The privileges of his position bring corresponding pressures to Ruby Walsh, who must juggle obligations and opportunities between the rival powerhouses of Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins. The stakes are especially high today, as he has had to choose between two horses converging upon a race that might volunteer a future Gold Cup winner. In the end he went with Unioniste, which would seem to guarantee improvement on a narrow preparatory success, but it could yet be Walsh is made to regret his desertion of Boston Bob (2.40) in the RSA Chase.
Boston Bob was a fine second over hurdles at this meeting last year but has always been a steeplechaser in the making. Admittedly, he has not exactly been scintillating in winning two novice chases over shorter distances this winter, but this stiffer test is likely to play to his strengths. He jumps very well and appears to have enjoyed a classic build-up.
Mullins could already have saddled a maturing staying chaser to profit from an ideal new test in the opener. While this is a really competitive race nowadays, Back In Focus (1.30) none the less brings a touch of class to proceedings.
Great things are expected in the Mullins yard of Pont Alexandre, but he is a corresponding price for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle and there is better value about another Irish raider. In the very best of hands with trainer Mouse Morris, Rule The World (2.05) retains every right to vindicate his incautious christening after making rapid strides through his education this winter. Initially wary of exposing such a raw prospect to this crucible, Morris now appears persuaded that the horse is ready to step up – and that should be good enough for most.
Mullins has a fantastic record in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper but the big value here, at 25-1, is Purple Bay (5.15). John Ferguson saddled the runner-up last year and considers this one more obviously eligible than might be judged from a narrow debut success, after the four-year-old encountered traffic at a critical stage.
The two handicaps look mercilessly competitive but Flaxen Flare (4.40) is expected to sharpen up for blinkers and a strong pace, while Fiveforthree (4.00) returns on an indulgent mark for a dual Grade One winner in the Coral Cup. Walsh has rejected him, too, so Abbey Lane must be respected on another massive day for the Mullins yard.