and win.

I gave Amer­i­can Tril­ogy a mod­er­ate ride on his fi­nal start be­fore Chel­tenham, but when I came in off him I told Paul (Ni­cholls) I thought he’d win the County Hur­dle. He duly bolted in, at a mas­sive price,where­as­my­mostre­cent win­ner, Fi­nal Ap­proach, got up on the line to beat AP a short head. Wil­lie has a cou­ple of pos­si­ble run­ners, but we might be up against it this year.

8, 13 & 51: Ryanair Chase: Thisthatand­tother (2005), Tara­nis (2007) & Vau­tour (2016)

Thisthatand­tother ral­lied strongly to beat Fond­mort half a length, while Tara­nis was a bit idle, but a bril­liant jumper, who bat­tled well to beat Our Vic. And then there was the spec­tac­u­lar Vau­tour. It’s just a pity I haven’t got him this year. But I think I have a great deputy in Un De Sceaux. I think the ground was too dry in last year’s Cham­pion Chase, and it prob- ably proved what we al­ways thought: That he wanted fur­ther than two miles. I think the trip in the Ryanair will suit him down to the ground, and he has a mas­sive chance. And I think he is way over­priced at 7-2.

9, 28, 35, 39 & 42: Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle: Noland (2006), Al Ferof (2011), Cham­pagne Fever (2013), Vau­tour (2014) & Dou­van (2015)

Noland, owned by John Hales, came from the clouds to give me my first win in a race I’ve been very lucky in. Al Ferof, who car­ried the same colours, then beat a lot of good horses,no­tablySprint­erSacre and Cue Card. Then I had the front-run­ning per­for­mances of Cham­pagne Fever, who bat­tled tena­ciously to beat My Tent Or Yours in 2013, and the awe­some Vau­tour in 2014, and the mag­nif­i­cent Dou­van in 2015. Last year, Min went close to giv­ing me four in a row, but he ran into an aero­plane, in Al­tior. Who knows what this year’s race will bring, but I re­ally think Wil­lie

Mullins will win the race, as he has four strong con­tenders: Melon, Bunk Off Early, Ci­laos Emery and Crack Mome.

10: Wil­liam Hill Tro­phy: Dun Doire (2006)

I’d say he was some price in run­ning and, even though he won well in the end, prob­a­bly got a bit lucky. His jump­ing was quite pon­der­ous but the old sec­ond-last fence, at the bot­tom of the hill, was omit­ted, and that al­lowed him to make up an aw­ful lot of ground. Had that fence still been in, I’m not so sure he’d have got there. It’s a race I haven’t rid­den in in re­cent years, and prob­a­bly won’t have a ride this year. It’s the third race on day one th­ese years, but I al­ways pre­ferred when it was the fourth race, as you started bang, bang, bang, with the Supreme, the Arkle and the Cham­pion Hur­dle. What a way to start a Fes­ti­val!

12 & 22: RSA Chase: Den­man (2007), Cool­dine (2009)

They both won in a can­ter but their ca­reers went two dif­fer­ent ways: Den­man went on to be a Gold Cup and dual Hen- nessy win­ner, but Cool­dine nev­er­man­aged­tow­inan­other race. This year’s race looks a very open re­newal, and I think Acapella Bour­geois has to be given se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion, what­ever way you look at it. I thought he was spec­tac­u­lar in Na­van. Un­less Bell­shill runs, I will prob­a­bly be watch­ing from the stands.

14 & 24: Chel­tenham Gold Cup: Kauto Star (2007 & 2009)

One of the most amaz­ing horses I’ve been lucky enough to ride. To win a Gold Cup was al­ways my dream. I have won two, and been sec­ond on five oc­ca­sions — on Com­manche Court, Hedge­hunter, Kauto Star,andtwiceonD­jakadam.I hope Djakadam will trump The Fel­low (twice run­ner-up, and won it at the fourth at­tempt) by win­ning it at the third time of ask­ing. He’s in re­ally good or­der, and I think a re­peat of last year’s run would nearly be good enough. He got beaten by a very good horse, in Don Cos­sack, and at eight years of age and with his prepa­ra­tion hav­ing gone well, I’m de­lighted with him. Like any fella rid­ing a fan­cied horse in any race, I’m go­ing to trot out the same bull­shit line we all do: I wouldn’t swap him. We all fancy our own horse — jock­eys are great judges, aren’t they?

16, 21, 41 & 49: Nep­tune Novices’ Hur­dle: Five­forthree (2008), Mikael D’Haguenet (2009), Faugh­een (2014) & Yorkhill (2016)

Five­forthree beat a horse of Mouse Mor­ris’ called Ve­nal­mar, and I won it the fol­low­ing year on Mikael D’Haguenet, who I thought was a ‘good thing’ — and he duly won like it. Faugh­een didn’t need to be mag­nif­i­cent to win it, and Yorkhill was im­pres­sive last year. It has been a lucky race for me and Wil­lie, and, while I think Neon Wolf is the one we all have to beat, we have a cou­ple of bul­lets to fire at it this year, with Bac­ardys, Kem­boy and pos­si­bly even In­vi­ta­tion Only. But I have huge re­spect for Neon Wolf, and the smile on Noel Fe­hily’s face af­ter win­ning on him at Hay­dock says it all.

17:Tri­umphHur­dle:Ce­les­tial Halo (2008)

I got beaten on him at Don­caster be­fore the Tri­umph, and Fran­choek looked all the rage for this race. But I sent Ce­les­tial Halo to the front early, and he kept jump­ing and gal­lop­ing, and out­stayed Fran­choek to win. We will have a cou­ple of run­ners in this year’s race, but they’ll all have to go some­what to beat Defi Du Seuil. On soft ground, Gor­don El­liott’s horse, Mega For­tune, would make a race of it, and, on drier ground,Ba­paume­would­make a race of it, but Defi Du Seuil is the one to beat. And I’ll for­give Charli Parcs his last run. I don’t re­call Nicky Hen­der­son get­ting it too far wrong, and he holds this horse in the high­est re­gard.

18, 25, 30, 34, 37, 40 & 48: Mares’ Hur­dle: Quevega (2009-2014) & Vroum Vroum Mag (2016)

I’ve been lucky enough to win it seven times, but it’s fairly safe to say I should have won eight, An­nie Power hav­ing fallen at the last with the race at her mercy, in 2015. Quevega, what a stand­ing dish she was! She was some banker to have in your ar­tillery go­ing there, and, hav­ing Big Buck’s for four of those years, was some bonus. What­ever didn’t work out for you, you had two aces be­fore you started. To go back six times and win each time, I think it was mag­i­cal stuff from Wil­lie Mullins. To me, it will al­ways be his­tory. For any horse to win the same Fes­ti­val race six times — or to win six dif­fer­ent races, even — I think it will never be done. I was de­lighted to be part of it. And, I loved rid­ing her. You never knew what you were go­ing to get with her, other than the fact she was bril­liant. She could be keen, or you could get to the start and she might be re­luc­tant to jump off. And we had luck, too. She put her foot in a hole at the top of the hill one year, and I nearly went out over her ears. She grabbed at the last hur­dle an­other year, and, in her last year, she looked dead and buried but pulled it out of the bag to win. She was su­per, and her sec­ond win was par­tic­u­larly spe­cial as I equalled Pat Taaffe’s record of fes­ti­val win­ners.

When she re­tired, An­nie Power came along, and that was a race I’ll never for­get. And then we had Vroum Vroum Mag last year. She and Li­mini could run here. They’re two high-class mares, who won at last year’s fes­ti­val, and if I have to choose, I couldn’t guar­an­tee I’ll be on the right one.

20, 27, 31 & 33: Stay­ers’ Hur­dle: Big Buck’s (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)

When I look back, he was some price the first year. He was a crack­ing horse, and I loved rid­ing him. And I al­ways made it look that he was go­ing worse than he ever was. He was only an okay jumper, but was never go­ing to fall over hur­dles. I re­mem­ber An­drew Lynch was bril­liant on Voler La Vedette one year. He ap­peared on my out­side, then switched over to the other side, try­ing to give him a race, but Big Buck’s found enough. Jock­eys tried every­thing to beat him, but I had to ride him hand­ier in lat­ter years as no­body would give him a lead.

26: Fred Win­ter: Sanc­tu­aire (2010)

I re­mem­ber him well be­cause I beat Pat Taaffe’s record for Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val wins, on him. It was a funny one, as I had rid­den him once, in a hur­dle race at Taunton, and he was very keen, but he beat Grands Crus. Paul Ni­cholls re­ally fan­cied him for the Fred Win­ter, but he was an awk­ward horse, a real boyo. Harry and Dan Skelton did a lot of the work with him, and Dan couldn’t see him get­ting beaten. I’d say he prob­a­bly paid for Dan Skelton’s wed­ding. I was pos­si­bly a bit un­lucky in this race last year, when Voix Du Reve fell at the last, but Barry (Ger­aghty) prob­a­bly thinks he was un­lucky too, as Cam­peador also fell there. This year, we don’t have any­thing in it, but Paul’s horse, Dream­catch­ing, is strongly fan­cied, and he has a won­der­ful record in the race. As well as win­ning it a cou­ple of times, he has had a lot of horses placed in it, as well.

29, 36, 44 & 47: Cham­pion Hur­dle:Hur­ri­caneFly(2011& 2013), Faugh­een (2015) & An­nie Power (2016)

It’s funny, but if you asked me what were the best horses I have rid­den, I’d give you Kau­toS­tarandHur­ri­caneFly, and yet both only man­aged to win twice at the fes­ti­val. But they were the two horses of my life­time. They shaped my ca­reer, my life, and my mem­o­ries as a jockey. The first one, on Hur­ri­cane Fly, was high pres­sure. I had been out all year, and hadn’t rid­den him in a long time. But he beat Don­ald McCain’s horse, Ped­dlers Cross. He went back and re­gained it by beat­ing Rock On Ruby, which was sweet. He was a horse I loved rid­ing. You could ride him at hur­dles like they weren’t there. As brave as you wanted to be, bor­der­ing on a bit reck­less, he would an­swer the call for you.

Faugh­een has proven a hard horse to train but, by God, he has some en­gine. But, to be a great horse you have to have longevity, so I hope we get him back.

An­nie Power … that was sweet! A huge high­light in my life. Af­ter get­ting beaten in a Stay­ers’ Hur­dle, fall­ing in a Mares’ Hur­dle, then sup­ple­ment­ing her into a Cham­pion Hur­dle, for which a lot of peo­ple think­ing we were mad.

I had to go quick enough that the speed horses wouldn’t do her for toe, and yet not so fast that I emp­tied her. It was a ride I en­joyed, and a vic­tory, if I’m be­ing bru­tally hon­est I watch once a week. Ob­vi­ously, I have to wait un­til there’s noone in the house, or my wife would think I’m ab­so­lutely in­sane. I prob­a­bly watch that more than peo­ple re­alise.

Look­ing to this year’s race, Wick­low Brave is an Ir­ish Legerwin­ner­but­must­stepup on his hur­dling form, while Foot­pad is only a five-yearold, and it’s dif­fi­cult for horses of that age. Vroum Vroum Mag is a high-class mare, but is she good enough to win a Cham­pion Hur­dle? If she runs and I’m rid­ing her, Wil­lie must think so.

45 & 50: JLT Novices’ Chase: Vau­tour (2015) & Black Her­cules (2016)

Two very dif­fer­ent win­ners. Vau­tour’s win prob­a­bly stands along­side Mas­ter Minded’s per­for­mance in the Cham­pion Chase, but, to give Mas­ter Minded his credit, that was a cham­pi­onship race. Thiswasthebest­per­for­mance by a novice that I rode in Chel­tenham. It was breath­tak­ing. He re­minded me of what Kauto Star did the first year he won in Hay­dock. It had every­thing: The power of his jump­ing, the pace, the ac­cel­er­a­tion. That was a plea­sure. When we pulled up at the end of the race, Paul Car­berry, who rode run­ner-up Apache Strong­hold, couldn’t get over it, ei­ther.

Black Her­cules was very dif­fer­ent, but it was bril­liant as it gave me my 50th win­ner at the meet­ing. He was badly ham­pered jump­ing the sec­ond-last, but changed his legs in mid-air, and made the room for him­self to land. Horses are sur­vivors, and he was class. He was tough from there home, and it brought up a great, round fig­ure: 50. I never thought I’d reach that num­ber.

When I started, I just wanted to ride one win­ner here. Then when I got that, I wanted five, and then 10.

I’d be a fair day­dreamer, but never, in my life­time, did I think 50 would be some­thing I would achieve. It’s some­thing I’m im­mensely proud of, and grate­ful to achieve.

The JLT is a rel­a­tively new race, and took me a while to win it, but I’m get­ting the hang of it now and don’t plan on giv­ing it back. Hope­fully, Yorkhill can com­plete the hat­trick.

52 : Mares’ Novices’ Hur­dle: Li­mini (2016):

I thought she was a cer­tainty to win this race last year, and any­one who read the

in the run-up to and dur­ing the fes­ti­val surely backed her. We didn’t hide our ad­mi­ra­tion for her.

We have good mares this year, and it’s a tougher choice for me, as to which one to ride, but I will be sur­prised if Wil­lie doesn’t win this race. I don’t know how you do the tri-cast, but I wouldn’t be sur­prised if the three — Air­lie Beach, Asthuria and Let’s Dance — were the first three home.

Zero: Al­bert Bartlett, Co­ral Cup & Pertemps Hur­dle

Ob­vi­ously, I can­not win the races re­stricted to am­a­teur or con­di­tional rid­ers, and won’t be win­ning the Cross-Coun­try Chase be­cause I no longer par­tic­i­pate in it. Of the oth­ers I haven’t won, the Co­ral Cup is a hugely com­pet­i­tive race and, while Wil­lie has a good record at the fes­ti­val, we’re not a hand­i­cap out­fit, and it could prove elu­sive once more. I’ll prob­a­bly be rid­ing Isle­ofhopen­dreams in the Pertemps Hur­dle, but he has gone up quite a bit in the hand­i­cap, and there are likely bet­ter­hand­i­capped horses.

I don’t ride Death Duty, who looks the one to beat in the Al­bert Bartlett, but Au­gusta Kate or Pen­hill could make the shake-up.

Ex­am­iner

Ir­ish

Pic­ture: Pa­trick McCann

RUBY WALSH is the most suc­cess­ful jockey in Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val his­tory, and has been crowned lead­ing rider no fewer than 10 times. Here, our star colum­nist re­flects on his 52 wins, and dis­cusses his chances of adding to a record tally this week

DY­NAMIC DUO: Ruby Walsh and Wil­lie Mullins dis­cuss race tac­tics.

Pic­ture: INPHO/Dan Sheri­dan

SWEET MO­MENT: Ruby Walsh punches the air af­ter win­ning last year’s Cham­pion Hur­dle on An­nie Power.

Pic­ture: War­ren Lit­tle/Getty Im­ages

FOUR-MIDABLE: Ruby Walsh cel­e­brates af­ter steer­ing Big Buck’s to a fourth suc­ces­sive Stay­ers’ Hur­dle win.

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