Last weekend’s racing was pretty run of the mill stuff. We are unlikely to look back on Warwick’s Classic Chase and Sunday’s competitive fayre in Ireland in years to come and declare a vintage. And yet, at Leopardstown on Sunday, we were reminded that in our midst is one of the greatest horsemen ever to sit in a saddle.
As Killultagh Vic, one of any number of novice chasers destined for the top and trained by Willie Mullins, came to the last fence there was little out of the ordinary. When the horse jumped, slid, skidded and all but crashed to the ground on landing, however, we saw Ruby Walsh perform the kind of miracle recovery that only Ruby Walsh is capable of. In Walsh’s words: “I just sat dead still and kept dead straight”.
If you missed the race and haven’t yet seen it, take a look on social media where the incident has understandably gone viral. Walsh’s comments almost make us think that it’s little more dramatic than negotiating a roundabout in a car, but what he managed to do in not only staying on the horse but going on to win the race is the stuff of the extra-terrestrial.
At times, it defies belief that one guy can be so good and so dominant. And what of the horse? Killultagh Vic finds himself propelled to the top of the intermediate novice chase betting market at the Cheltenham Festival.
If that seems a bit odd for a horse with suspect jumping, let’s pause and reflect what skill he must have to have made mistakes, realised it, corrected himself and stayed straight. True enough, it helps when you have a master in the saddle, but Killultagh Vic somehow enhanced his burgeoning reputation by virtue of his error and recovery. All in all, that’s remarkable stuff.
For those of you suffering a bout of impatience that the Festival is still the best part of a couple of months away — or for those who can’t stand the prospect of the never-slowing build-up to the National Hunt’s greatest show on earth — have no fear because the Champion Hurdle is being run this Sunday at Leopardstown!
OK, so it’s the Irish Champion Hurdle if we have to split hairs, but with Faugheen, Nichols Canyon and Arctic Fire, all set to line up for that Mullins fellow, we have the front three in the Festival market all about to lock horns.
And for those of us who have been a bit cranky about the non-compete walkovers in Irish racing throughout the winter, we can offer nothing but praise to the trainer who is pitting his three best hurdlers against each other this side of the Festival.
Faugheen ought to win, but the worrying news for all his rivals is that he still won’t be at top notch. The Machine is being trained for mid-March and this Sunday ought to be a decent stepping stone. If he wins by half the track, they might as well not bother competing in mid-March. It will be a lap of honour.
It strikes me that anyone who is anyone in racing is currently on a beach in Barbados or, for the sake of clarity, at Mullins Beach Bar in Barbados. For once, this is not the preserve of Faugheen’s trainer. It is, instead, the home from home for racing’s rich and famous. From Paul Nicholls to owner Andy Stewart, those with the sense (and money) to escape the current winter chill are uncorking fine wine on the other side of the world.
This has left me grouchy and envious and unashamedly so. I phoned a good friend of mine to wallow in my misery last week, knowing he is not a Barbados man. He answered the phone immediately and I went into a diatribe against those who were living the good life. “Sorry David, I can’t chat, mate. I’m at the Test Match here in Cape Town and need to get off my phone.” He hung up. Life can be cruel at times.