09th December 2015

AP’s thoughts ahead of the racing at The International

It’s great to see racing back at Cheltenham this weekend for The International and it is fascinating that the first three home in Paddy Power Gold Cup are out again in the feature Caspian Caviar Gold Cup on Saturday afternoon.

Annacotty led home Buywise and Sound Investment to win last month and his trainer Alan King has won the big two handicaps of the season so far with Smad Place taking the Hennessy. Annacotty was a Grade One winner for Martin Keighley and it was a good training performance from Alan to get him back. I guess he has been rejuvenated with going to a new yard and it has freshened him up.

Sound Investment has top weight but he wasn’t beaten far last time in third and I half fancy him to come out best of the three. He is probably the most consistent and I was impressed with him when he won the Old Roan at Aintree the time before.

The stanjames.com International Hurdle is not the strongest renewal I have ever seen and if Peace And Co is going to be any sort of threat to Faugheen and Nichols Canyon next March then he is going to have to be winning this. It looks as though Hargam will also run, and he has had the advantage of an outing, but Peace And Co beat him in the JCB Triumph Hurdle and Hargam has a lot to find on ratings to be a Stan James Champion Hurdle horse.

I rode Hargam to finish third in the Triumph and Peace And Co looked the winner from a good bit out. He is a good, tall, leggy horse – he has plenty of size and scope and looks the sort who will improve, but he really needs to impress this weekend to be a Champion Hurdle horse.

Looking back to Faugheen’s comeback in Ireland a few weeks ago, you would have to be a little disappointed with him but maybe Nichols Canyon hasn’t been given the credit he deserves.  The biggest factor for me was how shocked Willie Mullins was so maybe we didn’t see the best of Faugheen, but at the same time you have to be impressed with the winner and he deserves a lot more respect than he is getting.

The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Saturday looks an open affair but I have been impressed with Harry Fry’s Unowhatimeanharry who won here on his seasonal debut and then followed up at Newbury. He is definitely progressive and, having won handicaps and then come back to novice company, he could keep on improving. Handicaps do toughen horses and I’m going to go with him to keep the winning run going.

Saturday’s card gets underway with the JCT Triumph Hurdle Trial and you couldn’t knock what Wolf Of Windlesham did here last time out. He is trained by Stuart Edmunds and if he was trained by Nicky Henderson or Paul Nicholls then he might have got more credit, but there was no fluke about his win and you can’t beat course and distance form.

Looking ahead to The Festival and the Timico  Cheltenham Gold Cup is shaping up into a great race. Don Poli is a horse who is never going to visually impress but he is always going to be there, and what you need to win a Gold Cup is a thorough stayer and he is that.

Djakadam was only a six-year-old when he was second last year so he could improve, but Coneygree is also open to the same improvement and I think he can beat the horses he beat in the race last year in this season’s renewal. So you’re probably looking at Don Cossack and Don Poli as the main dangers at this stage.

The  Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is an open division and Un De Sceaux will have to go out and show his wellbeing at Lepardstown over Christmas. We have seen Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig, who has since picked up a setback, and it was a good performance from Sire De Grugy to win the Tingle Creek again last weekend. It was no great surprise, especially with the way Gary Moore’s horses have been running, and I think the best horse probably won. I know there was interference but it is difficult to say Special Tiara would have won without the interference. He wasn’t beaten a head or a neck or anything and it wasn’t intentional interference.

Interference at an obstacle isn’t usually anyone’s fault and I think it will always be difficult to change a result from interference that has happened in that manner.  What happened on Saturday is a racing incident in mid-air, and I know Special Tiara’s connections won’t care that it happened in mid-air and will say they suffered, but changing a result like that – or indeed a similar incident in any horse race – is very, very difficult.

I have been keeping myself busy and was at the Sir Peter O’Sullevan lunch the other week. Sir Peter had already told me I was getting the award before I announced I was retiring. In fact he told me on Tingle Creek weekend last year, which is only a week after the last awards and a good six months before he died. So it was nice for me to be told by him that I was getting it and it is nice to know that it was his idea and that he knew I would get it.

It was a good lunch and Frankie Dettori and I had a bit of banter with the guest speaker Sir Alex Ferguson about Manchester United and Arsenal. It was lovely to receive the award, but I did notice I was the youngest person to have received it by some way, and it is the first time I have been the youngest person to receive an award!

I was at the Horserace Writers’ and Photographers’ Association awards on Monday and left there to fly to Ireland for the Irish Youth Foundation Awards that Padraig Harrington is heavily involved in. I received a Lifetime Achievement Award which is nice, as there won’t be any more of those to come in the future.

I’ll be back over the Irish Sea in a couple of weeks for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year and that’s always a good night. It’s nice that it is in Belfast, which is only a few miles away from where I grew up, and I think that Jessica Ennis-Hill or Andy Murray will be walking away with the award. Jessica is just a great story and it was some achievement from Andy to win the Davis Cup.

Anyway, that’s all from me for now. Enjoy the racing at Cheltenham this weekend and I wish you a merry Christmas and all the best for 2016.