The biggest news of day two at the Cheltenham Festival was the injury suffered by Ruby Walsh, which will have severe consequences for the rest of the races to come.
Walsh is the most successful jockey in Cheltenham history, and he opened his campaign on Tuesday with wins on the back of Footpad in the Arkle and Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle.
But on Wednesday the Irishman, who had only just returned from a broken leg, suffered a stress fracture to his leg when falling with Al Boum Photo in the RSA Chase. Fortunately, the horse did not appear to be badly hurt….although the same sadly can’t be said for his jockey.
“My right leg is in a cast and the fall opened the fracture at the back. I won’t know the full extent until Tuesday [when he sees a specialist in Dublin],” he told Racing UK.
One of Willie Mullins’ substitute riders, his son Patrick, climbed on board Douvan in the Champion Chase but fell four from home when travelling well. Paul Townend took the ride on Max Dynamite in the Coral Cup but finished dead last, although there was some consolation for the trainer in that Mark Walsh did the business on Bleu Berry, a 20/1 fancy.
The question for Mullins today and tomorrow – and for punters too, of course – is to decide who takes on Ruby’s rides, and ultimately the impact that will have on their chances of success.
Into the Breach
Thursday’s racecard is as stacked as ever at Cheltenham, and the feature renewal is the Ryanair Chase.
The bookies’ favourite for the race is Un De Sceaux, who would normally have Walsh on board – a partnership which led to success in this renewal exactly 12 months ago.
Mullins has confirmed that Paul Townend will take the mount on Un De Sceaux instead, and that was a combination that led to victory in January’s Clarence House Chase.
That said, the odds on Un De Sceaux have lengthened with most books overnight – due in part to Walsh’s absence but also some 9mm of rain that fell on Prestbury Park, with Cue Card and Frodon being the key beneficiaries.
Going for Gold
Another headscratcher for Mullins is who will take the ride on Killultagh Vic in the Gold Cup on Friday; a horse who is quietly fancied to do well in the festival’s feature race should conditions remain on the heavy side.
“I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest. I’ll leave it up to the jockeys,” was Mullins’ reply.
“Paul [Townend] will be offered the ride on Killultagh Vic, but he might want to stay on Total Recall, in which case David [Mullins]or Patrick [Mullins] could ride Killultagh Vic. We’ll see.”
Killultagh Vic is into 9s from 12s with the bookmakers since the start of the week, so will surely become a key player at the head of the market as the rain continues to fall in Cheltenham.
The last time Townend took the mount on Killultagh Vic he fell at the last when leading at Leopardstown in the Irish Gold Cup, and that adds an interesting sub-plot to a Gold Cup renewal that is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in years.