Lizzie Kelly: “British racing is in need of a serious revamp”
“It’s difficult to ignore the shamrock-clad elephant in the room. Ireland delivered a ‘green wash’ at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, beating the Brits with 23 wins to five and leaving many over here debating what had gone wrong and I don’t think it’ll be that different this week given the Irish remain so strong.
“Their ranks include Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle, last season’s Gold Cup winner Minella Indo, Chacun Pour Soi, Energumene plus two-time Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo and A Plus Tard, just to mention a few and it’s going to take some turning around and a serious revamp of the programme in Britain in order to be able to complete with the Irish.
“As it stands, there are too many options to run in the UK, especially for the chasers, providing escape routes to avoid rivals and too many soft races. In contrast, less racing in Ireland means competitors have to clash more. They get battle-hardened, which can prove a big factor when the pressure is on at the Festival. And it goes to show as the Irish yards are incredibly focused on the three Festivals: Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown and the rest is pretty much irrelevant.
“You look at last year’s Festival and the Irish wasn’t just winning, they were basically grabbing the first four placings. And when you look through the betting and the races, it’s a bit scary how long sometimes it takes to finally get to the British. You look down the list of the trainers and you’ve got Willie Mullins, de Bromhead and Gordon Elliott filling the first eight in the betting; but the issue is also that the Irish has so many more horses. Willie Mullins says he’s got about 55 to come over, Gordon Elliott says he’s got 60; and Paul Nicholls has got about 15. So that speaks for itself when our champion trainer isn’t even bringing up a quarter of what just one of the Irish trainers is brining so of course they’ll dominate the field.
“We’ve got some great young horses in Bravemansgame, Jonbon, Constitution Hill, all the novices. And obviously Shishkin has got quite a lot of responsibility in this sort of sphere. But it simply isn’t enough to even get close to the Irish. Having said that, I believe we’re in a much better place this year, compared to 2021; but then again, we all thought Bravemansgame was going to win last year and he didn’t. So there’s every chance that any of the English ‘bankers’ might not actually come up with the goods.
“Just looking at at the number of horses coming over from Ireland, I don’t think it’s even possible for the Brits to win The Prestbury Cup this year but I do think it’ll be a closer game this year than what we saw last year…and then hopefully we can build on that.”
Lizzie Kelly’s Cheltenham Top Outsiders
Put the Kettle on in the Champion Chase: 20/1
“Although she’s been under a cloud recently, Put The Kettle On is known for great incredible performance at Cheltenham. Last year she won the the Queen Mother Champion Chase, once again proving herself to be as tough as they come, as she followed up her win in the Arkle, at the Cheltenham Festival, 12 months earlier. She’s definitely got what it takes to do really well in this race and she may even prove us all wrong by going all the way.”
Editeur Du Gite in the Champion Chase: 33/1
“He’s a fascinating runner and given his liking for Cheltenham one shouldn’t be too quick with writing him off. He’s proven he’s great horse and similar to Put the Kettle on, who also loved Cheltenham, it may be that the Cotswolds will revive him.”
Imperial Alcazar in the Turners Novice Chase: 33/1
“He’s been running over three miles and his jumping didn’t look good; but what was actually happening was that Paddy Brennan was using the fences as obstacles to try and get the horse to slow down as he was too keen.
However, when they got the distance right and the horse was able to really roll over two and a half, then his jumping was absolutely fine and he won very, very nicely on trials day.”
Mullenbeg in the Champion Bumper: 14/1
“The Bumper is all about the Irish so you have go with it. This horse has shown some great potential and stamina and I do think he’s got a good chance here.”
Knight Salute in the Triumph Hurdle: 10/1
“There’s a lot to like about this horse but the fact that he’s unbeaten over hurdles speaks for itself; definitely worth backing him in one way or another.”
Lizzie Kelly: Honeysuckle should be able to deliver but never underestimate Willie Mullins
“I think a lot of people would love to see Honeysuckle win the Champion Hurdle – she’s the story and the fan favourite. And she should win this race unless Appreciate It comes up with the goods; and seeing that we haven’t seen him since last year’s Cheltenham, it’s difficult to know what he’ll be able to do. But knowing Willie Mullins, we wouldn’t start him unless he knew that he had a good chance. I’ve previously said that although I love Honeysuckle and want her to win, it’d be nice to see this division become a little bit more interesting.
‘Although there are some great horses running, including Teahupoo who had an incredible win at Gowran last month on ground he apparently resented, my concern with quite a lot of the field is that they are younger horses and therefore stepping up into this division, it’s very different from running in grade twos and threes against their own age group, to what it is to be running against a mare such as Honeysuckle who has been competing in this division for a long time; at the end of the day, Honeysuckle is good enough to get a breather in a grade one. So for those reasons, it’d not surprising that Honeysuckle is odds-on…as she should be.”
Lizzie Kelly: Tommy’s Oscar is a great horse and I don’t think his odds is a fair representation of him and what he may be able to do at Cheltenham
“Ian and Ann Hamilton are most definitely a success story and they’ve shown that you can do it on a shoestring budget. You don’t have to be necessarily a bigger trainer to get wins. Their biggest hope in the Festival is to be in the Champion Hurdle with Tommy’s Oscar who’s 33/1, which I don’t think is a fair representation of what this horse is actually capable of; and I can very much relate to this as I’ve been in the same boat, where I worked for a small trainer, but they had really good horses. And yet, the prices almost didn’t always represent the horses’ chance just because you were up against the bigger names. It’s the nature of the game but it’d be great to see Tommy’s Oscar and young jockey Danny McMenamin give some of the more senior contenders a run for their money.”
Lizzie Kelly: Prengard is a great horse but as a racing fan, I want to see Tiger Roll win
“Tiger Roll reinvented the Cross Country Chase, turning into one of the Festival’s most popular races; he’s also become a household name so yes, I’d love to win this week but I don’t think it’ll be as easy as one would like to think.
“While Tiger Roll has the benefit of experience, six year old Prengarde has youth in his side and also coming from France where they have a lot of cross country races, he’ll should be able to just get into his stride and get his momentum very, very quickly. I think the interesting thing is that he’s obviously had a prep run at the end of February, which didn’t go very well at all. Having said that, I wouldn’t judge him based on that performance as it was over two miles in a handicap hurdle so you wouldn’t expect him to do well.
“I don’t think many appreciate how intense a cross country race is. You looking at about 10 fences a mile, which is a lot. And you are always on the turn and there’s not really a chance to get a breather in anywhere – it’s quite relentless. And I think that having Tiger Roll running the race has given the race the sort of the kudos it needed, because for a while it was seen as a bit of a novelty race and a lot of people didn’t really enjoy it. But it’s not until you ride in the race that you actually realise what sort of a horse it takes to win a race like that.
“Even to travel and jump and be competitive in that race is pretty difficult. And I don’t think you really understand the kind of quality type of horse you need to be able to perform in a race like that. And it really brings Tiger Roll to life just like fences do. For me he’s won it. He’s just been so much better than a lot of the horses in the race. So he will be tough to beat cause he does absolutely love it there.”
Lizzie Kelly: I’m backing Shishkin to win the Queen’s Mother Champion Chase
“Following the Clarence House Chase at Ascot at the beginning of the year, the Shishkin vs Energumene rematch has grabbed the racing headlines. In that race, Henderson-trained Shishkin just pipped it by an extremely close margin. But what’s worth remembering is that back in January when these two horses first met, it was a match race…whereas this week at Cheltenham it isn’t; in fact, it’s a deep race and it could be anyone’s race.
“But for me personally, Shishkin is the nicest horse in the field and I think he’s the classiest horse in the field. In some ways I’d probably say Chacun Pour Soi does have a huge amount of class too… as does Energumene, but we’ve sort of seen what he’s capable of when it comes to versus Shishkin and out of these two you have to side with Shishkin. If they go real quick, he can stay. If they go kind of slow and quicken into it, he’s quick enough to get it.
“And for an outsider, I’d go for Put The Kettle on each way as she loved Cheltenham and tend to do really well there and taken the mare allowance into account, she’s definitely one to bear in mind.