After 3½ months out with a broken leg Ruby Walsh, a short-priced favourite to be leading jockey (an award sponsored by designers Holland Cooper) for the 13th time at Cheltenham next week, returned to business with a winner when Lareena won the maiden hurdle at Thurles for Willie Mullins.
It was the 38-year-old’s only ride of the day and the comeback really could not have gone better. The mare was keen early on but landed in front at the second last and then gave the jockey a good workout as he drove her out to beat Awayinthewest, ridden by Davy Russell, who has been making hay in Walsh’s absence, by five lengths.
Though it took Walsh a while to break into a smile, the only indication of how he was feeling was when he patted Lareena a couple of times more than he might normally have done after winning a moderate maiden hurdle.
Afterwards Walsh joked: “I thought I was all right out there, she won anyway! I have one ride at Leopardstown tomorrow [Karalee in a 2¼-mile hurdle) and what happens over the next couple of days I’ll let Willie decide.”
Most of his homework for Cheltenham will be in the formbook now. Though he knows his first two rides will be the favourites Getabird in the Supreme and Footpad in the Arkle, he has some big calls to make about what he rides in races where Mullins has multiple runners but no firm pecking order.
In the Unibet Champion Hurdle he has the choice between Wicklow Brave, Faugheen, Yorkhill or Melon. In the Betway Champion Chase it is Douvan or Min while in the Timico Gold Cup it is Killultagh Vic, Djakadam or Total Recall.
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