REMEMBER that feeling 10 minutes before your worst Leaving Cert exam?
The one you weren’t entirely prepared for and planned on cramming right up until the bell? That’s the feeling many punters will experience today ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
Some will have contented themselves with various accumulators only for a Mullins or an Elliott to scupper those bets by changing horses’ targets at the eleventh hour. Others will wait until the very last moment before committing.
All wise after the race is over – how didn’t we see that beforehand?
Don’t let hindsight get you down this week – racing is a game of fortune. You may be on the best horse in the race and still get beaten. Cheltenham is a four-day rollercoaster ride and we’re just about to take off!
I’m nestled in a quiet corner here at Cheltenham, it really is the calm before the storm.
Team Ireland have brought a formidable team across the Irish Sea. A few months ago we were worried that Brexit would impede our journey and the last few weeks has been a constant Coronavirus panic.
That’s what Cheltenham means to racing folk. All factors considered but none great enough to silence our roar.
We hope to get the tricolour off to a flyer on day one with top prospects in the Supreme (Asterion Forlonge, Abracadabras etc) and Arkle Chase (Notebook, Fakir d’Oudaries, Cash Back etc).
Then we have the mares – Benie Des Dieux, Honeysuckle and Epatante. The weakness of the Champion Hurdle this year has been well documented but had the Mare’s Hurdle ceased to exist; it would arguably be a vintage renewal.
I quietly fancy Colin Tizzard to have a fruitful festival. He saddles Fiddlerontheroof in the Supreme, The Big Breakaway in the Ballymore and Harry Senior in the Albert Bartlett. These are three extremely talented youngsters and with the ground likely to be soft or worse throughout the week, I think it will play to their strengths.
Obviously all of the bankers won’t oblige but I find it difficult to see how the big trio can get beaten. Paisley Park is bulletproof in the Stayers – just like Big Bucks a decade ago. Benie Des Dieux is a remarkable mare and while I have the utmost respect for Honeysuckle, Benie is the best female of her generation in my mind.
And then we come to Envoi Allen. Cheveley Park’s unbeaten ex pointer who powered home in the champion bumper twelve months ago and arguably the most exciting horse in training. I chatted to Keith Donoghue about this horse during the week.
Keith rides Envoi Allen every morning and I asked him to compare this horse to Samcro and other “talking horses” they have had in recent years. He simply replied, “he’s different level to anything Gordon has ever had” – and that was all I needed to know!
As for the dark horses of the week, I suspect Charles Byrnes will have Thosedaysaregone ripe and ready for one of the major handicap hurdles. The son of Getaway needed every inch of the two-mile trip in the Ladbroke Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival so it wouldn’t surprise many if he were to pitch up in the Coral Cup on Wednesday. He’s one to have on your radar as he appeared ahead of the handicapper last time and should improve further for stepping up in distance.
JP McManus holds a strong deck of cards over the four days and I wonder is there value in his retained rider Barry Geraghty being top jockey at the meeting. Barry is the second most successful jockey in Cheltenham history (38 wins) and following the retirement of Ruby Walsh (59 wins), he’s the most successful active rider in the weigh room this week.
Barry has always been a big day jockey and his record of consistency at this meeting speaks for itself. Epatante is favourite to give Barry his fourth Champion Hurdle tomorrow and I really fancy Defi Du Seuil to give him a sixth Champion Chase.
Throw in horses such as Champ (RSA), Sire Du Berlais (Pertemps), Sporting John (Ballymore), Chantry House (Supreme) et al and the prospect of Geraghty coming out on top seems very possible. Paddy Power are offering 5/1 – a great bet for anyone looking to oppose the market leader Paul Townend.
All in all, racing this week will be box office. I’ll be covering the meeting with Racing TV, a very different role to a few years ago but an enviable one nonetheless. This is what sport is all about. The build, the anticipation and that roar tomorrow afternoon. Strap in and pace oneself. It’s four days of tips, tumbles and triumph. It’s what racing is all about!