Mick Fitzgerald: We ring in a New Year and a new era for racing at Cheltenham on Sunday

The cameras may have switched from CH4 to ITV but Fitzy's still on the PP Blog with all the latest tips.

It’s a new era for racing as ITV take over the terrestrial TV coverage on New Year’s Day when they broadcast Cheltenham and Musselburgh.

I’ll be part of the new team and we’ve already had one test run on October 21 at Cheltenham and that will be of huge benefit to all involved.

Although I’d never worked with new presenter Ed Chamberlin before that trial run, the great thing is that I know him personally and that’s a big help.

It should make the programme feel like chatting with one of your mates and that’s going to be important as we try to broaden racing’s appeal to a new audience as well as keeping the loyal fan base.

Even though Ed was best known for his role as Sky Sports’ former football presenter – racing is his first love. And he’s very knowledgeable.

I’m really looking forward to Sunday but don’t have any pre-match nerves as such.

I was way more nervous before riding in a Cheltenham Gold Cup, an Aintree Grand National or a dodgy novice chaser where there was a fair chance of getting buried!

There’s bound to be a ‘marks out of 10’ element to the first show, but it’s a four-year-deal so hopefully there won’t be a rush to judgment.

CH4 did a brilliant job for 32 years and now that baton has passed to ITV. I just hope that as many people get to be as passionate about the sport as I am, and that racing will be the real winner.

Having a few winners of our own would be a nice start though…

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There’s a bit of rain forecast for Sunday so keep an eye on the skies but Nicky Henderson has two runners in the opening ITV race, the Grade 2 Novice Chase at 1.25pm. O O Seven disappointed last time after an impressive win at this track so stablemate Whisper could be the play. He was a decent 3m hurdler winning the Grade One Liverpool Hurdle a couple of times and might just reinvent himself over fences. He got a great ride off Davy Russell when winning here in December and that confidence boost should help him deliver again. Clan Des Obeaux obviously has to be respected after a hugely impressive 10 length win in a Grade 2 at Newbury in which he never came off the bridle.

Vaniteux was disappointing at Ascot but I still feel there’s a race in him and it may come in the 2m 5f Handicap Chase at 2pm. He steps up in trip and has to be a player on a decent surface. If the ground turns soft, then recent impressive Aintree winner As De Mee and Kerry Lee’s Top Gamble will come into calculations while Henri Parry Morgan only ran six days ago when he unseated his jockey five out. However, Peter Bowen’s horses are tough and while the form figures look more alphabetical than numerical, the visor may sharpen him up.

With Henry Daly’s horses in such good form, Will O’ the West could be the each-way play in the handicap hurdle at 2.35pm. He was a shade unlucky when a short-head and head third to Golden Doyen here in October on good going, but is a winner on soft ground if the rain arrives.

Call to Order looks the obvious choice at the foot of the weights.

The ultra-consistent Lil Rockerfeller sets the standard for the 2m 4f Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at 3.10pm having finished second to Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury and Yanworth at Ascot on his last two starts.

He was second in this contest to Camping Ground last season on bottomless ground and deserves to get his head in front for his consistency.

Former World Hurdle winner Cole Harden should be a lot happier back over hurdles with the first-time cheekpieces on. The better the ground, the better his chance.  One horse to keep an eye on for the future is Paul Nicholls’ Adrien Du Pont. 

He wasn’t far off Footpad (easy winner at Leopardstown mid-week) last time in a Grade One at Auteuil and looks to be going places.

Up at Musselburgh, I’d just favour Brian Ellison’s Viens Chercher in the 1.40pm. Ellison’s Eyes of a Tiger could hit the places if getting an uncontested lead in the handicap hurdle on the card at 2.50pm but Dan Skelton’s County Hurdle winner Superb Story looks the class act in this race and is the selection.

What do you think?