SO ONLY a few hours now and the opening cheer will be ringing in the ears of My Tent Or Yours, Jezki, your local bookie shop! It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was skipping school in Galway (it is), spending the day in the bookies and wondering just what it was like to ride a winner at the Festival.
To my surprise I found out last year when I rode Countrywide Flame to win the Triumph Hurdle and Countrywide goes again today in the Champion Hurdle.
Denis O’Regan has been given the steering job, but more on that later, I’ve walked the course, am plotting my week, excited by what’s to come, both for me, for the lads in the weighing room, the punters, here, at home and those following us on Twitter @theirishpost
I’m a fan as well as a jockey, so it’s impossible not to be excited by some of the duels set to play out in…
1.30: The Supreme Novices Hurdle
This looks like a slug-fest between My Tent or Yours and Jezki, Nicky Henderson versus Jessica Harrington in the first of the Ireland versus England head-to-head. I think My Tent Or Yours is really well handicapped here and the one to beat. He jumped the last in the Betfair Hurdle last time out like he’d just joined in… and feel there’s a bit extra here than Jezki has to offer. As an each way shout I like the Willie Mullins’ trained Champagne Fever.
2.05: Racing Post Arkle Trophy
For me this is the race of the Festival – the classy Simonsig against the steely Overturn.
I’ll always remember Graham Lee getting off Overturn and describing the horse as a “freak” because he had so much speed and stamina. I’ve been shouting for Overturn all year, I just like his grinding style and I think there’s an upset on the cards here. If Jason Maguire gets it right tactically then he’s the power to win. Simonsig oozes class but I’m sticking to my guns.
2.40: Specialty Handicap Chase
This is where my Festival begins, on board Midnight Chase. We have enjoyed many great victories at Cheltenham but the tacky ground is going to test Midnight’s reserves. The one to watch our for is Planet of Sound. But a good spin and we could be in the mix for the first three. Fingers crossed.
3.20: Stan James Champion Hurdle
On paper this one has the makings of a classic – Willie Mullins says Hurricane Fly is working better than ever, last year’s winner Rock on Ruby has similar claims of improvement, then you throw Zarkandar into the mix! Outside of those three, Countrywide Flame offers value to run into a place – in such company that would represent a victory for trainer John Quinn. The Flame won’t be phased, and it is a Rizla-thin call between the two aforementioned favourites. My pick is Rock on Ruby and for a bit of value – Countrywide Flame.
4.00: Glenfarclas Handicap Chase
A tough race in tough conditions, I’m up early writing this column, but with the ground conditions, I’d be surprised if this one goes head. On the off-chance it does, I reckon Sizing Australia has the best claims. Long-time fan of this fella.
4.40: OLBG Mares Hurdle
Quevega: the history maker. This is some story and what an afternoon it will be if she makes it five wins in a row at the Festival – a feat not achieved since Golden Miller dominated the Gold Cup from 1932 to 1936. Enough said: Oh, Emma Lavelle’s Kentford Grey Lady has each way claims if you’re looking for something to come second or third.
5.15 Rewards4Novices Handicap Chase
The last race of the day, if you are still on your feet, have bagged an Irish winner or two – and there will be that much at least – then Davy Russell and Carlito Brigante have some form around here (Coral Cup 2011). You might be in the bar by now though…not a bad punt either!