08th March 2015

End of an Era

My final Festival is almost upon us and I’m looking forward to walking through the gates on Tuesday morning. It is such a special week and I know that whatever I do this year will be better than what I do next year!

Every race at The Festival is unique but if I was to nominate a race I want to win this week then it has to be the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. It is the pinnacle of jump racing and I am hoping that Carlingford Lough can do it for me.

However, I don’t believe he is my best chance of the week and you’ll have to read on to find out what that is…

I kick off with JollyAllan in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and I think he is one of the best novices in this country. L’Ami Serge of Nicky Henderson’s is the best on what they have achieved but I don’t think JollyAllan is is much behind him, and hopefully he will be in front of him come Tuesday. Willie Mullins’ Alvisio Ville is also owned by JP McManus and he is going to run as well. He is supposed to be a very good horse and indeed probably is a very good horse. They say he is a proper racehorse, but the only thing is they say Douvan is as good a horse as Willie has ever sent to Cheltenham, which is high old appraisal. I do like JollyAllan and he is worthy of each-way support.

Similar comments apply to the John Ferguson-trained Three Kingdoms in the Racing Post Arkle. Un De Sceaux is probably one of the most clear-cut Arkle favourites of all time and he was impressive in Leopardstown the last day in that he seemed more relaxed than he had every been. I was impressed by that and he will be hard to beat but I do genuinely think that Three Kingdoms has an each-way chance. He was only beaten half a length by Vibrato Valtat at Kempton and I think that the track will suit him better. He is by Street Cry and you wouldn’t usually imagine him siring an Arkle horse but I do think he has got a squeak.

The Stan James Champion Hurdle is shaping up to be a fantastic race and Willie Mullins again holds the aces with Faugheen and Hurricane Fly, but the ground has been drying over the last week and that is definitely a plus for Jezki. I do feel there is nothing like Champion Hurdle form as if you look back over the last 50 years you will see horses winning and then going back and doing the same again or at least performing very well.

I am very happy to be riding Jezki and although he made a mistake the last day, he had previously got closer to Hurricane Fly than he had done the season before. His trainer Jessica Harrington has been talking him up this week and hopefully she is right and we have a good chance.

Faugheen has been very impressive and did it well at Kempton on a quick track. He is the one we have to beat as he won the Neptune the year before and often horses who have won that have come back the following year and run well in the Champion.

Moving on to Wednesday and I ride Parlour Games for John Ferguson in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. He has good, solid form and won at the track earlier in the season beating Blacklion. He then won the Challow at Newbury, which is good form, and he has as good form as any English horse going for the race. It is again the Willie Mullins’ crew who hold the aces with Nicholas Canyon and Outlander, but I am hoping Parlour Games has a great chance.

In the RSA I will probably ride Sky Bet Chase winner If In Doubt. He didn’t jump that well that day but he’s not far behind the leading players on ratings and has a chance of making the frame. The Young Master has solid form in handicaps and is worth an interest despite being raised in grade.

The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is the feature on day two and no way in my life did I think Mr Mole would be going there with a chance, but he is going there and he does deserve to take his chance after his win at Newbury. Sire De Grugy was a bit disappointing but Mr Mole looked to have him beat at the time he unseated. I do think Sire De Grugy’s win at Chepstow was good and it was the best weight-carrying performance as we have seen this season. Any one of six could win the Champion Chase this year and there is no arguing that Sprinter Sacre has by far and away the best previous form. He was the best but his Ascot form wasn’t good enough so I am not sure about him, and if I couldn’t ride Mr Mole then I guess I would want to be on Sire De Grugy.

It is hard to be confident about much on Thursday with Ladbrokes World Hurdle third At Fisher’s Cross not being in great form this year, so let’s skip forward to Friday and the JCB Triumph Hurdle. I ride Hargam in the race and he won at Musselburgh last time out having won at Cheltenham previously and finished second there on his hurdles debut. He is a decent little hose and the more it dries out then the better it will suit him, that is for sure. Peace And Co has been very impressive and Beltor won nicely at Kempton but Peace And Co looks the one.

I ride Carlingford Lough in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, but it looks wide open, and as Noel Meade said the other day, a good jump separates all of the Irish horses. Road To Riches won the Lexus beating On His Own, Boston Bob, Lord Windermere – the whole lot of them – and the same thing happened again in the Hennessy as Carlingford Lough won that day beating the same horses. Lord Windermere seems a better horse at Cheltenham and Silviniaco Conti has the best form. If you were to pick holes you could say he is best on flat tracks but Paul Nicholls thinks he is better than he ever was, but I do think with the Irish horses you could run the race 10 times and get 10 different results.

Silviniaco Conti has the best form, but it is all on flat tracks. He is the form horse though, and if the ground keeps on drying then you cant rule out Holywell either. He gave me a good feel the last day Kelso and has been to The Festival and won twice before. I know they were only handicaps but his performance at Aintree as very good and for whatever reason he is a horse who comes to life at this time of year. He came alive at Kelso last time and definitely has got a chance.

The final race I will ride in at a Cheltemham Festival is the A.P McCoy Grand Annual for the Johnny Henderson Challenge Cup. We have three in the race – Bold Henry, Eastlake and Ned Buntline and at this stage I could genuinely ride any one of the three. Eastlake ran in the race last year finishing sixth and ran well enough at Ascot last time finishing third, Bold Henry won well at the Paddy Power meeting before I fell off him at Wetherby and Ned Buntline was second in the race last year and is now favourite. I could make a case for any of them and really don’t know which I will ride.  It is a huge honour to have the race named after me and I have to thank Cheltenham and the Henderson family for allowing it to happen. You usually have to wait until you are dead to have a race named after you – but there are exceptions to the rule and Martin Pipe has a race named after him!

And now on to my best chance of the week. I genuinely believe it is Jezki in the Champion Hurdle. He is the shortest-price of all my rides, seems as good if not better than ever and is the current Champion Hurdler. Let’s hope he retains his crown.

Best of luck and have a good week.