Friday 23 March 2018

Nina Carberry has brighter Cheltenham Festival prospects than A P McCoy

Riding high: Nina Carberry and Grand Champetre (right) head to the Cheltenham Festival with a strong chance of success. Photo: Getty Images
Riding high: Nina Carberry and Grand Champetre (right) head to the Cheltenham Festival with a strong chance of success. Photo: Getty Images

J A McGrath

Nina Carberry heads for the Cheltenham Festival knowing she will ride two probable favourites, which is more than can be said for A P McCoy, who looks like he will have to make do with just one.

Amateur Nina, 26, is now an old hand at getting to grips with the Festival. She has ridden four winners there and knows the place inside out. She will be at the track all week and sticks to a routine she knows works.

“I stay close to where the horses are stabled so I’m never too far away if needed. I’m usually there early every morning riding a couple out,” she told me.

On Tuesday, Nina will ride Garde Champetre, who is 9-2 favourite to win the Cross Country Chase for the third time. Remarkably, the gelding will be saddling up for his seventh Cheltenham Festival.

On Wednesday she rides 20-1 chance Arabella Boy in the National Hunt Chase, while on Thursday she will be on Galant Nuit, 8-1 favourite for the Kim Muir.

“I’ve just got three rides, but at Cheltenham, you never know what can happen. Last year, Katie [Walsh, her great friend] went there thinking she wouldn’t be riding, and ended up with two winners.”

Despite the huge number of Cheltenham preview nights they continue to generate great interest, even in remote pockets of the jumping game, such as Newmarket.

I am told that a recent event there was dominated by a 'know-all’ bloodstock agent, who hogged the microphone despite the presence on the panel of a man who had trained winners of the Gold Cup, Grand National and Champion Chase, a reporter with 40 years experience of Festivals, plus a Derby-winning trainer, whose family had won a Gold Cup. Glad I was in Ireland.

Kicked into touch

Epsom’s moves to get the off-time of the Derby pushed back an hour to 5pm have failed. But not for any reason other than England are playing Switzerland in a European Championship Qualifier at Wembley on the same day.

Blue tie affair

Tony Calvin, of Betfair, has come up with the novel idea of punters wearing bright blue ties on the Wednesday of Cheltenham to raise public awareness of prostate cancer, which is his company’s nominated charity in 2011.

If it is as successful as the Jane McGrath breast cancer appeal in Australia, it will be worth the effort. On the third day of the Sydney test on the recent Ashes tour, most spectators wore pink.

While on this subject, it is great to see fellow scribe David Ashforth back in the Press box. He has been fighting prostate cancer, but has been well enough to return to his reporting beat. Obviously, the other job as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s double fell through.

Voice from the past

It is a tribute to former racecourse commentator Cloudesley Marsham that they packed St Mary’s Church, Rolvenden, Kent, for his funeral on Monday.

Cloudesley, who died aged 94, had been in the same pony club as a youngster as Sir Peter O’Sullevan, and was said to have been a personal favourite of the Queen Mother.

He had many friends across all generations and among those who celebrated his long life were owner Andy Stewart, former champion jockey Josh Gifford plus Derby-winning trainer John Dunlop.

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