29th January 2016

Looking ahead to Festival Trials & further

I’m back to Cheltenham this weekend working for Channel 4 for the final fixture there before the Festival, Festival Trials Day and we are sure to see plenty of clues for the big meeting.

There has been lots happening during the last few weeks including Don Cossack winning the Kinloch Brae in Ireland last week. Two and a half miles there would have been sharp enough for him and I think the trip of the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup will suit him. He does go on soft and heavy ground but quicker ground at Cheltenham will play to his strengths and better ground helps him to show his class.

Gordon Elliott has suggested he might run in cheekpieces in the Gold Cup but I am not sure he needs them. A lot will depend on the ground as I do think he will travel better on better ground, and if it was soft he won’t need them as over that trip I don’t think it would do him any harm to race a bit lazy.

I still think he is the one to beat in the Gold Cup but it will be interesting to see how Djakadam performs in the BetBright Trial Chase on Saturday afternoon. He was only a six-year-old when he finished second in the Gold Cup last year and that is one of the best pieces of form around.

Many Clouds and Smad Place are likeable horses and the greater test of stamina at Cheltenham will help Smad Place, but I do think Willie Mullins’s horse will prove to be better than them. He was impressive winning the John Durkan over two and a half miles and might just have a bit more class.

I know Many Clouds has won a Grand National but he does really look like a National horse through-and-through and the same could be said about Smad Place, even though he would be high in the weights.

The JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial opens Saturday’s card and there are plenty of nice types in there with Alan King’s Who Dares Wins having won at Ludlow and Doncaster, Allblak Des Places for Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls’s Newbury winner Clan Des Obeaux, course winner Wolf Of Windlesham and Nicky Henderson’s Consul De Thaix, who runs in JP’s colours.

I’m not sure what bearing this race will have on the Triumph and the race at Leopardstown in a couple of weeks’ time in which Aidan O’Brien’s Ivanovich Gorbatov runs will likely have more of an impact as I think he looks a very good horse.

This will be interesting from an English runners point of view. It could be that Alan King and Willie Mullins use this as a feeler for others they have at home, but Clan Des Obeaux was impressive at Newbury and I not sure if Paul has many better four-year-olds so the race will be important to him.

There are plenty entered in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle but the two to concentrate on are Yanworth and Shantou Village, as it looks as though Barters Hill is heading to Doncaster. This race will help Alan King decide on Yanworth’s Festival target and I thought as a bumper horse he would be one who would improve with a trip, so it will be interesting to see how he gets on and whether he goes for the Neptune or the Supreme. Shantou Village was impressive at the Paddy Power meeting and he needs plenty of respect.

The staying hurdle division looks very open at the moment but Thistlecrack was impressive at Ascot and his form entitles him to be favourite for the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle. He is up against Camping Ground who won on New Year’s Day but the more dour stayer is Thistlecrack and he is the one to beat.

I’d like to see The New One be targeted at the World Hurdle and if he was mine then that’s the route I would be going down as I can’t see him winning a Stan James Champion Hurdle. He is a very good horse but it is difficult to see him beating Faugheen. It is also difficult to see Vroum Vroum Mag winning the World Hurdle for the simple reason she isn’t good enough. Her form isn’t good enough and she is certainly no Annie Power. She is a decent mare and has been well placed, but I can’t see her winning a World Hurdle.

Looking back to last weekend and Faugheen, Douvan and Un De Sceaux were all impressive. I know it doesn’t matter too much but I was looking at ratings the other day and you have horses like Kauto Star rated higher than Hurricane Fly and I can’t work that out for the life of me. I know you can only go on performance but I can’t see how Faugheen is rated better than Hurricane Fly at the moment. There is no doubt he was very impressive on Sunday but Nichols Canyon didn’t run his race at all and Arctic Fire is Arctic Fire. Faugheen is the standout in his division, as his Douvan in his. I can’t see anything beating him in the Arkle unless he falls over.

I thought Un De Sceaux was perhaps one of the more vulnerable of Willie’s horses but I can’t see what is going to beat him either. Last year’s Betway Champion Chase winner Dodging Bullets is a bit of a forgotten horse, but I am not sure if I can see him beating Un De Sceaux.

Fair play to Willie Mullins too for having amassed the army he has, and it is up to everyone else to try and compete against him and beat him. As a trainer you can only be jealous of him and if I was a trainer I would be very jealous of him! You have to admire Willie for what he has achieved and it is up to the rest to work out how to beat him.

One thing’s for sure, and that is he will have a winner at Cheltenham on Saturday, and several more come March!

Enjoy Festival Trials day.