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Ruby Walsh backing Briar Hill for more Cheltenham Festival glory

Briar Hill sprang a surprise when scoring in last year's Weatherbys Champion Bumper but Ruby Walsh insists punters who underestimate him again when he goes for Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle glory at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival will do so at their peril.

Despite having cost £100,000 after winning a point-to-point in Ireland, obliging by five lengths on his Thurles debut under rules and having Walsh on board, the Willie Mullins-trained gelding went off as an unfancied 25/1 chance 12 months ago.

Stablemates Union Dues and Sizing Tennessee were much shorter odds, with even Walsh admitting his mount had been sluggish in his home work on more than one occasion, but Briar Hill came alive at Cheltenham and powered up the hill to beat joint-favourite Regal Encore by seven lengths.

It has been something of a similar story over hurdles this term, with the six-year-old rattling off three straightforward victories, including picking up Grade 1 and Grade 2 prizes at Navan and Naas, but being overshadowed by the hype surrounding Vautour and Faugheen.

To be fair, a couple of his performances have been workmanlike, rather than spectacular, but Walsh believes Briar Hill has plenty more left in the tank and could again be saving his best for the big day at Prestbury Park.

"Briar Hill looks great and is in really good form," said Walsh. "He's three from three over hurdles, he'll appreciate a bit better ground, he looks really strong and I know Willie is very happy with him. There's nothing worse than a morning glory who always seems to disappoint you; he's not so flashy at home but gives you good surprises at the course."

The Albert Bartlett, run over three miles, with 12 hurdles to be jumped, has so far evaded Mullins in nine renewals since it was introduced in 2005 but there appears to be a growing confidence that Briar Hill can put that right this term.

"He's a lovely, relaxed individual that stays, so stepping him up in trip isn't a problem," said the County Carlow handler. "Heavy ground just makes him a little lazy but he jumps well and keeps improving. Last year he showed me nothing at home, but this season all his work has been good too." 


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Ruby Walsh backing Briar Hill for more Cheltenham Festival glory

Briar Hill sprang a surprise when scoring in last year's Weatherbys Champion Bumper but Ruby Walsh insists punters who underestimate him again when he goes for Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle glory at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival will do so at their peril.

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