THERE’S already a lot of build-up for Cheltenham Festival. Willie Mullins has been getting his team ready, and Gordon Elliot has had his last major walk out in Ireland. So Cheltenham is now the next big thing on everyone’s minds.
Mullins has had a few little blows to his Champion Hurdle hopes, but I’m sure he’s got plenty in the pipeline to win and to be the top trainer – he’s too much of a good trainer to be beaten.
Looking at his hand this year for Cheltenham, I honestly think there’s no reason Mullins couldn’t win all the Championship races there: The Gold Cup, The Champion Hurdle and all the Novice events.
I think it’ll be very hard to beat him. I know he’s there to be shot at but over the years he’s been made a target, I just think that if I was a punter I’d be looking at Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
I think there’s definitely going to be good ground at Cheltenham, so that’ll leave it level on the playing field. If it turned out soft then you’d probably find it’d favour the Irish a lot more as the horses would have coped with that ground.
An interesting jockey to keep tabs on is Barry Geraghty. In the last couple of years, AP McCoy never hit the target at Cheltenham until the last day before getting a few winners on Gold Cup Day.
It’ll be interesting to see how Barry fares in McCoy’s absence this year; whether or not they’re going to have early winners. I think a lot of fans will be watching to see whether he can get off the mark at the start of the week.
Barry himself will be wanting to get off to a good start as its his first year as stable jockey for the green and gold of JP McManus. He’s been the second or third leading rider around there. It’s not like he has no form around there so he should be fine.
It’s very hard to ride winners at Cheltenham. You have to look at the top two or three, and perhaps an outsider will slip in. But you’re definitely looking at Walsh, Geraghty and Bryan Cooper. Regarding jockeys, they’re the top three for Cheltenham I think. But I just can’t see Ruby being beaten this year.
Meanwhile, I just recently returned from Qatar myself.
I rode in the HH Emir’s Sword, which is the equivalent of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and came sixth. It was a nice experience to get that, especially as it’s a tight track, traditionally used for Thoroughbred racing.
When you race in Doha it’s a completely different culture out there, especially off the track as there’s no betting and no alcohol in certain places. It was a quick in-and-out trip and was definitely worth it.