All eyes on Walsh after blow to festival ‘banker’

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after Ruby Walsh declared himself fit for next week’s Cheltenham Festival following a knock to the head, Aegean Dawn – one of the Festival ‘bankers’ – is now a very doubtful runner after a gallops setback.

Trained by Nick Henderson, the colt has been withdrawn from tomorrow’s Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown – where he was the ante-post favourite – and is doubtful to take up either of his two Cheltenham options.

Henderson said the horse, backed heavily to win at both Sandown and Cheltenham, had put in a lacklustre performance on Wednesday that perturbed the trainer.

Ronaldo Des Mottes now heads the 24-strong Imperial Cup field, with David Pipe’s charge attempting to defy top-weight of 11st 12lb. He is joined by stablemate Arrayan, who is the 6-1 favourite following the 48-hour final declaration stage.

Ultimate represents in-form Malton trainer Brian Ellison while Gary Moore has left in the well-regarded Via Galile.

But all eyes will be on Walsh, who is set to partner Tito Bustillo for champion trainer Paul Nicholls in the competitive handicap.

He is still seeking his first victory since returning to the saddle following a four-month injury lay-off. After a final flight fall at Naas on Wednesday that required stitches to a head wound, the Cheltenham Festival’s winning-most jockey intends to make a low-key return at Sandown tomorrow.

“He’s had two stitches, but he’s good and he’s going to ride on Saturday,” said his agent and sister Jennifer.

“He’ll be back in Ireland on Sunday and then over to Cheltenham on Tuesday.”

Walsh’s intended Cheltenham rides include Master Minded in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle and Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Hot favourite Time For Rupert heads a quality 16-strong field of young stayers for Wednesday’s RSA Chase.

Racecards: Page 21.