Source: Cheltmental via Facebook
While Cheltenham Festival is of course primarily about the horses, there are two people in recent years who have dominated the meeting with stunning regularity. Trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh have represented Ireland with great aplomb in the past decade, with Walsh announcing at the start of the year that he plans to race on Mullins' Laurina in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham this March.
Walsh and Laurina won with ludicrous ease at Sandown in January. Footage from itv.com revealed that this win for Laurina was as easy as they come. The win also marked both Walsh and Mullins' first wins in the UK racing season, with both becoming increasingly rare sights at British courses. Yet their appearance at Cheltenham was never in doubt, and both will arrive with strong ambitions of blowing away all contenders.
Mullins has ranked as a leading trainer in five of the eight festivals since 2011, while Walsh’s record is even more astounding. Walsh has ended the festival as the best-performing jockey at twelve of the last sixteen Cheltenham meetings, including a run from 2013 to 2017 that saw Walsh finish as a bonafide Cheltenham champ for five consecutive years. Despite the incredible record of the Irish jockey, it is somewhat surprising to consider that Walsh has lacked the crossover appeal of some of his contemporaries into other media.
AP McCoy’s horseracing achievements were recognised in 2013 when he was named as RTE Sportsperson of the Year, while Frankie Dettori’s achievement of finishing 7th in Celebrity Big Brother is much less noteworthy but nevertheless demonstrates the jockey’s prominence in the public eye. Eight-time Champion jockey Peter Scudamore even teamed up with slot developer NetEnt to create Scudamore’s Super Stakes, with NetEnt known as one of the most popular slot producers whose output can be found at almost all of the online casinos recommended at offer comparison sites like Casionwings.com.
Perhaps when Walsh finally retires, he will be granted a similar level of acclaim for what will go down as one of the most remarkable careers. Walsh will be hoping that he can continue his fine Cheltenham record this year, with Mullins similarly eager that these two experienced and decorated pros can shine again at the venue where they have enjoyed so much success.
Source: Racing TV via Facebook.
Laurina is very much a bundle of untested potential, but theguardian.com reported that Mullins has compared her talent to top-class mares at a similar stage in their development. Annie Power was one such Mullins-trained mare that Walsh took to victory in the Champion Hurdle in 2016, so this trainer-jockey duo are the perfect assessors of Laurina's potential for the festival.
Since Annie Power's victory, Nicky Henderson's Buveur d'Air has monopolised the Champion Hurdle. Most bookmakers are unsurprisingly making Buveur d'Air favourite to secure a third consecutive victory, but Laurina ranks alongside Gordon Elliott's Apples Jade as a genuine contender.
The field for the Champion Hurdle is deep and talented, but so often the smart money at Cheltenham has been on Mullins and Walsh. The early signs from Laurina are encouraging, and it might be that the next time we see the mare is when she crosses the finish line in first to add to the outstanding Cheltenham records of two racing legends.