It’s been an unbelievable Festival for the team so far as we pass the half-way stage – and there may be more to come.
I missed out on a good ride in the Champion Chase after Champagne Fever was bitten by Un Atout on the way over last weekend. It hadn’t healed well enough for Willie (Mullins) to let him take his chance but I’m hoping Vautour can make up for it in Thursday’s opener.
His was beaten at long odds on at Leopardstown over Christmas but since then his preparation has gone really well and he impressed in some schooling work at Leopardstown at the start of the month. I always saw him as one of my best chances coming here.
I love him and I think he’d a Gold Cup horse for the future. The JLT Chase trip should suit him down to the ground and I think he’ll win.
If I ruled the World
With Rock on Ruby’s defection it doesn’t look a high-quality World Hurdle on paper – but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any easier to win.
My intended ride, Briar Hill misses it too, so I’ll ride Abbyssial who diverts here to Grade One company instead of a handicap after he got an extra 10lb from the compared to his Irish rating from the BHA handicapper.
One to beat
Paul Nicholls’ Zarkandar looks the one we have to beat. He’s a former Triumph Hurdle winner and has a bit of class and I know Sam-Twiston-Davies said it was his fault they got chinned at Ascot by Reve De Sivola in the Long Walk Hurdle.
Sam’s opted for the other Nicholls runner Saphir Du Rheu.
I thought he out-sprinted Reve De Sivola in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January and I’d prefer Zarkandar.
There was less than a length between Irish challengers Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson at Leopardstown at Christmas but I could see Tony Martin’s Dedigout beating both of these – and he’s a bigger price.
The opening day was just an unbelieveable occasion. I’ve said before that usually Monday was the best day at Cheltenham because your hopes were still dreams and the reality hadn’t kicked in – but bar Annie Power’s fall – it was more than I could have wished for.
I don’t know why Annie Power did it. She was a bit far away and came down under the top bar and turned over. She was jumping super up to that. At least she got up and walked away. There will be another day for her.
Faugheen the Mo’chine
My decision to ride Faugheen paid off – he did what I thought he was capable of. It was a massive relief as well as enjoyment to win the Champion Hurdle because it wasn’t easy to get off a horse like Hurricane Fly. It was his Faugheen’s biggest challenge to date and he rose to it.
He showed a really good turn of foot from the bend but didn’t do a lot in front when he jumped the last. I worried beforehand if the form was in the book – but it’s definitely in it now.
Arkle winner Un de Sceaux settled remarkably well – for him. He looks at what he’s doing – he’s not just charging off. I knew I had plenty of horse going to the last and he pinged it and stretched away home.
He has a very high cruising speed and is a very, very talented horse. The progression he’s made is brilliant. People were cribbing after he didn’t travel to Cheltenham last year but he wouldn’t have done this if he did.
He reminds me of Azertyuiop as a novice (Paul Nicholls’ charge won an Arkle in 2003 and a Champion Chase in 2004). It would be wonderful if he could reach those heights but at least the dream is still alive.
Supreme Novice Hurdle winner Douvan was very keen and it took me a while to get him settled. When he pricked his ears at the last though, I thought “happy days” – there’s still some juice left in the tank.
He should improve for that too as it’s the first time he’s really had to race.
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