AP in action at Cheltenham

13th February 2014

AP McCoy on the countdown to the Cheltenham Festival

The Festival is getting very close with only four weeks to go and most of the Cheltenham horses will now have had their last runs. It was an informative weekend with the racing at Newbury and Leopardstown, and I have to say that I think Last Instalment is right in the Betfred Gold Cup picture after his win in the Irish Hennessy.

I thought he was very impressive and he is definitely a player for Cheltenham. I had viewed the Gold Cup as a two-horse race between Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti for much of the season but Last Instalment is right in there with them. He jumped very well on Sunday and would probably want a bit of cut in the ground at Cheltenham, which he might get given the way things are at the moment.

Harry Topper won OK at Newbury the day before and he, like The Giant Bolster, is a very consistent horse. One of those two will probably finish fourth in the Gold Cup but the form of the top three is just that much stronger.

Willie Mullins has a great team for Cheltenham and Vautour added to it with his win in the Deliotte. He was another I was impressed with given the way he beat The Tullow Tank and he is definitely a player in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. There has been no outstanding star in the UK this year amongst the two-mile novice hurdlers so Vautour has to be the one to beat.

I wouldn’t give up on The Tullow Tank and I am not sure he needs to be stepped up in trip either. He won well over two miles at Christmas and I don’t think he was at his best over the weekend to be fair. I still think he is a good horse and needs respecting whatever trip he runs over at The Festival.

Ballycasey won the Moriarty pretty well and I don’t think he will be far away in the RSA Chase. Whether he is good enough or not I don’t know, but he will be in the mix. He did it well despite having just his second run over fences, but I have to add that I thought my horse Carlingford Lough was running really well behind Ballycasey and he has a serious each-way chance in the RSA. I got squeezed for room at the last and my foot got knocked out of the iron, which I didn’t realise until I went to put it down and I unseated, but he was staying on well and I rate his RSA chances.

We saw some Racing Post Arkle clues last week with Dodging Bullets just getting touched off at Newbury on Saturday and Rock On Ruby winning at Doncaster on Thursday. If I was a punter I would much rather be backing Rock On Ruby than Dodging Bullets.

I thought they went a good gallop at Doncaster and I was impressed with Rock On Ruby, but I am not sure if Dodging Bullets is good enough to be honest. Champagne Fever hasn’t come out of his box since being beat at Christmas but is shortening in the betting which tells you all you need to know! If I had the choice though I’d have Rock On Ruby over Dodging Bullets all day long.

Looking back to the end of last month and I thought Big Buck’s ran very well on very testing ground on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle. He maybe did not run up to the form he showed on his last run but he had been off for 15 months and can only improve for the outing. You have to believe what Paul Nicholls says in that he will be a better horse in March.

Paul has brought back the likes of Denman and Kauto Star and countless others and when he says they are going to improve then they usually do – Silviniaco Conti was a prime example at Haydock. Paul said he would be a much better horse in the King George than the Betfair Chase, and he was.

Big Buck’s is still the horse they have to beat in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. He will need to perform better than he did on his comeback and Paul says that he will. At Fishers Cross finished in front of Big Buck’s in the Cleeve and he certainly jumped and travelled better than he had been doing earlier in the season. He felt much more like his old self and I think that if the ground starts to dry up then that will suit him too.

I know everyone thinks he likes soft ground but I think he likes a bit of better ground and he is definitely a contender. JP McManus also has More Of That in the race and I am not sure if he will have another run before or not, I’ll leave that to Jonjo O’Neill and the team.

Hurricane Fly was very impressive when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle and he is still the one they have to beat at Cheltenham. People will question the form and say Captain Cee Bee was not beaten far, but you have to remember that Hurricane Fly was in trouble coming to the last and still won by a length and a half. He keeps on winning and until that changes he is the one to beat. I rode Jezki in the race and we finished fourth, but looking back we have been riding him wrong as he wants two and a half miles and I think positive tactics will see him to much better effect. If he is more positively ridden in a strong-run Champion Hurdle then he has definitely got an each-way chance.

JP also has My Tent Or Yours in the Stan James Champion Hurdle and I’m not sure if he runs at Kelso on Thursday – that’s in the trainer’s hands – but I will be leaving a decision on who I ride in the Champion Hurdle until the last moment. Things are very much up in the air at the moment and I probably won’t make the choice until the day before.

The closer you get to The Festival the more you are aware of the ground conditions and all of the rain we are having. We only have a month to go and you would have to be wary about running a horse on the sort of testing ground we have at the moment. If the ground had been better than My Tent Or Yours would probably have gone to Wincanton for the Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle this weekend; a forward-going horse like he is would give himself a very hard race if you tried him on this ground no matter what he was running against.

There are only four weeks to The Festival and the ground could well be soft there as it looks wet enough for the next few weeks and the water table is so high. All you’d need is a couple of days rain before The Festival and you can be sure it will be soft.

I’ve never been a big one for Cheltenham preview nights but I am doing a couple this year. One after racing at Sandown on the Saturday before The Festival and then one at Cheltenham on the Sunday evening before the meeting gets underway, Sunday 9th March, so it would be good to see you there if you can make it. The one at Cheltenham also features the likes of Alan Lee, Jessica Lamb and Lee Mottershead from the Racing Post so I’m sure a few interesting opinions will be raised during the evening. For further details visit http://www.cheltenham.co.uk/about/festival-preview/

That’s all for this blog but I’ll be back in touch before The Festival with my thoughts on the feature races.

This is an extract from the exclusive blog by AP McCoy, Ambassador for the Cheltenham Racecourse 2013-14 Season and 18 times Champion Jockey. Read the full entry at www.cheltenham.co.uk/ap-mccoy/