Ruby Walsh's views on Total Recall, Douvan and other leading lights
The leading rider is joined by Sean Bowen, Richard Hobson and Harry Whittington
To celebrate the countdown to Christmas, the Racing Post is giving away one piece of paid content free each day. Here, our Monday Jury reflect on the events of the last few days and look forward to a Saturday cracker at Sandown
How high can Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall fly?
Sean Bowen, jockey: It's impressive how far he's come already. It's crazy that he went up 18lb for Limerick and could still win the Ladbrokes Trophy, but he had a nice racing weight and will go up quite a bit again. He could end up in between handicaps and graded races as it stands, but obviously with Willie Mullins he could improve again.
Andrew Griffiths, Betfred odds compiler: Total Recall hadn’t looked anything out of the ordinary, but the switch to Willie Mullins and a step up in trip has worked wonders. He’s been a revelation this season and is undoubtedly one of the most progressive chasers in training. His win on Saturday was impressive considering he tanked through the race and I’m confident he can make a mark in Graded company.
Richard Hobson, trainer: He joined Willie off a very good mark after being well nurtured by Sandra Hughes, and at this stage he might struggle to reach Gold Cup standard as he's got a fair way to go still. But with Willie almost anything is possible.
Ruby Walsh, jockey: He has progressed a long way already and how much more he can progress again, I don’t know. But when he steps into Graded company it will be a different story. He’s an improving horse but he needs to improve again if he is going to have genuine Gold Cup aspirations. It’s how he’ll fare outside of handicap company with a bigger weight on his back – that’s the interesting question. But everything that he’s been asked so far, he’s answered.
Harry Whittington, trainer: Along with the runner-up Whisper I feel both horses are destined for the top. Both are high class and they pulled a long way clear. It wouldn't surprise me if either horse were able to win at the highest level over fences this season.
How serious a Gold Cup player is Whisper?
Sean Bowen: It's hard to say how what happened on Saturday will translate, but I wouldn't be surprised. I was impressed by how he jumped in a big-field handicap, especially as he wasn't great at Kempton. Newbury's a tough course to jump around at the best of times, so to do it in the Ladbrokes Trophy you can't be going far wrong.
Andrew Griffiths: Whisper ran the race of his life at Newbury and it was hard not to feel sorry for him as he couldn’t quite fend off the well-treated winner in the closing stages. As we’ve seen throughout his career, he’s just shy of top class and that’s why I struggle to see him winning a race like the Gold Cup. Realistically, he’s playing for place money.
Richard Hobson: It's early days obviously, but on what we've seen so far this season and with question marks over plenty of the others, Whisper would have to be in the reckoning. He's long been capable of a high level of form, he's very consistent and he loves Cheltenham.
Ruby Walsh: I thought he ran a blinding race on Saturday and he definitely travelled and jumped better than I thought he would. Could he be a Gold Cup horse? It depends on what lines up in the race. But I don’t know how he’d be able to beat Might Bite let alone the rest of the runners.
Harry Whittington: He has to be a massive player. He has the form around the track at the festival, he jumps great and he'll have Davy Russell on board. Say no more.
Which camp are you in for the Champion Hurdle – Buveur D'Air, Faugheen or another?
Sean Bowen: I was very impressed with Buveur D'Air on Saturday at Newcastle. I was on Irving and he won in a canter. Irving's rated 155, has won the race twice and loves the ground, but Buveur D'Air was so far ahead it's scary. But I was also very impressed with Faugheen. It might be bold at this stage, but it looks a two-horse race to me.
Andrew Griffiths: The Champion Hurdle division is worryingly weak and like every bookmaker in the land we’ll be praying they both make it to Cheltenham in one piece. A back-to-his-best Faugheen versus Buveur D’Air would be a race to savour and we have both feet fully in Faugheen the machine’s corner.
Richard Hobson: Buveur D'Air was very impressive on Saturday and Faugheen won effortlessly on his return. I don't suppose they will meet until March but my preference, no more than that, would be for Faugheen.
Ruby Walsh: If I’m not in the Faugheen camp then who else will be? Faugheen was very good in the Morgiana but Buveur D’Air was equally as good in the Fighting Fifth. It will be a talking point right throughout the season and it will bubble up nicely up until March.
Harry Whittington: A tough question and the easiest part to answer is that it shouldn't be any other horse winning the race. I suppose if Faugheen turns up at Cheltenham in March in the same form as he did on his comeback then he will be very hard to beat. But at the same time Buveur D'Air is the reigning champion. He's only a six-year-old so there is still more to come. I've sat on the fence but what a clash and spectacle it would be if they both turn up in March with a clear preparation.
Is Thistlecrack still a horse who excites you?
Sean Bowen: Yeah, he does. He just looked to get tired on Friday and Tom Scu has looked after him, which has meant he's finished as far back as he has. As for the King George, I wouldn't be sure whether it's too soon for him but I wouldn't be doubting whatever Colin Tizzard chooses to do, given the way his horses have been going.
Andrew Griffiths: At his peak Thistlecrack was a joy to watch but I didn’t see anything at Newbury on Friday to get the blood pumping. He travelled well to a point but weakened alarmingly quickly. As a punting proposition he’s more or less impossible to back until we see what he produces on his next run in the King George.
Richard Hobson: It would have required genius training to have Thistlecrack fit enough to win that race after a tendon injury and to my eyes he travelled with all of his old enthusiasm for well over two and a half miles before blowing up. It's great to hear he trotted out sound on Saturday, and it's far too early to write him off.
Ruby Walsh: He travelled and jumped well but he ultimately faded. It was a stiff ask back over three miles on his first run back and it will be tough for him if he goes for the King George as well but he should have progressed from Newbury. Whether the King George comes too quick enough or not, only time will tell.
Harry Whittington: As much as we'd all love to see him back doing great things, it's hard to be excited after Friday’s run and with the King George only just over three weeks away. The way he finished his race would suggest there was possibly something amiss. What I would say is that he in the right hands and will be given every chance of getting back to his best.
What else has gone in the notebook from the last few days?
Sean Bowen: I won on Act Of Valour at Newcastle and was impressed with him. He travelled and jumped really well and essentially hacked up on ground he didn't really like. The horse he beat was rated 90 on the Flat and won on heavy ground, so it was a decent performance and I know Paul [Nicholls] quite likes him. I'd also mention Willoughby Court, as he'd just improved so much from Huntingdon. He jumped and stayed really well.
Andrew Griffiths: Bon Papa has always looked a chaser in the making so it was no surprise to see him step up on his hurdles form at Punchestown. He’s worth keeping an eye on as he goes up in trip. Real Steel also made a positive impression on his debut for Willie Mullins at Thurles and is another to follow.
Richard Hobson: I particularly enjoyed watching the young pretenders Harry Cobden and Bryony Frost up against Dickie Johnson and Noel Fehily, the best of the older generation, in the Graded novice chase. We had just won the Listed hurdle with Dame Rose, and she was fabulously game. She's very classy and should continue improving, so the future is bright.
Ruby Walsh: Apple’s Jade was fantastic and she’s just a very good mare and I also thought that Buveur D’Air was outstanding in the Fighting Fifth. They posted the standout performances of the weekend for me.
Harry Whittington: Well from my own point of view Bigmartre showed me he could potentially be top class over fences. I thought he would make a better chaser than a hurdler but to win his first two in the manner he has is very exciting indeed. Plan A is the Kingmaker at Warwick next or if not the Lightning at Doncaster. Other than that it was fantastic to see Beer Goggles win the Long Distance Hurdle for the Richard Woollacott team. There were no excuses and the best horse won on the day!
Is Douvan one to take on in Saturday's Tingle Creek?
Sean Bowen: I know the Nicholls yard has Politologue in the race, but I think Douvan on his day is just something else so I wouldn't be rushing to take him on.
Andrew Griffiths: The vibes from Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci have been very positive about Douvan but the fact remains he has questions to answer. He’ll need to be somewhere near his best up against a race-fit Fox Norton so we’ll certainly be taking him on until he proves it on the course.
Richard Hobson: I heard Ruby Walsh talking about Douvan on TV and by all accounts he's in fabulous form. If that's the case I would be very reluctant to take him on. He's a brilliant chaser when he's right and I'm looking forward to seeing him.
Ruby Walsh: He will take all the beating. It will be a difficult watch for me but he’s a brilliant horse and I hope he can get his career back on track. He was the last horse I rode work on before I got hurt and he was some order. I wouldn't be taking him on.
Harry Whittington: Not for me, if Douvan turns up in good form there's only one winner. Fox Norton looks the best of the home team and can chase him home.
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