Ruby Walsh is ready to raise the bar for the already legendary fitness and fortitude of jump jockeys by returning to the saddle at Cheltenham tomorrow after being given the all-clear yesterday to return to race-riding, less than a month after an operation to remove his spleen after he was injured in a fall at the same course on 15 November.
Walsh, who was cleared to resume by the Turf Club chief medical officer, Adrian McGoldrick, said: "It's all systems go. I've got the go-ahead and will start back on Friday when I will have one ride, Mahonia, for Paul Nicholls at Cheltenham. It's the news I wanted to hear and I'm really looking forward to getting back into action."
The jockey, who will partner Celestial Halo and Silverburn for Nicholls at Cheltenham on Saturday, had set himself the aim of being ready to ride Kauto Star in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, which implied a return to riding this side of Christmas. But other riders who have undergone the same operation, such as the Grand National-winning jockey Paul Carberry, have required three months on the sidelines to recuperate.
Among potential partners had Walsh returned a day earlier would have been Herecomesthetruth, proof if it were needed that Walsh's understudy, Sam Thomas, who has endured a torrid time during his absence, does not have a monopoly on prising defeat from the jaws of victory. The six-year-old, who contests the novice chase at Taunton, was challenging at the final fence at Cheltenham when choosing to duck out under Walsh on the jockey's penultimate day in action, a harbinger perhaps of greater reverses to come for the yard.
Nicholls is represented in the day's feature race, the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, by Natal, who returns to an event greatly reinvigorated by its restoration to a midweek slot after the nadir of the Saturday experiment last year, when he was beaten 30 lengths in a match with Racing Demon.
Snoopy Loopy, one of Natal's 10 rivals today, is no stranger to competition as he will be returning to the fray for his 10th start of the season just 12 days after carrying top weight into third in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. "He's in great form and he's come out of the Hennessy really well," said his trainer, Peter Bowen, of the leader of the Order of Merit. "We'll keep chipping away at trying to get more points on the board."