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Listen as former champion jockey turned tv pundit Ruby Walsh with Paddy Power trade Frank Hickey join host Patrick Kennelly for a special National Hunt Season Preview.
Ruby rules the rule over the best of Willie Mullins’ runners for the season ahead and their likely targets along the way to the Cheltenham Festival 2023.
And if you’re looking for one to keep an eye out on later in the season, Frank’s on hand with his Welsh Grand National Trial fancy.
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Ruby Walsh: It looks like we made the same ‘mistake’ with Allaho as we did for Quevega. She won her first mares’ hurdle, she came back to Punchestown and dropped down to the Champion Hurdle and Punjabi beat her. Allaho won his first Ryanair, came back to Punchestown and dropped down to the two-mile chase and couldn’t cope with Chacun Pour Soi. So both of them in time went up to three miles, Allaho came back to Punchestown this year and went up to three miles so and that has probably opened the door to the King George Chase at Christmas for him, no doubt about it.
It’ll be interesting. He could start as early as the Clonmel Oil Chase, I’d imagine Willie would love to have a run into him going into the King George if he chooses to go that way. I think he will. He’s talking about it. The John Durkan Chase in early December is too tight as a ‘stepping stone’ for Kempton, even if the John Durkan Chase is a race worth winning in its own right. If you win it though in early December, it just doesn’t give you a lot of time to recover for the King George on December 26. I think Allaho looks tailormade for the King George if he goes there.
Will Appreciate It be going chasing?
Ruby Walsh: Appreciate It and El Fabiolo – they’ll definitely go chasing. I’d say it’s still 50-50 with Sir Gerhard depending on the schooling he does. But Appreciate It had one run last season in the Champion Hurdle – it was always a big ask and he didn’t cope with it.
Appreciate It is open to go up a little bit in trip, he could go out to 2m 4f looking at him. He was a brilliant winner of the Supreme, but he’s a bit older now, I could see him stepping out a little bit in trip.
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The Gold Cup division is really exciting
Ruby Walsh: While the standard of last year’s Gold Cup was quite high, the race was run at a muddling pace. It wasn’t a real stamina test and the fastest horse, A Plus Tard, absolutely bolted in. He was spectacular – if I was riding him, training him, owning him, I would be gung ho for the Gold Cup again – he was amazing.
However, there were some really good novices last season like Galopin Des Champs, L’Homme Presse, Ahoy Senor even Bravemansgame. We recorded this before last Saturday’s Charlie Hall Chase when Bravemansgame saw off Ahoy Senor convincingly, but I think Ahoy Senor and L’Homme Presse, are solid ‘stayers’. They stay all day, both like to be ridden forward and I think for that reason by March you’ll see a much different Cheltenham Gold Cup picture than last season.
They’re good horses (although Ahoy Senor will have to bounce back) to me that’s a really strong division. People are wrapped up in Constitution Hill-Honeysuckle debate in the Champion Hurdle but the three-mile staying division this year could provide some great races. You have some good novices coming through with real depth in there.
There will be some great races – I think the King George will be a good race, the Savills Chase at Leopardstown will be a good race. Obviously then you’ll have the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham and it will build all the way to the Cheltenham Festival next March.
Honeysuckle is the one in the Champion Hurdle
Ruby Walsh: The reigning champion Honeysuckle may go to the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, then Leopardstown for the Dublin Racing Festival and the Irish Champion Hurdle – she’ll only have two runs prior to Cheltenham in March, I’d imagine.
What’s Constitution Hill going to have? Probably two runs as well, will he have had a third? The Coral Hurdle at Ascot, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton? Will he take on Epatante there or will that be left for her to try an d win again? It’s hard to figure out where he’s going to go ahead of the Champion Hurdle.
Constitution Hill won a really good Supreme in a really good time but a race that ultimately fell apart. Jonbon and Dysart Dynamo took each other on and he just sat behind and let them at it, they fell apart and he kept going. Before they got to the fourth last hurdle and they started to climb the hill, Jonbon went at Dysart Dynamo and they quickened up on to the hill and he let them at it. So if you go faster up the hill, it takes a lot of energy out of you, so when they turned to descend and they needed to get a lung full of air, Constitution Hill arrived on their outside and didn’t give them the opportunity to catch their breath. He put the race to bed there and then.
Honeysuckle is the reigning Champion Hurdler. Her time was a good bit slower, but I think it was a slower race all the way. It was slower in every part including the finish – you have no doubt about her stamina. If you got a Champion Hurdle where they went as hard there as they did in this year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle, it would suit Honeysuckle down to the ground as well.
Both will need to go through the season unblemished to make it the race that people want it to be. Constitution Hill is a very good horse but I’m not going away from Honeysuckle – I think she’s outstanding.
Facile Vega is hugely exciting
Ruby Walsh: I’d say Facile Vega was a bit below form at the Punchestown Festival compared to where he was at Cheltenham or Leopardstown for the Dublin Racing Festival. But you just have to love the way that he still managed to win despite that. He hasn’t gotten any stronger over the summer, he’s just a big, tall, light-framed horse, but he does look really well. He’s a good jumper and he’s hugely exciting.
I think he could run in either the Supreme Novices Hurdle or the Ballymore Hurdle. If he so wished he could drop him into the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. He’s a good novice – he has three options as to which novice hurdle he could end up in. He’ll start in a maiden hurdle, he’ll end up at Leopardstown hopefully at Christmas, back there for the Dublin Racing Festival and then Cheltenham.
He could end up at Naas in the Lawlors of Naas hurdle early in the New Year. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes, once he’s won a maiden hurdle.
Sweet on Champ Kiely
Ruby Walsh: With all these superstars yet to appear there’s a danger we may have overlooked Champ Kiely. He’s a proper horse. He was very good in Galway, he bolted in in Tipperary then and will set a fair standard in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse when that swings around. If he wins the Royal Bond Hurdle, he’ll end up at Leopardstown for the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle and then hopefully, the Dublin Racing Festival in February.
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