Charlie Swan: Ruby Walsh has grounds to desert Fly
Despite Ruby Walsh and Hurricane Fly teaming up for a record fifth Irish Champion Hurdle on Sunday, Charlie Swan expects the champion jockey to desert his long-timer partner for ante-post favourite Faugheen in the Cheltenham equivalent.
Swan partnered Istabraq to four wins in the Leopardstown Grade One between 1998 and 2001, as well as steering Aidan O'Brien's charge to three triumphs in the big one at Cheltenham.
Walsh now faces the difficult decision of whether to keep faith in Hurricane Fly as he goes in search of a third Cheltenham crown, or to partner stablemate Faugheen.
But Swan believes there can be no room for sentiment.
"If the ground is in any way good, I think Ruby will probably ride Faugheen," said Swan.
"You've got to ride the horse with the best chance of winning on the day.
"If the ground came up soft you'd give him (Hurricane Fly) a chance, but you'd say the chances of that are probably slim.
"If it was to come up very testing, though, Hurricane Fly would have a right chance."
Swan, who recently announced his retirement from the training ranks, heaped praise on trainer Willie Mullins and Walsh for keeping Hurricane Fly at the top of his game for so long.
"It's a great achievement and he's a great horse," said the former champion jockey.
"It wasn't looking great for him down the back, but it shows you what a good horse he is that he managed to get it back."
As for Jezki, his connections were happy enough with his run behind Hurricane Fly despite losing out to his old adversary for a fifth time.
But for a mistake at the final flight, Jezki would have finished second instead of third.
All roads now lead to Cheltenham where Jezki will attempt to retain his crown in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, in which he had Hurricane Fly back in fourth last March.
"He's come out of the race fine. He ran well, he was probably going to be second again and there's no real excuses," said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.
"Hurricane Fly is a wonderful horse and it was no disgrace to be beaten by him round there.
"Hopefully all will go well between now and Cheltenham. Everyone has to get there on the day."
Another McManus representative, Gilgamboa, is likely to step up in trip after the leading novice chaster lost his 100 per cent record over fences behind the impressive Un De Sceaux on the same Leopardstown card.
The seven-year-old has an entry in the JLT Novices' Chase over two and a half miles at the Cheltenham Festival and that was immediately suggested as a possible target for Gilgamboa, which had won his first two starts over the bigger obstacles at Navan and Limerick.