No retirement regrets for Ruby as former charge Benie Des Dieux takes shot at Cheltenham Festival glory

Ruby Walsh rode 59 Cheltenham Festival winners before his retirement last year - but give him one last ride and surely Benie Des Dieux would be his choice, writes James Toney.

Cheltenham's most successful jockey knows the difference between triumph and despair on this verdant patch of Cotswold countryside - where cheers and tears combine, rarely in equal measure.

And this horse has given him a glimpse of both. Two years ago she stormed to victory with Walsh in the saddle to win the Mares' Hurdle.

Last year she unceremoniously dumped him on the turf, a final flight faller when looking a banker for a title defence.

Now Benie des Dieux is back, with Walsh watching from the relative warmth of a TV studio and Paul Townend in the saddle. If ever retirement was going to hit home for a man who loved and was loved by this place, then it's now.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old is likely to start the week as the shortest price favourite at the meeting, with Henry de Bromhead's fellow raider Honeysuckle, the unbeaten winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle, the nearest challenger.

But, of course, we've seen favourites crash and burn here before - Annie Power had this race at her mercy five years ago only to fall at the last, the bookies dodging a £50 million bullet in the process.

"I think she looks rock solid and she will absolutely love the conditions," said Walsh.

"To see her go toe-to-toe with Honeysuckle could be one of the great moments of the Festival but she's certainly achieved more in her career than her rival so far.

"She was going to win last year when she fell with me but she's won her three races since and looks in incredible fashion.

"I don't think they'll be much between them and it'll be a cracking race and great spectacle."

The opening day at the Festival was often referred to as Ruby Tuesday - with his hat-trick of Grade 1s in 2015 one of the all-time great riding performances at this place.

"I'm looking forward to The Festival from the other side now, I don't miss it but I'm grateful for everything I had," said Walsh.

"I watched Benie Des Dieux winning the French Champion Hurdle just 17 days after I retired.

"When Benie crossed the line, it was the first time in my career that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on a Willie Mullins-trained winner.

"But I knew they were no longer my rides and that proved it to me."