At the start of day three if you’d have offered Ruby Walsh one winner on the day he might have taken it. After two days of frustration, including a first defeat over fences for the previously unbeaten superstar Douvan in Wednesday’s Champion Chase, Walsh had the look of a man who had ordered a fillet steak but had received a salad. Cheltenham is Walsh’s playground – he’s the most familiar face in the winners enclosure. It’s hard to keep a good man down and Walsh proved that with four genius rides on a memorable afternoon at Prestbury Park.
The Irishman was at his stylish best on the talented but quirky Yorkhill (6/4f) in the opening JLT Novices’ Chase. Last year’s Neptune winner has looked a tricky ride over fences this season but he was foot perfect here, crossing the line a length clear of Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch. Looking ahead to 2018 Walsh suggested that a step up to three miles would see even more improvement for the JLT winner. He said: “Yorkhill has Gold Cup written all over him. People criticise his jumping but he has a huge kink in him. The best ones always do.”
An hour later Walsh’s Tuesday and Wednesday troubles were a faint memory as Un De Sceaux (7/4f) ran his rivals ragged to land the 2m5f Ryanair Chase. The 2015 Arkle winner, second behind Sprinter Sacre in last year’s Champion Chase, relished the step up in trip and produced a spectacular leap at the last to seal his seventh win at Grade 1 level.
The betting for the feature race on the card – the 3m Stayers’ hurdle – suggested a British winner in the shape of Harry Fry’s unowwhatimeanharry but Walsh had other ideas. Riding Nichols Canyon (10/1) he timed his run perfectly to collar the brave frontrunner Lil Rockefeller on the run-in. Nichols Canyon took a heavy fall in the Irish Champion hurdle at the end of January but he showed no signs of rustiness here and was an impressive winner.
Three became four just over an hour later as Walsh teamed up with Mullins and owner Rich Ricci to land the Grade 2 Dawn Run Novices’ Hurdle on well backed favourite Let’s Dance (11/8f). Jumping two out Walsh was ten lengths behind the leading pack but the mares’ backers never had a moments worry as she was barely out of second gear. As soon as Walsh asked for her effort she showed the kind of acceleration that only the great horses possess and scythed through the field to win comfortably.
Friday is Gold Cup day and there will be no more confident jockey than Ruby Walsh who rides the 2015 & 2016 runner-up Djakadam. The vibes coming from the Emerald isle suggest he’s in rude health and a huge run is expected. Walsh hasn’t ridden the winner of jump racings Blue Riband since his 2009 success on the legendary Kauto Star. After Thursday’s exhibition in horsemanship you’d be foolish to back against him adding another Gold Cup to his collection.