Mark Walsh aiming to help Farid earn Cheltenham ticket

JP McManus’s rider a 12-1 shot to be leading jockey at the festival

Last-minute tickets to Cheltenham will be the order of the weekend and leading jockey Mark Walsh will try and help Farid earn one at Fairyhouse today.

The Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy skips the BetVictor Bobbyjo Chase and leaves those looking for Cheltenham clues to focus instead on the Winning Fair Juvenile Hurdle.

Authorizo, owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud, is already as short as 20-1 for the Triumph Hurdle and also holds a Supreme Novice Hurdle entry.

He won his Irish debut impressively over course and distance last month which gives him more solid form claims for today’s contest than Farid.

Owned by O’Leary’s great rival, JP McManus, Farid boasted a major reputation prior to his own Irish debut over the same course and distance but proved a major flop at very short odds.

Subsequently he managed only fifth to Carlo Biraghi at Punchestown so has plenty to prove in this Grade Three company.

Farid’s festival options are restricted to the Fred Winter Hurdle although he is only 16-1 in some lists for that which indicates connections feel he is better than he has shown to date.

With Barry Geraghty in action at Kempton today, and sitting out tomorrow’s Naas programme, Walsh has four weekend rides for McManus.

Walsh has been an even more constant presence on McManus’s horses in Ireland this season. Having broken his festival duck last year on Bleu Berry in the Coral Cup, he is just 12-1 in some lists to win the leading jockey award at Cheltenham.

Huge festival team

Walsh is fourth in this season's Irish jockeys championship with 57 winners. They include Grade One wins on the Arkle favourite Le Richebourg and Sir Erec who is hot favourite for the Triumph.

The composition of McManus’s huge festival team is always hugely anticipated with the Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur D’Air its headline act this time.

However McManus's racing manager Frank Berry said yesterday it is too early to decide on how Walsh and Geraghty split up riding arrangements at Cheltenham.

“If the two of them are in one piece that week we’ll sort it out. There’s nothing written in stone yet. They’re getting on grand and Barry has a lot of good rides on English horses as well. So we’ll work it out nearer the time,” Berry said.

“Buveur D’air is in great order but it will all boil down with most of ours to the handicaps. It will depend on the way they go and whether they get in or not,” he added.

Other major Irish-trained Grade One contenders however include McManus’s recent purchase, Fakir D’Oudairies, and Rhinestone. Last year’s third Anibale Fly is likely to again carry the famous green and yellow colours in the Gold Cup.

Presenting Percy's absence from the Bobbyjo allows Davy Russell switch to Outlander, one of three Gigginstown hopes in the seven-runner field.

National contender

With Ruby Walsh sitting out the weekend, David Mullins is back on Pleasant Company, the 2017 Bobbyjo winner, who came agonisingly close to catching Tiger Roll in last year's Aintree National.

Another Willie Mullins National contender lining up is Rathvinden, winner of the four-miler at Cheltenham last year.

On the going conditions though, Jessica Harrington’s mare Magic Of Light presents a convincing case in terms of ratings.

Naas stages its festival Trials Day tomorrow although substantial Cheltenham clues could be thin on the ground.

Hairy Molly (2006) and Pizarro (2002) memorably won the finale on-route to landing the Champion Bumper a couple of weeks later.

Gigginstown’s ambivalent attitude to that festival contest means Midnight Run may win impressively tomorrow and still leave Cheltenham to others.

The Grade Two Paddy Power Hurdle can identify future stars such as Annie Power who won it half a dozen years ago.

Chosen Mate has entries in all three Grade One novice events at Cheltenham and time may prove he was attempting a difficult task against the mare Sinoria at Punchestown last time.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column