We asked top jock Ruby Walsh to run through the best of the hurdlers and chasers in Willie Mullins’ yard. So he did.
While not writing off Killultagh Vic’s Gold Cup hopes, he claims that the “experience he gained last season should stand to him,” while Invitation Only is a horse who “has a huge race in him”.
Acapella Bourgeois’ novice form makes Ruby believe that “there has to be a good race in him off a mark of 150” while races like the Thyestes Chase, The English Grand National will also be the number one aim for Pleasant Company, who finished a gallant runner-up back in April behind Tiger Roll.
In another stride, he was the Grand National winner. All roads will lead down the same path again.
Hurdlers 2018 /19
Benie Des Dieux: Rich Ricci has had a couple of mixed seasons but Benie Des Dieux could be the star of the show for him over the coming months. She can mix it between hurdles and fences and she was great when winning the Mares Hurdle having not run over hurdle for so long. She then went to Punchestown and sluiced up and she’s an outstanding mare. She’s summered really well and every door is open for her. She’s proved herself at Grade 1 level over hurdle already and she’s hugely exciting.
Faugheen: He bounced back to form when winning at the Punchestown Festival in April and he’s looking as well as ever. He is in terrific order and his two performances at Punchestown last season were outstanding. He’s probably got a fraction slower – like the rest of us and maybe something like the Hatton’s Grace hurdle at Fairyhouse could be a possible starting point. He also has the option of going chasing so that will be an interesting conversation when it happens.
Laurina: She was unbeaten last season and has summered really well and looks a picture. Whether she will be trained for the Champion Hurdle or a the Mares’ Hurdle, only time will tell. She has to make the necessary improvement and the step from novice company to open company is a lot more than people think. She looked our best novice last year and has got big boots to fill. You’d hope that she’d be up there with the best mares we’ve had in the past. You’re looking for the next superstar and it could be her.
Melon: He seems to be in pretty good order. His second to Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle was a cracking run and doesn’t have to improve much from last year to be a contender next March again. He could even improve more than Buveur D’Air although he’s had a wind operation so there may be more to come there too as he chases a hat-trick of Champion Hurdle wins. The Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown looks the ideal place to start his season.
Penhill: Unbeaten at Cheltenham and is an exceptionally talented horse. I’d imagine he’ll stay down the Stayers Hurdle route and as he’s got such a good record at Cheltenham, Willie won’t rush him.
Yorkhill: Hopefully he can rediscover his spark as he has a huge engine is in there somewhere and things can’t go any worse than they did last year. Let’s hope the real Yorkhill comes back this season.
CHASERS 2018 / 19
Al Boum Photo: He had an incredibly dramatic season and he was a horse which improved throughout the season. He developed into a top class novice chaser and you’d imagine he’s going to have to head down the Grade 1 chase route over 3m and see where it takes him. You’d think he has to improve to beat Presenting Percy and be a Gold Cup horse but if he improves throughout the summer as much as he did throughout last season, who knows. I think he’s crying out for three miles-plus.
Douvan: I was lying in hospital reading the race updates on the Champion Chase before he fell. I thought he’d win it going there but then he underperformed at Punchestown. He just hasn’t had any luck.
Willie is happy with him at the moment, but we’re starting to sound like a broken record going on about a horse that hasn’t delivered recently. We just need a clear run at it with him. The next eight weeks will tell us a lot. Maybe he could step up in trip to 2m 4f for the John Durkan at Punchestown.
We’d just love for the racing public to produce again what he promised at one stage. Willie is particularly happy with him at the moment. He’s getting older so maybe he needs to go up in trip and something like the John Durkan might be when he starts off. That would be his first try over 2m 4f. If he was to run there or he could go back to the Hilly Way Chase like he did before. The King George VI Chase is another option but if he was to run in the John Durkan, that would leave only 17 days between both races. The next six-eight weeks will be really interesting with him.
Footpad: He was outstanding last season, when he was five wins from five runs. I had the privilege of riding him in the Arkle, where he was outstanding. I think every door is open for Footpad as he has stamina, pace and he’s a wonderful jumper. He’s already in full work and he’s going away. There are loads of races in mid-November for him to start and the obvious route for an Arkle winner looks to be the Champion Chase at the Festival next year. Time will tell if that’s the kind of horse he’ll turn into.
From the first morning we schooled him over fences, we were raving about him.
I rode Asthuria and Paul (Townend) rode Footpad and I went a really good gallop on Asthuria and she pinged the four fences. At the last fence, Paul was a lot closer than when he started and I was thinking to myself if I’ve come down here spectacularly, what has he done? Jumping fences has brought a huge amount of improvement in him and like Samcro over hurdles, he and Presenting Percy were the stars over fences last season. He’s only six so the best is hopefully still to come.
Great Field: I see him every morning and like Douvan, he had a nightmare last year. He’s a horse with a huge amount of ability and he’s getting more settled as he gets older, which will only add to his ability. He’s got a huge cruising speed and a huge amount of natural ability. You’d like to think he’s one for all of those two mile chases.
Un De Sceaux: He’s a remarkable little horse and even now, he’s still got as much enthusiasm as he ever had. His appetite for exercise and training is incredible and his attitude on the track is remarkable. Hopefully there’s another good season in him and I’d imagine he’ll have the option of going to the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown or running at Ascot again. He could even run in the John Durkan over 2m 4f so all options are open for him. He’s been an incredible flag-bearer for the team and the O’Connells have got great fun out of him. I can’t wait to get my leg back over him.
Min: He was probably a bit keen at Aintree after running in the Champion Chase. He started off over 2m4f at Gowran so I wouldn’t be surprised if he went up in trip this season. He looks in great order and as we’ve got loads of horses for the two mile division, you’d be hoping to spread them out a little bit. If he’d have settled in Aintree, he’d have won so there’s no doubt that he gets 2m4f.
Ruby Walsh: My four to follow this jumps season
Ruby Walsh: Next Destination is my big hope this season