WATERFALL jockey Jerry McGrath will be a spectator for the Cheltenham Festival this year as he recovers from a horrific fall on the all-weather at Lingfield back in January.
It was one of those falls that all jockeys dread but thankfully the Corkman has been recuperating at the famed Oaksey House at Lambourn.
“I’m recovering well here and like everyone else Cheltenham will be a great distraction with some mouth-watering clashes throughout next week.
“It was a very nasty tumble and as a jockey, you know when you're in big trouble. The faces on the medics confirm your worse fears but my hip and shoulder were both broken as well as a few other knocks and bruises.
“A fall on the polytrack can be a lot worse than the turf. I was transferred to Brighton hospital which specialised in car crash victims. Hospital was tough as with Covid there was no visitors and none of my family could travel over with the restrictions.
“Following the operations and recuperating I moved to Oaksey House which is a specialised facility for jockeys recovering from injury. It’s an amazing place and over the last 10 days, I’ve made huge progress.
“Obviously the remainder of this season is finished for me but my recovery is moving along nicely and I might even be going home at the weekend.”
Being a vital cog in the Nicky Henderson team McGrath can feel the pressure building for all the team at Seven Barrows. Everyone is gearing up for the biggest week of the racing calendar. With leading fancies in so many races, the vibes from the Henderson camp are very positive after a quieter than normal winter.
“Everyone just wants to get the horses there now at this stage. All the work is done so it’s just a tense time for all the team. The Champion Hurdle looks a cracking renewal and our hopes revolve around Epatante. She is the defending Champion and the boss has a great record in the race.
“Obviously, the preparation isn’t ideal after losing out to Silver Streak in the Chrismas Hurdle at Kempton. But there were genuine excuses and the team at home are really happy with her and Epatante worked very well last weekend.
“Honeysuckle has been very good throughout the winter and looks the best of the Irish challengers. Goshen came back to form the last day and the Moores are such a highly regarded family over here. Everyone knows what happened at the last hurdle in the Triumph last year so Goshen would be a very popular winner.
“But Epatante is a very good horse and will be a tough nut to crack. Our Gold Cup team is very strong with Champ and Santini both having strong claims. Champ was very good the last day over two miles and he has come out of the race really well.
“Everyone knows how talented a horse he is and his last gasp victory in the RSA at Cheltenham will live long in the memory. Santini was runner-up in the Gold Cup last season and the drying ground conditions will be in his favour. They will fit blinkers and Aidan Coleman will be pleased to be riding him.
“Henry De Bromhead has a couple of interesting contenders with A Plus Tard and Minella Indo and of course the warm favourite Al Boum Photo is going for his third consecutive Gold Cup. I’m sure the Mullins team will have everything spot on for this history-making bid. It’s always a hell of a race and the ultimate test for any horse and everyone seems really happy with Champ so I think he can go very close for JP McManus.
“Altior would be such a popular winner of the Champion Chase and takes on the Mullins hotpot Chaqun Pour Soi who has looked good over the winter at Leopardstown.
Everyone is happy with Altior and he has been to the Cheltenham Festival on four occasions and has won every time.
"He missed out last year due to injury but doesn’t have that many miles on the clock for an 11-year-old.
“Our big hope in the novice chases is Shiskin who is owned by the Donnelly family from Cork. He won the Supreme last season and has won his three novice chases impressively. Now there is another horse from the Mullins camp called Energumene who everyone is talking about.
“But our crew are very happy with Shiskin’s work and are expecting a massive run. Chantry House is in great form and takes on Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novice Chase. I’ve always liked him and he’s probably a good each/way bet at 14 or 16/1.”
Finally, the handicaps will be a real puzzle for punters throughout the week. Henderson has multiple entries with the targets for plenty of horses still undecided. Ground conditions, jockey bookings are all decided at the declaration stage.
“Obviously plans are still up in the air a little but I’ll put up a couple of horses. Craigneiche is entered in the Martin Pipe and the Coral Cup and is an each/way player wherever he runs. He was actually bred by Frank Motorway who will be well known to all the point-to-point fraternity in Cork. Allart might have an each/way shout if he runs back over hurdles and Caribean Boy is a big player in the Paddy Power Plate.”