By Andy Stephens
Ruby Walsh was unequivocal when asked on Sunday which horse he cannot wait to ride again when he returns from his lengthy spell on the sidelines next month.
Speaking on Racing UK’s Luck On Sunday breakfast TV programme, he appeared to give no thought to other Willie Mullins-trained stars such as Un De Sceaux, Douvan, Yorkhill or Getabird and swiftly uttered a one-word answer.
“Faugheen” said the serial champion, who has been out of action since mid-November with a broken leg.
Earlier, he had also been adamant that Faugheen would put his lamentable run at Leopardstown over Christmas behind him back at the same track in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle on Saturday.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner had previously won 13 of his 14 races but on his latest start, the now ten-year-old who has had his share of injury problems, was pulled up before three out after starting at 2-11.
Stand-in jockey Paul Townend said it had been like flying a plane with no engine but, despite numerous tests, no explanation has come to light for why he failed to fire.
“Willie explained it the best - it was inexplicable,” Walsh said. “If he keeps going the way he is going and he works through this week like he did last then I’d imagine he will run in Leopardstown.
“Through injury and things like that he probably hasn’t shown the world how good he is but he’s a brilliant horse and I think he’ll bounce back.”
Rich Ricci, the owner, had been similarly upbeat at Cheltenham 24 hours earlier. Faugheen is a general Evens to win on Saturday and is 5-1, with Coral and Ladbrokes, for the Champion Hurdle.Footpad is set to put his unbeaten record over fences on the line at Leopardstown (PA)
Footpad, a top-priced 6-4 for the Arkle, is another Mullins inmate pencilled in to run at Leopardstown at the weekend.
The six-year-old, owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, has won both his starts over fences in impressive style by an aggregate of 22 lengths and is 1-2 to extend his unbeaten sequence in the Grade One Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase.
However, Walsh believes Petit Mouchoir, quoted at 7-2, will be a serious threat if the grey, who suffered a setback after winning on his chasing bow at Punchestown, is among his opponents.
“Footpad will face a bigger test next weekend if he takes on Petit Mouchoir,” Walsh said. “Petit Mouchoir always had the better of him over hurdles. He beat him twice a long way at Leopardstown last season and held him in the Champion Hurdle (when they finished third and fourth).
“It’s probably unusual for the third, fourth and fifth in a Champion Hurdle to all be heading for the Arkle the following year. It’s shaping up into a really good race.”
Walsh’s ride in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup remains up in the air but he seems unconvinced by the merits of Total Recall, who is quoted between 16-1 and 25-1 after his victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy, formerly the Hennessy, at Newbury last time.
“It’s a long way from doing what he did (at Newbury) to winning a Gold Cup and he’s not the biggest or most robust horse in the world,” he said.
“If you put 11st 12lb on him in the Gold Cup, rather than carrying less than 11st in handicaps, that becomes a different factor. I’d say he’s more an English National horse.”
Total Recall has entries over fences and hurdles at Leopardstown next weekend. With a degree of understatement Walsh said he was “fairly well treated in the staying handicap hurdle”.
He is able to compete off a rating of 125, which is 31lb lower than his mark over fences.
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