CORK rider Gavin Sheehan looks to have a very strong book of rides for the upcoming spring festivals.
He’ll be hoping his winner-filled season continues, through the showcase meetings at both Cheltenham and Aintree.
The Dunmanway native has booted home 65 winners already this term. After building momentum early in the campaign, he hit white-hot form through the winter months and finds himself on track to better his highest tally of 73 winners for a National Hunt season.
The Cheltenham Festival-winning pilot sits in seventh place in the leading jockeys’ standings in the UK and, approaching the business end of the campaign, will have a first-ever century haul in his sights.
With the backing of owners, Kate and Andrew Brooks, along with the support of trainers such as Warren Greatrex, Olly Murphy, Jamie Snowden, Paul Webber and Harry Whittington, Sheehan seemingly will have plenty of darts to fire at the ultimate board that is the Cheltenham Festival, when it rolls around in just under three weeks’ time.
The 27-year-old has already landed big-race victories this season, courtesy of Itchy Feet, Rouge Vif and Saint Calvados, who all carry the sky blue and red silks of Kate and Andrew Brooks. Other valuable prizes have been scooped via the Brooks’ Simply The Betts, the Greatrex-trained pair of Emitom and Audacity, while the Snowden-trained Pacify totted up a series of wins under Sheehan, earlier this term.
The Corkman steered his first Cheltenham Festival winner home in 2015, when guiding the Greatrex-trained Cole Harden to glory in the grade one Stayers’ Hurdle. Further grade one prizes arrived in the following calendar year, courtesy of Whittington’s Arzal and Greatrex’s One Track Mind.
Having already tasted top level success in 2020, with the Murphy-trained Itchy Feet in the Betway Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown, Sheehan will be on the hunt for more big-race glory, at the Cotswolds and Liverpool, across March and April.
Among his standout chances at Cheltenham are the current Marsh Novices’ Chase favourite, Itchy Feet, Arkle hope, Rouge Vif, Stayer’s Hurdle contender, Emitom and Ryanair Chase chance, Saint Calvados.
A graduate of the pony racing and point-to-point circuits in Ireland, Sheehan has emerged as one of the most-talented riders in the weigh-room. However, at just 27, and considering how many accomplished riders have thrived after turning 30, you get the sense that he is only just about to peak.
Staying with Cheltenham, the Gold Cup is shaping up to be a corker this year. But that is how it should be, considering that it is the jewel in steeplechasing’s crown. It was disappointing to learn that the 2018 winner, Native River, was ruled out of the three and a quarter-mile showpiece this week.
He would have been a big player, considering his form over fences at the Cheltenham Festival reads 2314.
Last year’s winner, Al Boum Photo, is reportedly in fine fettle for his title defence and, still relatively lightly-raced, and having had a similar prep to that of 2019, he could have more to offer yet. The eight-year-old is arguably the horse they all have to beat.
However, last year’s RSA form could come to the fore in the Gold Cup. The best race of the year, the 2019 edition of the staying novice chase was a thriller, with 2020 Gold Cup hopes, Santini and Delta Work, filling the places behind Topofthegame in a pulsating finish up the hill.
The last-named has missed this season through injury, but Santini and Delta Work both bring winning form into the race, having scored on their latest outings at Cheltenham and Leopardstown respectively. They look like they’ll relish the stamina test that lies in store.
Dual festival winner, Presenting Percy and Aintree Bowl and Punchestown Gold Cup winner, Kemboy didn’t run their true races in the blue riband last year, while King George victor, Clan Des Obeaux, who could only finish fifth in 2019, also has something to prove.
Those runners add further spice to the contest. As do Betfair Chase winner, Lostintranslation, Savills’ Chase second, Monalee and last year’s Gold Cup third, Bristol De Mai. The Gold Cup should be a race to savour.