With Cheltenham around the corner, the talks of the battle between the Brits and the Irish is dominating headlines. Looking at last year, where Ireland took home 23 out of the 28 prizes, The Brits have to come back fighting hard.
In your opinion, is there enough there for the Brits to become a serious challenger or will Ireland dominate for yet another year?
I think that the power balance will take a while to correct itself because of the fact that the good horses that the Irish trained last year are simply either moving up from novice company to open company, which means they’re still as dangerous.
And the horses that won big races last year, Honeysuckle, A Plus Tard, and Minella Indo, yes A Plus Tard finished second., but that is still an incredible result, and all those horses still have really good chances this year…which means trouble for the Brits.
But you also have to factor in handicaps; and the Irish do tend to get their horses into handicaps, and most of these horses are more dangerous than some of the English ones that run in handicaps. So therefore, I do think it will take a while to address that power balance because, at this moment in time, it’s still such a huge difference. And I actually think we can expect to see a continuation of that, but hopefully this year there’ll just be a few more horses for the English to start to even out the table.
But it’s not just the British vs Irish horses, that goes head to head, it’s also the trainers. What trainer(s) do you think will dominate the Festival?
I think the Paul Nicholls and the Henry de Bromhead thing, there’s more that has been made of it than perhaps there should have been really.
Paul Nicholls wrote on his blog the other week that he wasn’t particularly happy with the way that his horses had been running over a two week period. In that time he had still had a couple of winners, but he just wasn’t certain that they were all firing in the way they should have been.
Obviously, we’ve still got four weeks to the festival. That’s plenty of time for people to put things right, if it is something as simple as, I think in Paul Nicholls’ case, he felt that their hay didn’t have as much calcium and potassium in it as it should necessarily have had. If you’ve managed to figure out that that’s the problem, that’s fairly easy to rectify with things like additives and stuff that you can get from feed merchants.
Henry de Bromhead’s form was perhaps little a bit below par, but he has had the most phenomenal season the year before.
So, you’re now comparing it to him being firing on absolute every single cylinder that there possibly could be; and that’s a very hard thing to continue doing year in, year out. I think they’ll still be pretty dangerous when they’re going into these big festivals.
Bravemansgame, for example, was a perfectly acceptable winner over the weekend. He ran a really good race. And I think that Henry de Bromhead has been pretty happy with his results.
Honeysuckle obviously being a horse that does a lot of winning, and she was still well able to win at the Dublin Racing Festival.
And then, of course, you factor in people like Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Nicky Henderson. Those trainers are still as dangerous as they ever have been. And I think how Henderson probably goes in with a slightly better hand this year than he did last year. At this point, it’s a difficult one to call but I still think Ireland will take it this year… although perhaps slightly less convincing to last year’s Festival.
Following the Dublin Racing Festival and also the racing from Newbury, what horses have impressed you the most and that you are looking forward to seeing at Cheltenham?
I’m a really big fan of Bravemansgame. I think he’s a horse that since moving to fences has been spectacular. And I think the fact that he ran in handicap and gave away so much weight and still won fairly, really concisely, speak volumes.
He didn’t really look like he was in trouble at any stage of the race. There were plenty of them still in the race jumping the second last and the last, but he just put them away quite easily. I think he was giving away 16 pounds, that’s a lot of weight to give away and he still did that fairly readily – something you don’t see too often.
Interestingly, Willie Mullins said at the Dublin Racing Festival, that Facile Vega was the horse that he kind of enjoyed watching the most; and I’d been inclined to agree with him. I thought that was quite a spectacular performance really. The bumpers are a little bit tricky because, of course, you haven’t seen a huge amount of them. They normally only run a handful of times, but this is a horse that looks like he’s really exciting for sure.
Shiskin vs Energumene – do you think Shiskin has what it takes to win at Cheltenham?
Shishkin’s Cheltenham form is very good. You’re factoring in plenty of decent performances at Cheltenham and at the Festival. He clearly likes the course and that’s a big plus and he’s also able to deal with enormous crowds, which again, is a huge bonus.
The match between himself and Energumene at Ascot was obviously fantastic – and it was fantastic for racing. It was great to have such an important race away from the festival as well and I think that has done so much good for National Hunt Racing overall.
But it’s worth remembering that it’s not just a two horses race and someone like Chacun Pour Soi , who came out at the Dubin Racing Festival absolutely brilliantly, may cause trouble for the two front runners. However, for this to happen, they’ll have to train him in a way that takes into consideration the fact that he doesn’t like to travel to England.
Willie Mullins said that he’ll try to leave him a little bit short of work because the traveling over on the ferry almost seems to push him over the edge to avoid him getting too exhausted from the ferry, which I thought was a really interesting insight into kind of how you have to factor in all these things like traveling.
But to sum it up, I do think Shishkin has got absolutely every chance of keeping his crown.
Willie Mullins will unleash Appreciate It on Honeysuckle in the Unibet Champion Hurdle next month without having a prep run – is this a risky game that Mullins is playing? Do you think Appreciate It will steal Honeysuckle’s thunder?
It’s fairly unconventional to enter a horse into a Festival such as Cheltenham without any runs and not something that we see on a regular basis. Especially bearing in mind that this will be Appreciate It’s first go in an open company.
Having said that, in one way, they’ve got nothing to lose. And even if you finish seconds to Honeysuckle, seeing that everyone’s going to be on the Honeysuckle bandwagon and huge favourite fan, you’ve still done really well. So it’s a nothing to lose, everything to gain kind of scenario.
It’s not ideal, but having said that, I probably wouldn’t really doubt anything that Willie Mullins did if I’m honest. He’s clearly a master of his craft and if that’s the decision that him and his team have come to, I will be really interested to see how he goes.
I think that particular category needs a little bit of a shake up. Honeysuckle needs something. I felt that at Dublin Racing Festival she needed that horse to kind of come with her after the last, for her to really show how good she is; at the moment, there’s no one to really challenge her and once she cleared the last one, it’s simply a matter of cantering home. Therefore, I think if there was someone to actual challenge her, she will show herself off in a much better and convincing way.
Me personally as a fan of racing, I want to see a newcomer in that sphere and I think this will be a brilliant race with Honeysuckle and Appreciate It both running.
Tiger Roll goes for a fourth win in five years in the Glenfarclas Cross Country this year and his odds are shortening rapidly at 4/1. Will one of the true punters’ favourites make it another glorious outing at Cheltenham or might Prengarde spoil the party? Who had what it takes ti stop Tiger from another win?
Prengarde is a really nice horse. There’s no getting away from that and I’ve gone back and watched those runs over in France and they’re good, really good and his experience will be pretty vast when it comes to jumping all the different fences.
My only concern for Prengarde is that if you go back and watch Tiger Roll win last year, the speed throughout the race is a lot quicker, whereas Prengarde’s races, especially the last race he ran, he made the running but you can see it’s quite a bit slower. And as a race develops, obviously they need to go quicker. And one thing is for sure, they don’t hang around in the cross country races; they’re very intense.
On average, you’ve got 10 fences a mile and that would be my only concern is that particular horse, he tends to go a little bit slower in the beginning of the race.
If you don’t think Prengarde wins. Have you got your eye on any other horses that might stop Tiger Roll?
It’s interesting that Easysland has been moved. He was previously trained by David Cottin, but has now moved to Jonjo. We know that McManus is a big supporter of Jonjo and I wonder whether he just wanted to send over a nice horse.
I think the other horse that actually really does peak my interest would probably be Ajas as he’s got really, really good form over there. He’s won Grade Two’s, Grade Three’s at Auteuil. Actually his worst run really was when he finished seventh in the Grand Steep, which is basically their Gold Cup, where he was beaten a long way by a horse that he’d already beaten. So for whatever reason, to me, you could kind of make a case that the fact that he just ran a bad race that day. He would be an interesting horse for me.
I think if you are going on the basis that Tiger Roll is in the same form and will run the same race as he did last year, then he’s going to be a hard horse to beat.
However, if, for whatever reason, age has caught up with him or he is just not quite in the same form as he has been in previous years, I think there are other horses in the race that are potentially really interesting.
Sky Pirate was heavily fancied for the Betfair Exchange Spirit Chase at Newbury on Saturday, only to finish last behind the both Sceau Royale and Funambule Sivola. Priced at 8s at the weekend, Nick Scholfield’s horse has now lengthened to 16/1 to defend the Grand Annual next month. Available at the same price as weekend winner Eldorado Allen, could Sky Pirate represent excellent long-range value for Cheltenham?
You’re looking at it from the perspective that yeah, he could be good value, but only if he’s able to beat the horses that are shorter in the betting. Yes – he’s run respectful races this year but I’m not sure he’s the one.
You also have Brave Seasca, a horse that is much shorter than Sky Pirate in the betting around 8/1, but I’m not convinced he’ll be able to turn around form from Warwick.
There’s nothing really happened in the race that would make you think that if something had happened differently then he could have beaten that horse. So for me, obviously you’ve got course form, you’ve got festival form.
As yes he may have won last year, but there are much more fancied horses in the field, but, I love going each way on a big price, where I think I’ve found value.
But overall, I think you can make a case for a lot of horses in that particular field.
Another favourite is A Plus Tard. What do you think we are going to see from him at the festival?
He’s run over in Ireland when we saw him last and he was very good. But Galvin seems to be getting better and better and at the moment, I think that Galvin may have what it takes to go all the way at Cheltenham. He’s really shown what a great horse he is and last time A Plus Tard and Galvin went head to head, despite a couple of the race moves that Rachael made that hindered Galvin, he still managed to overcome them to win. And that speaks volumes.
But the Gold Cup this year is not a two horse race; there are quite a few horses that may cause upset. Bearing in mind that A Plus Tard finished second last year to Minella Indo, I think there’s slightly more in the race this year that could trouble him.
Rachael Blackmore is once again grabbing headlines much thanks to what happened last year. However, she hasn’t been as strong this season so in terms of her mindset going into the festival, do you think she’s feeling as positive or perhaps slightly more anxious considering the pressure that’s on her following last year’s mega success?
I think what’s really interesting about Rachael is that she doesn’t Get involved with the media; she very much keeps it at arms length. And I think that that’s probably quite a strong thing about her.
So whatever she’s feeling just now has much to do with the outside pressure. I think there’s inside pressure from her own expectations of how she wants the the week to go and how she feels the horses will perform.
And that’s a real strength because if you are worried about the outside perspective, you lose focus on what is actually happening. If she’s riding horses that are running really, really well, they’re running good races, but she’s finishing second on them all. Yes, it would be frustrating, but she’ll know the horses are running as well as they can and she’ll know she’s riding as well as she can.
And actually when it comes down to it, it is the Festival. You are not going to get away with horses running bad races and winning. But if they’re running good races and she’s riding well, that’s all she can do.
And she has got a couple of really big horses to look forward to. Honeysuckle obviously being one of them, and I’d be surprised if she didn’t win. But equally, considering Honeysuckle’s fan favourite status, that also comes with a fair amount of pressure as Rachael knows that people want her to win.
Any outsiders that you think is worth looking at fro Cheltenham Festival?
Lizzie Kelly: I had a look at the Stayers Hurdle and we had a very peculiar performance by Paisley Park on trial stay. But for me, I think the horse that I took out of it was actually Lisnagar Oscar who sat a really good fractions in front, made it a proper test and ran a really good race to finish third himself. I think that this Stayers Hurdle is quite deep. There’s plenty in it that’s quite exciting.
You‘ve got Thyme Hill, Paisley Park, Flooring Porter, Klassical Dream; and I’ve only mentioned a few. It’s a seriously good race this year and probably a little bit more complex than some of the other championship races that we’ve got.
Looking at Paisley Park. Do you want to briefly comment on that incredible performance a couple of weekends ago – he was 15 lengths behind.
To be fair, I think one thing that has to be said straight away is the connections with Paisley Park never lost faith in him. They were always absolutely adamant that they could get him back to the form that he’d shown previously.
And I think everyone just sort of said, “Oh yeah, of course, of course.” And thought, “There’s no way you’ll get him back.” But then, that performance was something else.
It’s legendary. I’ve never seen anything like that…but the question is…will it happen again… also, what’s worth mentioning is that in an interview afterwards, Aidan Coleman said to Tom Stanley on Racing TV, he’s been thinking about this. Pulling a little stunt like that at the start for a couple of races. And if he does it again, I know Lisnagar Oscar set good fractions in front, but you’ve got Klassical Dream and Flooring Porter who are both very much front runners and really won’t hang around. And I just slightly worry that if he does pull the same stunt again, he won’t get away with it as the field at Cheltenham Festival is very strong.
It’s worth adding that the person that did the best job with the Paisley Park on that particular day was the starter whose reaction to Paisley Park not starting was very, very quick and got him going again; it would be difficult when there’s a bigger field if the same thing happens again. Hopefully he doesn’t do it again. And I’d love to see him win another Stayers Hurdle. But my problem is I just feel he’s a little bit tricky; he’s a little bit of an enigma and I wouldn’t trust him with my money.
Who do you think will win:
– Gold Cup: Galvin (4/1)
– Champion Chase: Shishkin – Evens
– Champion Hurdle: Honeysuckle 1/2
– Supreme: Dysart Dynamo (10/3)(much because this race tend to be all about Willie Mullins so you kind of have to pick one of his horse)
– Stayers is a tricky one and I find the Stayers Hurdle probably the most interesting race of the week this year. There are a lot of really good horses running. I like Flooring Porter (7/2) a lot, but I’ve just kind of got this question mark hovering around him; he’s fallen and I think he’s unseated.
Yes, he finished second to Klassical Dream, but then that form kind of went a little bit haywire. Meanwhile, Klassical Dream (6/1) is an incredible horse. I love his attitude to racing. He loves it and it’s amazing to see.
But Thyme Hill (5/1), Paisley Park (7/1), Lisnagar Oscar (40/1) are all great horses with plenty of potential.
However, if I was riding in that race, I’d say Klassical Dream. Also, Willie Mullins is the man to prepare them for the big days; yes there’s been the off days but one can’t read into these too much. At the end of the day, this horse is brilliant with the most brilliant attitude to racing – what more can one want?!?