I always thought Cue Card would run in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair Chase. It was no real surprise that connections want another crack at the showpiece event, after he fell three fences out last year, when travelling strongly.
People talk about Michael Dickinson training the first five home in the 1983 Gold Cup, but Paul Nicholls did train the first three home as recently as the 2008 Gold Cup when Kauto Star and Neptune Collognes followed Denman home.
I was stable jockey at Ditcheat at that time but I can’t say we ever thought about having a 1-2-3 in the Gold Cup. All three had different owners, so Paul just prepared them to be at their best on the big day. I’m sure Colin Tizzard will just be trying to do exactly the same with Thistlecrack, Cue Card, Native River and French import Alary who is due to run at Haydock this weekend.
You just try to get the runners there first at the peak of their powers and worry about finishing orders later.
Is there added pressure on the yard now that Cue Card is Gold Cup bound? I’d argue that from a trainer’s point of view, the more good horses you have in the race, the more chance you have of winning it. So it possibly eases the pressure a little bit.
It’s a bit like playing poker – the more aces you have, the better chance you have of winning the hand. And Colin Tizzard holds most of the aces in the pack now.
But I’ll still be hoping to gate-crash the party on Djakadam.
The plan is to go to Ascot with Un de Sceaux on Saturday and while Sire De Grugy is out, Ar Mad and Henry De Bromhead’s Special Tiara could line up against him. Ar Mad should improve for his first run in the Tingle Creek but so should Un De Sceaux.
He won this race last year and we’re looking forward to having another go at it.
Yorkhill is entered up to make his second start over fences at Leopardstown on Sunday in the same race Killutagh Vic won last year – despite being on his knees at the last. Yorkhill made a nice debut at Fairyhouse and going left-handed on Sunday will suit him too.
The Handicap Chase looks very open with Rolly Baby, Tennis Cap and The Papparazi Kid among the entries but only the latter two are likely to have enough weight for me to be able to ride them and may have to improve to win. The run Gordon Elliott is on at the moment you’d have to respect anything of his that makes the line-up.
Willie has four or five runners entered in the 2m Coral Hurdle. It’s a big pot so I’d imagine he’ll try to run as many as possible but your eye is drawn immediately to Tony Martin’s Heartbreak City.
His York Ebor win and second place in the Melbourne Cup is outstanding Flat form and if he translates that to hurdles it’s not hard to see him being a 150-odd rated hurdler. He runs off 125 on Sunday.
A couple of others like Tom Mullins’ That’s A Wrap could be one for the places. I won on him at Christmas to bring up his hat-trick so he’s progressive, but the race revolves around Heartbreak City.
Before then however, there’s some business to take care of at Thurles on Thursday. (below)
Timi Roli was third in a maiden hurdle at Cork behind Peace News in what felt a decent race on the day but the form hasn’t worked out quite as well as hoped. He has to give 16lbs to Icario of Gordon Elliott’s.
Al Boum Photo was third to Minella Till Dawn over 2m 4f at Fairyhouse and drops back in trip. Willie Mullins also has entered Caro Des Flos who did win a race in France, but was disqualified, so is still a maiden.
I picked Al Boum Photo as the drop back in trip should suit him and he’s had the benefit of a recent run.
My mount Battleford and stable-mate Some Neck both won maiden hurdles over Christmas. Battleford was more workman-like than flashy, but the step up in trip to 2m 6f will help him – as it should Some Neck.
Battleford was a better bumper horse and I hoping he’s a better hurdler too.
I don’t know much about Michael Hourigan’s Hollow Tree who has done much of his racing in the UK. He hasn’t run for 643 days but his trainer likes him and I hope he’s right.
Black Hercules disappointed in the John Durkan Memorial Chase over 2m 4f when well beaten in fifth and last place. He was disappointing behind Douvan at Christmas too but two miles isn’t his trip. He seems to have improved for that run, but he’ll have to as he’s a few pounds wrong in the ratings with Sub Lieutenant and Smashing.
If Black Hercules came back to his JLT form he’d have a chance, but on form Sub Lieutenant looks the one to beat, having finished third to Djakadam and Lexus winner Outlander at Punchestown
I ride Westerner Lady who has done very little wrong over fences. She made a bad mistake at Cork when second to Alpha Des Obeaux but other than that she’s been a prolific winner.
She’ll like the trip, should handle the ground and is in really good form. I think she’s got a great chance.
Willie’s other runner Daisy’s Gift did win a Novice Chase at Wexford, but fell at Cork over the larger obstacles. She was a long way behind Let’s Dance in the Grade 3 Mares Hurdle at Leopardstown and will need to improve on that.