Cheltenham Festival Specials: Who will Ruby Walsh ride in the Champions Hurdle?

A tough decision for Ruby Walsh awaits... or does it?
A tough decision for Ruby Walsh awaits... or does it?

After Hurricane Fly's brilliant win in the Irish Champion Hurdle on Sunday, will Ruby Walsh stay loyal to the 22-time Grade 1 winner at Cheltenham, or will he instead opt to ride new kid on the block Faugheen?  Betfair Sportsbook has opened a market on the question, so Tony Keenan takes a look...

"Faugheen is the coming horse in a race only two horses older than 10 have ever won. He is unbeaten and seems impervious to ground. He has a Festival pedigree, having won the Neptune in 2014, a race that has been a decent guide to the Champion."

Ruby Walsh is not given to sentiment. Following the death of Our Conor at the Festival last year, the jockey drew the ire of some when he commented in a Late Late Show interview that, "horses are horses. You can replace a horse. It's sad, but horses are animals, outside your back door."

He wants to win big races rather than remain loyal too long, something evident in the look of thunder he gave Derek Thompson after the 2008 Gold Cup when questioned about his decision to choose Kauto Star over the winner Denman.

There are reasons for riding Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham. The 11yo is a dual winner of the race and has achieved a level of consistency and longevity hitherto unseen in a top class hurdler. Yet his penchant of hitting a flat spot was again evident on Sunday and will be hard to overcome in a decent ground in Champion Hurdle; to ride Hurricane Fly would be a sentimental not logical call.

Faugheen on the other hand makes sense. He is the coming horse in a race only two horses older than 10 have ever won. He is unbeaten and seems impervious to ground. He has a Festival pedigree, having won the Neptune in 2014, a race that has been a decent guide to the Champion.

This is no Kauto versus Denman decision from 2008. That pair were closely matched in the market, their prices only splitting on the day of the race. Faugheen and Hurricane Fly on the other hand are priced 2.3811/8 and 11.010/1 respectively to win the Champion Hurdle on the Betfair Exchange.

It could be argued that these odds are merely an expression of the views of layers and odds compilers and as subject to hype as any betting market.

Yet the wisdom of crowds also applies here. This is one of the biggest races of the year and the market can be supposed accurate. There would be no more dramatic winner of the Champion Hurdle than the Fly but Faugheen is by far Ruby's most likely chance of winning the race. Sentiment only goes so far and I expect logic to win out.


Who Will Ruby Walsh ride in the Champion Hurdle?

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