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11th Mar 2018

Ruby Walsh could face his toughest ever career decision this Cheltenham Festival

Niall McIntyre

A tough one for Ruby.

Owner Rich Ricci admitted on Sunday morning that he is “leaning” towards running Douvan in the Ryanair Chase instead of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in Cheltenham next week.

Douvan, who hasn’t graced a race-track since he picked up an injury in defeat in the Champion Chase last year, wasn’t expected to make it back in time for the festival this time around.

But after showing well in Clonsutton, trainer Willie Mullins and Ricci gave their French-bred ten-year-old provisional entries for the Pretsbury Park festival.

The sprightly former Arkle and Supreme Novices’ hurdle winner at the Costswolds was always expected to go for the 2 mile chase, but the latest sounds from Mr. Ricci indicate that the 2 mile 5 furlong Ryanair Chase may be the race they target.

Ricci, of course, has Min already in the Champion Chase to take on Altior.

“Things change, the Ryanair has cut up. We’ve kept our options open and it is worth considering. You have to react to what is around you,” he said to Nick Luck on Sunday.

This would mean that Douvan would come up against Mullins’ other stable star Un De Sceaux, a 20 time winner over rules and the first to pass the post in last year’s Ryanair Chase.

Ruby Walsh has enjoyed some of his best days in the saddle aboard these two class acts, and if he was forced to choose between them it would surely rank as one of the toughest decisions he’s had to face in his horse racing career.

It is worth nothing, however, that the most successful jockey in Cheltenham Festival history rarely if ever makes a wrong choice in these scenarios, and his decision will be a strong indication of the best equipped horse to land the spoils.

Famously, he choose correctly between Kauto Star and Denman in the 2009 Gold Cup, with the Star justifying Ruby’s call as he Clive Smith’s horse went onto win that one with 13 lengths to spare.

He also made the right call more recently in 2015 when he choose Faugheen over Hurricane Fly in the 2015 Champion Hurdle.

This will be up there with those ones.

It is expected that he would choose Un De Sceaux with Douvan somewhat an unknown quantity with no race under his belt at all this season. Stranger things have happened, however.

Who would you choose if you were in his position?