At last all the talking is over and we can get on with it! The Cheltenham Festival is finally here and I will fly over later today (Monday) and make my way from Birmingham Airport to the racecourse. I’ll pick up my things and then head to the cottage we rent every year and rest up ahead of four huge days.
I suppose a lot of the talk over the last few days has been over whether Envoi Allen would run in the Supreme Novices on the first day or the Ballymore Novices over further the following day. Well, Gordon (Elliott) walked the course on Sunday and was pleasantly surprised by the state of the ground. There has been so much rain over the last few months that the worry was going to be bottomless ground. The track was in great nick and as the sun was shining and it was windy, sticking to the original plan and the Ballymore seemed the best plan.
Looking ahead to the opening day of the meeting and I’ve got some lovely rides to look forward to. Here are my thoughts on those three chances and also my thoughts on the other four races…
ABACADABRAS (1.30pm – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
I am thrilled to have been asked to ride a horse as exciting as Abacadabras in the opener. There is no noise quite like that roar that sets the runners on their way for this contest and to be on one with a major chance is extra special. Abacadabras has grown up a lot since last season’s Champion Bumper where he showed his inexperience. He’s done everything we have hoped so far over hurdles and only been beaten the once behind Envoi Allen. Our fear with him would have been really bad ground but all seems okay on that front so hopefully he will put up a bold show. As for the rest, Asterion Forlonge looked very good the last day while the Donnellys also have Shiskin. The pair look really smart, but I’m hopeful my lad will put it up to them.
2.10pm – Racing Post Arkle
No ride for me in the Arkle where the Irish again hold a strong hand with the likes of Notebook, Fakir D’oudairies and Cash Back. Having sat on a panel last week with Richard Johnson I know that he rates Brewin’upastorm his best chance of the week, so it looks a red-hot race. If I had to pin my colours to one, I guess it would be Notebook on what he has done so far this season. The worry would be his temperament at the start, but if they can keep a lid on him, he looks the one to beat.
2.50pm – Ultima Handicap Chase
Again, a race I’ll be watching from the weighing room with topweight Vinndication setting the benchmark. It will be some performance to give weight to some bright opponents here, but he is classy, although has to prove he handles this track. Discorama should go well having been runner-up here twice before and he’s had a wind operation. However, I give a squeak to Elwood who I rode the last day. Everything looks set for a good run and the first-time cheekpieces should sharpen him up.
COEUR SUBLIME (3.30pm – Champion Hurdle)
A big field of 17 have been declared for the Champion Hurdle where I ride Coeur Sublime for Gordon. He’s not been seen since Leopardstown at Christmas and has had a wind operation since then. He will have to step up on what he has shown so far this season, but I’m hopeful. He was a good second to Pentland Hills in last season’s Triumph and travelled supremely well that day. I’m hoping he can return in the same form and go well. Looking at the others and you can make a case out for so many. If there is one I fear the most it is probably Nicky Henderson’s Epatante. She won so well at Kempton the last day and with her 7lb allowance has to be a danger if handling the track.
4.10pm – Mares’ Hurdle
A hell of a race with Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle (pictured) taking each other on. I’ve said all the way along I’d favour Honeysuckle in the match up and I’m not going to change my mind now. I suppose if the rain came that would help Benie, but Honeysuckle is so exciting, and I think she could shock the hot favourite.
GALVIN (4.50pm – Novices’ Handicap Chase)
My final ride on the opening day is Galvin for Gordon in the novices’ handicap. He fell on his chasing debut at Galway and has gradually got better in his last two starts. Whether he is streetwise enough to win a race like this remains to be seen, but he should go well. He was a good sixth to City Island in the Ballymore here last season so has some Festival experience. Singling out a danger is impossible as it looks wide-open, but the home challenge led by Imperial Aura and Hold The Note are respected for sure.
5.30pm Cheltenham – National Hunt Chase
The old four miler for amateur riders is now run over 3m 6f and obviously all eyes are on Carefully Selected for the Mullins team. He looks the obvious one if his jumping holds out and should go close. If he doesn’t shine in that department then the booking of Derek O’Connor on Forza Milan catches the eye. Whatever happens that pair shouldn’t be far away.
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