Cheltenham 2017: Walsh believes he's made right call with Limini
The Irish tend to spend more than £19m at the Cheltenham Festival but they may better that figure in 2017 if things go favourably as the Olympics of jumps racing commences today.
With 28 races between today and Friday, huge sums of money will be wagered, and the pressure is already on two legends to keep the hordes of Irish punters in profit.
Willie Mullins is seeking his fifth Festival trainers' title in succession, Ruby Walsh his ninth jockeys' gong from the last 10. And it is the axis' Melon, favourite for the opener, that carries enormous Irish support today.
Melon ran just once in Ireland but has been backed from 20/1 into 3/1. Walsh may have picked three others in the race but Mullins said: "Melon seems a natural jumper. When I bought him I thought, if he's good enough he's a Champion Hurdle horse."
The deadly duo dominate the Mares' Hurdle, which Mullins has won every year apart from its first renewal in 2008. He surprised analysts here by pitching two high-class horses against each other, Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag, both owned by American multi-millionaire Rich Ricci.
Walsh sides with Limini, which beat Apple's Jade at Punchestown last month, but some expect that form to be reversed, especially as Apple's Jade has already beaten Vroum Vroum Mag - deserted by Walsh now - this season.
Walsh said: "I've thought for a while this was going to happen, and still at 11.30 on Sunday morning I wasn't sure (what to ride), and I suppose I've gone with recent form, and Limini's recent form is better than Vroum Vroum Mag's.
"Vroum Vroum Mag has definitely done more and proven more in her career -but there's nothing between them on ratings (or) home work. I took a chance on Limini being one that's improving; Vroum Vroum Mag may have plateaued."
Meanwhile, Alan King believes Yanworth is primed to run a big race in the Stan James Champion Hurdle after confessing he is in the best shape he has been in all season.
In what is an open renewal of the two-mile showpiece, the seven-year-old heads the market to go one better than in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle and gain victory on his third outing at the Cheltenham Festival, having finished fourth in the 2015 Champion Bumper.
The JP McManus-owned gelding, who will be ridden for the first time by Mark Walsh, has won each of his three starts this season, the most recent in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
King said: "I've made it clear that he is not a speed horse, but unfortunately the races at Kempton and Wincanton were the only ones we could go for.
"The good news is that we have had a totally clear run since Wincanton. Mark Walsh came over on Thursday and schooled him over 12 hurdles.
"It all went extremely well. He is in the best form I've had him all season, whether that is good enough to win a Champion Hurdle, I'm not sure, but he will certainly be in the mix."