All the waiting is over and the Cheltenham Festival is here! Even more remarkably it looks like starting on pretty soft ground which certainly didn’t look likely a few months ago. Anyway, onto the action and I’ll get to the track early each morning and sit on a few. You often see the Irish runners out on the track early and all they are doing is stretching their legs. Months of planning and talking can finally come to an end and we can at last get on with it. Cheltenham is an incredible place and I often have to pinch myself to remember how lucky I am to do the job I do. Onto the opening day’s action and I have five nice rides to look forward to…
1:30pm Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Opening race of the meeting and sadly no ride for me so I will be watching that famous roar with the rest of you. Kalashnikov brought rock solid handicap form to the table 12 months ago and so nearly pulled it off when caught in the dying strides. This time Al Dancer comes here having won the Betfair Hurdle and deserves his place at the top of the market. It really is a wide-open race though and it’s difficult to be really confident about any of them. Nicky Henderson holds a strong hand with Angels Breath and Mister Fisher, while Joseph’s (O’Brien) Fakir D’Oudairies (pictured) gets the handy 8lb allowance. Gordon runs a couple who will both appreciate the rain. Vision D’Honneur is a lovely horse and definitely enters the equation in these conditions. As for Felix Desjy, he bounced back to form last time with more positive tactics and will go well from the front again. It would be great to see the pair of them go well.
HARDLINE (2:10pm Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1))
My first ride of the meeting is Hardline for Gordon in the Arkle. He’s a lovely horse and I’ve won a couple of times on him this season. I suppose the drop in trip with a strong pace on soft ground will suit him and he should go nicely. He beat Getabird at Limerick over Christmas and a reproduction of that form will put him in the mix here. There are some very smart horses in here though and with the likes of Ornua and Knocknanuss, I’m not sure we are going to hang around. It would be an incredible story if Lalor won for Kayley Woollacott who has had a tough time. He is a talented horse who I rode to finish second here in a Novice Hurdle back in December 2017. He is Grade One winner and deserves his place at the top of the betting. He is a big threat to us as is Glen Forsa. I was really impressed by the way he jumped at Sandown the last day and he is a horse on the upgrade.
NOBLE ENDEAVOR (2:50pm Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3))
I’ll be hoping to roll back the years with Noble Endeavor who takes his chance in the Ultima Handicap – a race in which he and I finished third in a couple of years ago. He is a fraction lower in the weights this time around but has had his fare share of problems and this will be a big ask. He will have definitely needed his comeback run at Aintree last time, so will hopefully step forward considerably. Mind you, he will need to to be competitive in a race like this. You can make a case out for plenty of these. Mister Whitaker may improve for the step up in trip now the rain has come, while Minella Rocco is very classy on his day. However, if all the Preview Night talk is to be believed, we will all be chasing Paul Nicholls’ Give Me A Copper who is reportedly very well handicapped.
VERDANA BLUE (3:30pm Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1))
The big race of the opening day and it looks a real cracker. All eyes will be on reigning champ Buveur D’Air as he goes for his hat-trick. In all honesty I believe he will have to step up again if he is going to beat Apple’s Jade who has simply looked a different mare this season. She also gets the handy 7lbs mares allowance which may just swing things in her favour. She was unbelievable the last day and those of us riding behind her struggled to lay up with her from an early stage. If she turns up in that form she will be hard to beat. Willie’s (Mullins) mare Laurina is talented but still has to prove herself at this level and I can see his Sharjah going well. I ride Verdana Blue (pictured) for Nicky Henderson who beat Buveur D’Air at Kempton. She is without doubt a very talented mare and gave me a lovely feel when I rode her off a big weight in the Betfair Hurdle last season. The ground was simply too soft for her that day and that has to be a little concern here if the forecast is to be believed. She is tough though and has bundles of talent, so we will give it our best shot.
LACKANEEN LEADER (4:10pm OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1))
A big ask for Lackaneen Leader against last year’s winer Benie Des Dieux who will be hard to beat. My mare finished fifth behind Laurina on her seasonal reappearance last month and will certainly strip fitter with that run under her belt. If she can return to the form that she was in this time last year, she could get involved, but she will have to step up. The ground looks to have come right for the favourite who will take some catching.
CUBOMANIA (4:50pm Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed))
My final ride of the day is aboard Cubomania, again for Gordon. He has had a very busy time of things and this will be his 13th start since August. He won that day in Perth of a mark of 117 so this will be be a little tougher off what is nearly a 30lbs higher mark. However, there are plenty of positives in that he has had so much experience and has won here at Cheltenham in October. Any rain shouldn’t be a problem either as he seems to go on all ground. So, I guess it just depends on whether he can defy the big hike in the weights. Here’s hoping he can!
5:30pm National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2)
The NH Chase for amateurs has long been the target for Nicky Henderson’s OK Corral who will be a lot of people’s idea of the winner with Derek O’Connor in the saddle (partnership pictured). He is unquestionably a very talented horse, but this stamina sapping trip could really test him if he is keen early. Look out for Barry O’Neill on Paul Nolan’s Discorama. He ran well at the meeting last year and looks just the type for a race like this.
DAVY and ALASTAIR: PART 1
DAVY and ALASTAIR: PART 2
If you have a question for Davy drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try and include in the next blog…