'I ride the fastest horse and will be hard to beat'
This year I have had a strange preparation for the Cheltenham Festival for, as many of you may know, I have spent most of the past four days in a children’s hospital with my seven-month-old son Archie, which obviously puts things into perspective.
He seems to be recovering well and was due to come out of intensive care last night. It was an operation that had to be done. It has been done, hopefully successfully, and the real result of the week for me will be if he does not need any more surgery.
That aside, as everyone keeps reminding me, I have not got too many Cheltenham Festivals left as a jockey so I had better try to enjoy and appreciate this one.
Personally, today’s Stan James Champion Hurdle (3.20) is the race of the meeting, and I believe I have an outstanding chance of winning on My Tent Or Yours.
There are only nine runners but five of us have realistic claims as I think the ground has gone too far against Melodic Rendezvous. I am confident I am on the fastest horse in the race. It has been suggested he did not quite finish off the Supreme Hurdle last year and that there is an ‘if’ about the hill, but didn’t they say the same thing about Sprinter Sacre when he went for the Arkle?
My Tent Or Yours certainly looks and feels stronger this season and I don’t have any worries on this score.
I have great respect for Hurricane Fly. He is the best hurdler there has been for a long time and, though you can pick holes in his form, he keeps winning. I can’t see Our Conor out-sprinting him up the hill because he has tried it twice in Ireland this winter and failed both times.
We beat The New One, just, at Christmas and people keep saying Cheltenham will suit him better, but he might even have to end up making his own running.
We have a pacemaker in there, Captain Cee Bee, but I would not assume he will go off in front. I have ridden Jezki a couple of times this season and was told to hold him up, but he has much more of a chance if they ride him more prominently today.
It is too early to liken My Tent Or Yours to either of my two previous winners, Make A Stand or Binocular. He is not in the same league as those two from a jumping perspective – they were the quickest I have ever ridden over a hurdle – but his jumping is more than adequate.
I start my 19th Festival on Gilgamboa (1.30). He won the 24-runner Boylesports.com Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown in January, which should stand him in good stead for this race, and that form looks rock-solid.
He has a similar profile to Splash Of Ginge, an interesting outsider. I’ve heard Gilgamboa likened to My Tent Or Yours, which was second in the Supreme after winning the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, but My Tent won that off a rating of 149 and Gilgamboa won his big handicap off 128.
He is an each-way chance and the two to beat are the top two in the betting. Vautour won a Grade One, beating a Grade One winner, and looks to have the edge over Irving.
I do not ride in the Racing Post Arkle (2.05), but reckon the ground has come right for Rock On Ruby. It is certainly between him and Champagne Fever as nothing else has the hurdle form of that pair.
I made a late switch from Cantlow to Alfie Sherrin (2.40) purely because the statistics are all against Cantlow – a top weight has not won this for years and it is invariably won by a horse with 11 stone or less.
Alfie Sherrin has been sparely raced since winning this race off 10st in 2012, but he was fourth in the Kim Muir last year so likes the place. I understand Jonjo O’Neill tipped him as a forgotten outsider but all I’m going on is that out of the pair I have to choose from, he has the better weight.
Quevega is going to be desperately hard to beat (3.20) if she is anywhere remotely near her best. I ride Cockney Sparrow, which fell behind Annie Power at Doncaster when she might have been a well-beaten second. She has a good chance of being placed, but I cannot realistically see her beating Quevega.
The Terry Biddlecombe National Hunt Chase (4.40) is for amateur jockeys so is another race I sit out. I like the chances of our stable’s Shutthefrontdoor. He will appreciate the ground. I know there are a couple in there with smarter form, such as Shotgun Paddy and Foxrock, but I wouldn’t put you off Jonjo’s horse.
Last year I fancied Pendra (5.15) to win the Coral Cup, but he did not have the courage or experience. He is perhaps still a bit light on experience but that is not always a hardship in this race.
He impressed me in two non-events this winter but struggled in a better race at Ascot last time. He is capable but needs to put that Ascot run behind him. It’s an open race and he’s in there in the mix, although the form horses look to be Present View and Buywise.
It will be hard but if I come out tonight with one winner and it is the Champion Hurdle then I will be very happy. (© Daily Telegraph, London)