There’s less than a week to go now until the Cheltenham Festival and everyone in racing is getting really excited.
The past few weeks have been busy, and we all now hope that the horses stay fit and well and get to Cheltenham at their best.
It’s a great shame that Cue Card and Sprinter Sacre will be missing from the Festival this year. But it’s nice to know that the horses’ welfare is most important. I’m sure they’ll be back next season.
It just shows how hard it is to get your horses to Cheltenham, especially in the best form of their lives. Horses can go wrong and anything that puts them out even for a few days in the run up can cost them the chance of a run.
The Cheltenham Festival is our championships, and like in any discipline — dressage, showjumping, eventing — you need to put your best foot forward. To win you need a combination of factors all falling into place and you and the horse have to be at the top of your game. You can’t win if you only have 90%.
Ahead of Cheltenham there’s obviously a lot of hype. The run up is really busy so you don’t have much time to think about it, but come next Monday I’ll be ready.
I remember skiving off school to watch the Festival when I was younger. Nothing beats it — I still even get excited watching the races I don’t have rides in.
As far as riding at Cheltenham goes, obviously it’s doing what we do every day, but it’s at a different pace — everything has a faster tempo. The horses run quicker, jump quicker, and so you have to have one that jumps and travels well. The course is very undulating too so you need to have a well-balanced horse.
If you didn’t feel the pressure it would mean you had no good rides or that you’re not on the ball. You want to win more than anything.
The atmosphere in the weighing room is different too — there’s a lot of Irish jockeys over who you wouldn’t usually see that much. Everyone is under pressure, so as much as there’s some laughing and joking your mind is on the job. The buzz is great though.
I’ve got some nice rides for the week — and Tuesday’s (11 March) looking especially exciting.
I’m riding Irving [pictured above] for Paul Nicholls in the first race of the meeting — the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He’s a really exciting prospect and I can’t wait.
He’s won 4 from 4 in Britain this season — most recently at Kempton last month [22 February]— and he’s taken to jumping well, especially as he’s a Flat-type horse. He had a year off last year, after coming over from Germany, which has made him stronger and this will be his biggest test to date.
He’s the best British horse in the race up against some very good Irish raiders. It’s his first time on a left-handed track but the ground is looking good to soft — which is unbelievable this winter — so that will hopefully be in his favour.
He’s done very little wrong this year — he beat Zarkander [Triumph Hurdle winner in 2011] at Wincanton last month, but he’s yet to prove himself on quicker ground.
The Champion Hurdle is arguably the best race of the week this year — 19 times Grade One winner Hurricane Fly has to fight off some impressive young guns like The New One and Our Conor.
Melodic Rendezvous is a 20-1 shot but he’s got nothing to lose and this is a chance to prove himself on a big stage.
On Thursday I’ll be on Salubrious [for Paul Nicholls] against Big Buck’s and Annie Power in the World Hurdle. There’s been a lot of talk about this race, as Big Buck’s is going for his 5th win in it.
Annie Power is something of a super mare, she’s unbeaten, but there is a question mark over whether she’ll get the trip. This will be her biggest task to date. At the same time Big Buck’s has just come back from injury. Although I’m up against 2 superstars, Salubrious will like the ground and I’m looking forward to it.
Whether you’re going to Cheltenham or watching on TV, enjoy the Festival everyone.