JOCKEY Jonathan Burke is enjoying a superb season in England and is eagerly looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival.
The Conna native has already ridden 32 winners for a variety of trainers despite a frustrating spell on the sidelines with injury.
With just over three weeks to Cheltenham, all the pundits are predicting a green wave of winners following the performances of the leading Irish horses at the Dublin Racing Festival.
The quality of horses attached to the Gordon Elliot, Willie Mullins and Henry De Bromhead yards makes the Irish challenge the strongest ever.
Or do we look at these things through green-tinted glasses in the build-up to these great Anglo Irish sporting clashes?
Johnny Burke is better qualified than most as he is riding winners on a regular basis across the water.
His insights to the leading challengers in all the major races are interesting.
Following another winner at Lingfield last week he is back in the groove and relishing the rest of the season.
“Everything is going good now that I’m back riding winners again. The early part of the season was going great but I broke my collarbone riding out at Oliver Sherwood’s in early December,” Burke said.
“I got back race riding on New Year’s Day but I broke it again on January 3rd which was very frustrating.
“I’ve 32 winners so far this season so it would be great to ride fifty winners for this campaign.
“A normal week involves splitting my time between Tom George, Oliver Sherwoods, Tom Lacey and Henrietta Knight who has also been a great supporter of mine as well.
“But the countdown is on to Cheltenham and Aintree over here and it looks like the Irish horses will dominate proceedings on the evidence of the season so far.”
For any jockey getting rides at the major festivals is the first step and Jonathan Burke will have plenty of opportunities throughout the week.
While plans always remain unclear until every horse reaches the declaration stage Jonathan is optimistic about having rides in the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup as well as a host of the handicaps throughout the week.
“I’ll hopefully ride Come On Teddy in the Pertemps for another Cork man Noel Fehily.
“His racing club has made great strides and this horse won around Cheltenham back in December.
“Hold The Note, Tea Clipper will both run while Not So Sleepy will take his chance in the Champion Hurdle.
“The Gold Cup is always a great race to ride in so hopefully Black Op will take his opportunity here. His form has been poor this season but we think he’s coming back to himself and it would be great to ride in the biggest race of the week.”
With so many Irish favourites throughout the week, there is an acceptance that the visiting Irish brigade are set for a huge haul of winners.
"The Irish Novice Hurdlers look pretty strong and Appreciate lt looks a worthy favourite. Over here Metier has been
the most impressive novice hurdler but he’ll need a bit of softer ground.
“The Ballymore might go to the English as the Paul Nicholls trained Bravemansgame looks very good. His form is rock solid and is a lovely honest horse. The Albert Bartlett is always tough going but Stattler is the right favourite for Paul ( Townend).
“Best of the English might be Adrimal for Tom Lacey. He was a very good bumper horse who has taken to hurdles really well. Energumene versus Shiskin is being talked about as the race of the meeting.
“Paul Townend will get my vote as a fellow Cork man and a jockey who has been a great mentor to me over the years. Envoi Allen looks unopposable in the Marsh Novice Chase while Monkfish is a beautiful horse to watch.
“Eclat de Clair from the De Bromhead yard impressed me the last day and is a lovely jumper.
“The Champion Hurdle has a lot of interesting contenders including the defending champion Epatante. Buveur D’air might be the each-way value at 20/1 after being a dual winner of the race.
Finally, the news that amateur riders will be missing from next month’s Cheltenham Festival will come as a devasting blow to our leading amateurs Jamie Codd, Derek O’Connor, Patrick Mullins and Maxine O’Sullivan.
It will come as a real disappointment to Maxine and her father Eugene as It Came To Pass aims to defend his Hunters Chase crown.
The four-day Festival begins on March 16, and in his road map unveiled on Monday for exiting lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a date of March 29 for the resumption of grassroots sport in Britain.
Jamie Codd has 10 Festival winners to his name and was set to partner Weatherbys Champion Bumper favourite Sir Gerhard for Gordon Elliott.
“For us qualified riders in Ireland, and the amateurs in England, it’s a huge blow. Cheltenham is where we really like to be competing and showcasing our status.
“It’s hugely disappointing, but the UK Government have their decision made and fingers crossed we can all get back for the hunter chase in Aintree.”