It is going to be a tough old week for me to ride many winners and increase my tally of 25 Festival winners. I am certainly down on the quantity of rides over the four days but, having said that, the quality is pretty good and I am at the stage now where I want to ride horses with chances and not just take a ride for the sake of having a ride.
There are an above-average number of odds-on shots this week but, unfortunately, I'm not on any of them though we all know this is Cheltenham, where anything can happen. They can't all win can they?
My three rides today all have solid chances and, but for the presence of Hurricane Fly, I would be brimming with confidence of winning my fourth Stan James Champion Hurdle (3.20), and a second one on Binocular, which won it in 2010.
The only horse to regain the title was Comedy of Errors, also an eight-year-old, in 1975, but the rarity of the feat does not bother me. What does bother me is last year's winner. He has won 10 Grade Ones and I cannot see any flaws in him. He looks exceptional, possibly the best in the last decade and the only time they met before, at Punchestown last May, he beat us by nine lengths.
However, Binocular was not on top of his game last season and when he won the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last month, he felt great. I was very impressed.
The form of that race may not look fantastic but he moved better, jumped better and went better than he has since he won the Champion Hurdle.
I was happier with the whole package than I have been for two years.
Realistically, though, I believe we will finish second but this being Cheltenham I will hope for better. Rock On Ruby could be the one for each-way backers.
My Festival starts with Darlan for Nicky Henderson in the William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1.30). One Festival preview evening had Nicky winning nine races at the Festival, so I hope this is one of them.
He was half a length down and, I thought, coming through to win the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury when he fell at the second-last and gave me quite a heavy fall. Critics thought him a 'bridle horse' before that but he was certainly responding for me at Newbury, although it was some way out.
It appears he was not as battered by the fall as I was and when we schooled him he did not jump like a horse who might have lost his confidence. In fact, it was quite the reverse.
Until then he was unbeaten in novice hurdles, including one here in December and, however good a horse, it is always nice to know they handle the track.
Had Darlan won the Betfair, he would be one of the odds-on shots but, on what he has actually done, he is a short enough price.
On paper it looks an open race with no hotpots in it, although that is what we said about last year's Triumph which, form-wise, turned out to be just about the best race at last year's meeting. I hope we will win. I have a lot of respect for Steps To Freedom and I have heard good reports of how he is going at home. If you fancy him then Prospect Wells, which he beat here in November, should also appeal to you at a good price.
I am hopeful Quantitativeeasing can run a big race despite being burdened with top weight in the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase (2.40). The last horse to win it off that mark was Charter Party the year before he won the Gold Cup. He was second in the Paddy Power here in November and won the Spinal Research three weeks later. He loves the place and the trip will be fine and even with the weight he should finish in the top three. The Package and Hold On Julio, though his inexperience showed a bit at Sandown, are the main dangers.
In the races I don't ride in, I reckon Sprinter Sacre is a good thing in the Arkle (2.05). He looks the business to me. He was a big, weak horse last year when I rode him to finish third in the Supreme behind Al Ferof but now he's filled out and strengthened up he will be hard to beat. I would have no worries about him coming up the hill this time.
Quevega beat the boys in a Grade One hurdle last season so I can't see any of her own sex beating her in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle (4.40) which she also won first time out last season.
Alan King looks like he is in for a good week and his Bless The Wings would be my pick in the Pulteney Land Investments Chase (5.15).
Scotsirish looks the pre-eminent cross-country horse of the moment for the Glenfarclas (4.0). (© Daily Telegraph, London)