Some garrulous men notoriously have very little to say but Ted Walsh will always command respect in word and deed alike. Having seldom had more than a couple of dozen horses in his care, he has won a remarkable variety of big races – and reiterated that he will again have to be taken very seriously in the John Smith's Grand National.
Seabass, appearing for the first time since that excellent third at Aintree last April, could hardly have shaped better than he did in a conditions race over hurdles at Fairyhouse. Racing over just two miles, he was pardonably caught flat-footed as a steady pace picked up but persevered to claim second behind the impressive Rock Critic, beaten by just three lengths, as the odds-on Make Your Mark tired badly in the heavy going.
Walsh showed a dead aim when Papillon landed a gamble in the 2000 National, a famous breakthrough in the riding career of his son. With Ruby Walsh nowadays dividing his services between the respective champion stables of Britain and Ireland, it fell to his sister, Katie, to ride Seabass at Aintree last year. Once again, Katie will be standing by for her brother to ride On His Own or Prince De Beauchene, both in the care of Willie Mullins.
But nobody, at this stage, comes closer than Walsh Snr to matching Mullins' hand. Only on Sunday, he saddled the flourishing Colbert Station to win a handicap hurdle at Punchestown – artfully keeping the steeplechase handicapper at arm's length – and now finds himself with two of the first five in Coral's book. Both Seabass and Colbert Station are 16-1, behind Prince De Beauchene on 12-1 and On His Own on 14-1. Tony McCoy has first refusal on Colbert Bay but the fact that the other 16-1 shot, Join Together, is trained by Paul Nicholls in theory means – astonishingly – that Ruby could choose from four of the first five favourites, not to mention Tidal Bay. The weights are published on Tuesday.
The comeback performance of Seabass for once ensured that a winner was overshadowed by the runner-up. Rock Critic is a smart handicapper on the Flat and remains unbeaten over timber, having won a maiden hurdle at the Galway last summer, but Dermot Weld cautioned that he is more likely to stay at home for the Punchestown Festival than venture over to Cheltenham. "He would prefer much better ground," the trainer stressed.
Another useful novice was on view at Market Rasen, where Bordoni emerged as an outsider for the JCB Triumph Hurdle with an easy maiden success. His trainer, John Ferguson, will be hoping for something similar at Ludlow today from New Year's Eve, one of the top bumper horses of last season and beaten only by River Maigue when resurfacing at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Silviniaco Conti is 8-11 favourite with the sponsors for his Cheltenham warm-up in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday, from The Giant Bolster and Menorah on 7-1.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Tight Knit (2.30 Southwell) Good dirt pedigree entitles him to do better transferred to this surface.
Minortransgression (1.30 Southwell) Not with new stable long and returns to favourite track off a very fair mark.
Where the money's going
Unioniste is 10-1 from 12-1 with William Hill for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham next month.