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Where else can I start but with Ruby. Of course, there had been a bit of chat that he might retire this season, there always is about the older lads in the weighing room, but it was a big shock to me that he did it like he did.
He was just after giving Kemboy a fabulous ride to win the Punchestown Gold Cup, looking as good as he ever has, so for him to announce it there and then was a big surprise to me at least.
Ruby has had an unbelievable career. It’s hard to know where to start with him. There’s no doubt he was one of the best, if not the very best, there has ever been. He was such an all-rounder as a rider, he could do it all from any position to the highest standard. His horsemanship, jockeyship, timing and cleverness always stood out.
He was always thinking and was usually one step in front of most.
In terms of drive and professionalism, he was different gear. From a young age he undertook that routine of commuting over and back to England in between Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins. It wasn’t as easy to organise logistics like flights and cars back in those times and it would have been a fair test of anyone, but he put his shoulder to the wheel and made it work.
Politically, juggling those two jobs was a serious job in itself. To be able to do all that and be riding at the very top of his game for so many years was a testament to how much he wanted success.
We have all had our fair share of injuries, but he has probably got it worse than anyone. That time with his spleen at Cheltenham stands out and the multiple leg breaks in more recent seasons must have been particularly testing. The rehab for those broken legs was very long and difficult, that’s the side of it that no one sees.
He came through all that on multiple occasions and his focus or bottle was never diminished by any of it. It really is the end of an era and I wish Ruby and his family all the best on whatever path he takes in the future.
I thought he ran well at Aintree, but ultimately, he has been beaten on merit twice this season and it just makes you wonder whether he is quite as good as he has been in previous seasons. This race will hopefully tell us more on that front.
A few of his rivals from Aintree re-oppose him here, but I think it’ll be a different race than Aintree. Melon should be suited by coming back in trip on better ground and while Supasundae won this race last year, he did seem really suited by two-and-a-half miles at Aintree.
Apple’s Jade would be a danger to all on her best form, but she hasn’t looked as good in recent starts and had a hard race over three miles at Aintree. If she can bounce back to win this, it will be a huge effort.
All told, I’d be hopeful Buveur D’Air will be the one to beat. If he produces anywhere near his best, he must have a great chance.
Later on that card the Alanna Home Champion Novice Hurdle (18:05) looks to be all about the Martin Brassil-trained City Island. He was very good when winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the form got a boost when the runner-up Champ won a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he’s even better here than at Cheltenham and that will make him very tough to beat.
The main event at Punchestown on Saturday is the AES Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle (16:25) and I think the Nicky Henderson-trained Fusil Raffles is the one. He was very impressive at Kempton and while he picked up an injury there, missing Cheltenham means that he comes into this a fresh horse.
No one is better with juvenile hurdlers than Nicky and he seems to have a big opinion of him.
Fakir D’Oudairies is clearly the big danger to him based on his run at Aintree, but this will be the third big spring festival he has run at and that is particularly hard for a juvenile hurdler to do. The freshness of Fusil Raffles might well tilt the argument in his favour on the day.
The other Grade 1 on the card is the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle (15:50) and it looks to be at the mercy of Benie Des Dieux. She looked like she was going to win at Cheltenham when checking out at the last, but I thought she was getting a shade tired there and should come on from the run.
She stepped up from Cheltenham to Punchestown last year and she looks likely to be very hard to beat.