Friends reunited for Fehily as McManus hands out key rides
Noel Fehily: rider knows Buveur D'Air and Unowhatimeanharry well
PICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos) Fehily and Walsh come in for key McManus rides By Lee mottershead 7:00PM 6 MAR 2017
NOEL FEHILY on Monday found himself booked to ride the favourite in two of the Cheltenham Festival's four showpiece championship events after being selected by JP McManus to partner Buveur D'Air and Unowhatimeanharry, described by his big-race jockey as boasting "a massive chance".
One man's misery has turned into good fortune for three others, with Mark Walsh and Aidan Coleman set to join Fehily in the famous green and gold silks, whose normal first-choice model Barry Geraghty is sidelined through injury.
While a number of bookmakers have Buveur D'Air as market leader for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, other firms prefer the claims of another McManus candidate, Yanworth. He will be steered by Walsh, a key part of the owner's team in Ireland and also chosen to assist Yanworth's Alan King-trained stablemate Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase.
My Tent Or Yours will give McManus a third shot at landing the Champion Hurdle and will be ridden by Coleman, who also gets on Minella Rocco in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, in which Walsh is on that horse's Jonjo O'Neill-trained stable companion More Of That.
Fehily is being reunited with old friends, having last season been a familiar presence on the back of Buveur D'Air, including when third to Altior in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and Unowhatimeanharry, his other half when the pair claimed the festival's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
Both horses were subsequently sold to McManus, with Unowhatimeanharry completing a hat-trick of wins this season and Buveur D'Air making a successful return to hurdles from fences at Sandown.
"This is the nature of the game," said Fehily when asked about taking over from Geraghty.
"Unowhatimeanharry has done nothing but improve and I thought his last run in the Cleeve was one of his most impressive. I don't know where he has found all the improvement from, but he has found it, and it's great to get back on him. He looks to have a massive chance.
"I'm delighted to get back on Buveur D'Air as well. He ran a great race in the Supreme, despite not finding the best passage and the ground being quick enough for him. He then beat Petit Mouchoir at Aintree, which now looks very good.
"I always thought he was going to be a horse for the big races over hurdles. If the rain keeps coming, so much the better."
Fehily was cut by bet365 into a best-priced 8-1 (from 10) joint-second favourite to be top jockey at the festival next week after news of the McManus bookings, while another from his book, star novice hurdler Neon Wolf, was on Monday backed for both the Sky Bet Supreme and Neptune Investment Management novice hurdles.
Unlike Buveur D'Air and Unowhatimeanharry, Yanworth will have a brand new jockey after Walsh's Irish association with McManus won him the coveted seats on Yanworth and Uxizandre, plus the Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki in the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.
Alan King, trainer of Yanworth and Uxizandre, said: "I spoke to JP about it over the weekend and they want Mark to ride, which I'm not surprised about as he's their jockey.
"I don't know him but I do know he's a first-class rider, and he'll be coming over this week for some schooling."
Walsh will be seeking his first win at the festival having had 19 previous attempts, the vast majority of them for McManus, faring best when third on Quantitativeeasing in last season's cross-country chase.
Ground conditions remained unchanged on Monday, with clerk of the course Simon Claisse saying: "We had 9mm of rain over the weekend, so I've left the description as it was, which is good to soft on the Old course, good to soft, good in places on the New and cross-country courses.
"The forecast is still unsettled with bits and pieces of rain between now and next Tuesday, amounting to between nine and 11 millimetres, which would maintain current conditions. There's nothing in the forecast that causes concern."
Asked if he would agree with bookmakers, who have good to soft as long odds-on favourite to be the opening race's ground description, Claisse added: "I'm not sure any bet is safe this year given the volatility of the weather."
Who rides what for JP? Monday's McManus movements . . .
Buveur D'Air (Champion Hurdle), Unowhatimeanharry (Stayers' Hurdle)
Yanworth (Champion Hurdle), Uxizandre (Ryanair Chase), Jezki (Stayers' Hurdle), More Of That (Gold Cup)
My Tent Or Yours (Champion Hurdle), Minella Rocco (Gold Cup)