12th March 2016

Different kind of Festival

I can’t hide the fact that it is going to be a different Festival for me this year. I used to only come out of the weighing room for the races and that was it.  This year,  I am working there for Channel 4 on Tuesday and Friday this time but it will be strange walking around the place and chatting to people, which is something I have never done at The Festival.

There are horses like Yanworth and More Of That I will miss riding, but the same thing has happened to the likes of Peter Scudamore and Richard Dunwoody before me and it will happen to Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Richard Johnson at some point when they retire. You have to go through it at some point, but I love racing and there is no place like Cheltenham as an owner, trainer, jockey or spectator. I have been in Ireland this week and everyone I have met in the street wants to talk about Cheltenham – it really is the Holy Grail.

I will come on to my nap of the week at the end of this but before then I will try and steer you in the right direction in some of the main races of the week.

Min has been drifting slightly in the betting for the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but I still couldn’t back him at the price he is. I like Supasundae at an each-way price and I hope the ground keeps drying for him. He beat Yanworth in a bumper at Ascot last season, he ran well in the Weathersby Cheltenham Bumper too and I think is he is value at the prices.

Douvan is bombproof in the Racing Post Arkle and there’s not a lot I can add to what we know about him, while in the Stan James Champion Hurdle I don’t fancy Annie Power as she is a crazy price for a mare who hasn’t won a championship race over two miles. I think My Tent Or Yours has the best form in the race but he has had such a long time off having been off the track for two years. But I can tell you that he is flying and he couldn’t be any better after his Kempton gallop. We were very happy with his work but he has been off two years. He does have a good record fresh but the problem is the amount of time he has been off.

I fancy The New One a little. I can’t tell you why I fancy him but I do, and on the horses that have run this year Nichols Canyon has the best form.

Having said all that, I would love to be riding My Tent Or Yours.

I’d also like to give a mention to Minella Rocco on the first day in the National Hunt Chase. He showed a bit more of his old spark last time at Ascot and ran the best he has over fences and I think he will go well.

On to Wednesday and Yanworth has the best form of the English novices and it is hard to pick holes in him in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. Yorkhill heading to the Supreme will make is easier for him and I always thought he would be suited by a longer trip, but Alan King has said from the start of the year that he is a working as a smarter, quicker horse. Maybe he is just an improver and it might not be a surprise to see him come back in trip in time. He has loads of size and scope – he has everything you could ask for and will jump a fence in time. As Aidan O’Brien would say, he has loads of options!

I have said a bit about More Of That in the RSA Chase  in recent days but it is only a form and opinion thing. He has been to Cheltenham four times and won four times, he has only been beaten once in his life, he has jumped pretty faultlessly the two times he has ran at Cheltenham over fences and I just can’t pick any holes in him. The form is OK, he only beat a few runners but Sametegal won well at Newbury over the weekend and on form he is very solid. No More Heroes has been very impressive and is a better chaser that he is a hurdler. Last time he beat a horse called Rule The World who can’t win a chase and hasn’t done in thirteen starts. He beat him well enough, but I just can’t see him beating More Of That.

The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase looks to be Un De Sceaux’s as he has the best form. Blinkers might help Sire De Grugy – they certainly won’t do him any harm and if you don’t fancy backing the favourite then he is a decent each-way bet. Un De Sceaux is more relaxed than he used to be, and while he has fallen twice there are plenty of Champion Chasers who have fallen before so I wouldn’t hold that against him.

Moving on to Thursday and I hope Road To Riches runs in the Ryanair Chase as he is a proper Grade One horse and I think he will win. In the Ryanair World Hurdle I’d say Thistlecrack is the certainty of the meeting, and the only reason I say that is because he has beaten pretty much all of the opposition, including Alpha Des Obeaux at Aintree last year when he fell. It looks as though Thistlecrack has improved since last year and he has won all the key races that World Hurdle horses like Big Buck’s and Inglis Drever won, and he has won at the course so he looks bombproof.

I think the ground is important to Ivanovich Gorbatov in the JCB Triumph Hurdle as he wants it decent, and I was impressed with Paul Nicholls’s Zubayr when he won at Kempton. He was a good horse on the Flat and it was a decent performance. He cost a fair bit and if he wins he will get a quarter of his cost back!

I think Barters Hill will win the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle but Unowhatimeanharry is a great each-way bet. He has been progressive this year, has loads of winning form, has won at Cheltenham and is already rated 150+. The winner of the race isn’t going to be rated much more and even if he ran to 145 he would probably be bang there. He might lack a bit of class but I think he will be involved.

I am still a Don Cossack fan in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, but I have been convinced over the last few days of Cue Card’s chance. I didn’t think he would stay but enough people have told me this week that he will.  I think the guaranteed stayers are Don Cossack, Don Poli and Djakadam and I can’t see Vautour staying the trip at all. He has never won further than the JLT trip and was walking from the last in the King George. People say he will be better at Cheltenham, well so will Cue Card. However, as I have said to you all season, I am with Don Cossack.

Victoria Pendleton rides in the St. James’ Place Foxhunter Chase and plenty has been said about her challenge, but it is better to be talked about than not talked about and I’d take what she is doing as a good thing for the sport. Whatever her ability, she has no chance of winning as Pacha Du Polder has no chance of staying but I do think she will get round and have a nice ride.

Funnily enough, my bet of the week goes in Victoria’s race and it is On The Fringe – owned by JP McManus, ridden by Nina Carberry and trained by Enda Bolger. He was a little disappointing in Leopardstown the last day but he is much better now. He won the race last year and has a top jockey on and will do for me.

There is so much to look forward to and I hope you enjoy it.

See you there!