DAY ONE of the Cheltenham Festival is Champion Hurdle day and everyone is raring to go.
The Champion Hurdle looks a brilliant race this year with Buveur D’Air trying to win the race for a third time while Apple’s Jade and Laurina are trying to stop him.
I’m trying to get the meeting off to a flyer by winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Itchy Feet, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the card too.
I went to school him last week and the reports I had before I went in from the head lad Ger Tumelty and from trainer Olly Murphy were that they couldn’t have been happier with him; when I sat on him I could understand why. I was very happy myself after I schooled him and I’m really looking forward to the race. The ground is a question mark but it may actually help him – we won’t really know until the race itself. Importantly, he’s got experience around Cheltenham having finished second last time behind Elixir De Nutz, who won a Grade 1 next time and is one of the leading fancies for this race. Having course form is a massive help at Cheltenham and he’s fresh going into the race as well. He’ll be a better horse coming into this then he was when you last saw him in the autumn. I think he’s a forgotten horse and is a big price based on form.
Glen Forsa catches my eye in this race. I loved the way he jumped around Sandown last time in the rearranged Kingmaker Novices’ Chase, but what was even more important with Cheltenham in mind is how well he travelled around the course. To beat a horse like Kalashnikov as well as he did – going out and being bold and as brave as a lion – was excellent. I think that style will put a lot of pressure on the other horses.
Mister Whitaker, from the same yard as Glen Forsa, is the one I like here. I think it’s a massive help to have form at Cheltenham and particularly the festival, and he has both having won the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase last year. Festival races are hugely competitive and Cheltenham is a different track to most as it’s nearly always turning. The jumps come thick and fast too so if you’ve handled it before will give you a huge boost.
This is going to be some race. Buveur D’Air is the class horse in the race and is trying to win it for a third time, but I love Apple’s Jade. Firstly, she has the most fantastic attitude and that’s going to help her a lot. She’s getting weight from Buveur D’Air and she has put together top performances one after another this season. She’s matured a lot in the last 12 months – she looked a little hot at the meeting last year – and she’s versatile too with tactics and ground.
Many people have put her up as their ‘banker’ of the meeting and she seems very solid. She beat Apple’s Jade last year in this race and there’s nothing that good this time around. Okay, so she hasn’t run this season but her trainer Willie Mullins has done that in the past with Quevega so we know she’s going to be arriving at the meeting 100 per cent ready. Perhaps one to give her something to think about is Roksana. She’s got good form and has had just the one run behind Buveur D’Air at Sandown last time to get her spot on for this race. The Skeltons have had this race in mind for her all season.
This is a hard race to call and is going to be very competitive, but I’ll be siding with Springtown Lake for trainer Philip Hobbs and owner Tim Syder, who I’ve ridden a winner for in the past. This horse has had three runs over fences and the ground has come right for him. He jumped well around Sandown last time and going left-handed should suit him, as should coming back in trip.
Will favourite Ok Corral stay? I don’t know. He travelled almost too well for a four miler when he ran at Warwick last time. His jockey Derek O’Connor is amazing and he will switch the horse off and give him the best chance of getting home, but I do think it’s a race where you can look elsewhere. An interesting one for me is Discorama. He fell the last day but he was running a massive race at the time.
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