26th February 2018

“The excitement is contagious!”

Eighteen days to go and the Cheltenham Festival begins. The excitement is contagious. Preview evenings, yard visits and armchair jockeys giving their verdicts – anyone who has a love of the sport of racing has an opinion. From a jockeys’ point of view, I am hoping I will keep in one piece and that I’ll have a handful of rides there, as it’s what we all aspire to. I’ll be grateful for that, as it is an absolute privilege to be at Cheltenham. Hopefully I’ll add to the two winners I have there before – Qulando and Hunt Ball. Yesterday the handicap entries were revealed, and what a conundrum sorting out any winners! There are over one thousand entries, nearly half of which are Irish. And panic is setting in too among some well known racing papers with a long, cold spell forecast. A lot can change in 18 days, including the weather, so it will be fingers crossed for sunshine and blue skies! We’re forecast minus 10 degrees – that’s cold – but there’s nothing as strange as the English weather so who knows. It will be pretty cold riding out though, and a tough time for staff who work so hard to keep everything going. Thermals, balaclavas, and a few pairs of gloves – anything to keep those Siberian winds at bay! If the temperatures do plummet as forecast, a lot of racecourses are set up to cope with this with frost cover keeping the frost out of the ground so hopefully it’ll be business as usual next week. I have two rides at Exeter today with For Carmel having a chance off a lightweight in the Enhanced Place Odds at 188Bet Handicap Hurdle. For Paul Henderson. He’s been running well and knocking at the door so he shouldn’t be far away. I’m also on one for Devon trainer Linda Blackford on Celtic Style in what looks like a very hot bumper. I’d imagine I am heading to Chepstow on Saturday. Hopefully The Three Kings Partnership, which includes Harry Redknapp, would have a good chance with This Is It in the Pertemps qualifier off a lightweight. Darcy Ward, named after the speedway rider, goes to Fontwell on Sunday for the totepool Supporting The Racehorse Sanctuary Novices' Hurdle. Jack, his trainer, is in good form with a couple of recent winners. Darcy Ward has a penalty, but he won very well at Taunton and the form has worked out really well. He shouldn’t be far away. It was great to watch the grade one Betfair Ascot Chase. It was a poignant moment for connections of Waiting Patiently; following the passing of his trainer Malcolm Jefferson, and seeing Cue Card come back to form was simply brilliant. What a horse. He’s collected nearly £1.5m in prize money now. I went racing with Paddy Brennan during the week and he was still buzzing then, three days later. Paddy gave him a brilliant ride, as did Brian Hughes on Waiting Patiently. Two very different jockeys with different styles, but both absolutely top draw. It was such a treat to watch and it’s just a shame one of them had to loose, but I don’t think Cue Card lost anything in defeat. It was also great for Brian Hughes to ride his first grade one too.