At 39, I’ve been savouring every Cheltenham festival for a long time now. What happened last year is the reality of racing. I’ve been lucky really. I’ve been to 20-odd Cheltenhams since I started riding them. In 19 years, I’ve missed three and a half days.
That’s going to happen. I mean, the law of averages dictates you’re going to miss parts of Cheltenham, and I’ve been lucky that’s all I’ve missed.
I got a kick in the foot recently at Thurles, but I’m fine. It was sore for a couple of days, but I’ve been riding out since. I didn’t see what Willie Mullins’ entered, he’s not had many runners, and showed me no entries Thursday, so whatever he enters the weekend I can ride.
Mullins’ Champion Trainer chances
If Willie ends up being champion trainer next week, there’s a fair chance I’ll have had a good week too!
If his price is drifting, that probably means I’m drifting.
I would say, in years gone by, we probably had better strength in our novice chasers, but we’re strong in the championship races. That said, Willie Mullins could win the Champion Hurdle, the Ryanair, the Stayers Hurdle, and the Gold Cup, and Ruby Walsh mightn’t ride any of them!
We’re very strong, or Willie Mullins is very strong, but getting on the right ones could be a pick in itself.
For me, the less-fancied rides you have, the less chance you have of riding winners, so there’s more pressure on you to get the best out of the ones you’ve got. The more big rides you have, the better chance you have of riding winners, and to me, you couldn’t be riding enough of them. That’s what you want to be on.
Top quality in the Champions Hurdle
You’re always hoping championship races are going to be the great races at the festival. Between Buveur D’Air, Apples Jade, Laurina, Sharjah, who probably hasn’t got the credit he’s deserved. He’s probably won the most prize money this year, and he has done nothing wrong.
And we probably didn’t give Verdana Blue the credit she deserves for beating Buveur D’Air at Christmas either.
We can get pigeon-holed into making excuses for what we perceive to be the champions, and don’t give credit to the horses that beat them. But the Champion Hurdle has great strength in depth, so it’ll be a cracking race. There’s horses that stay really well, there’s a few quick ones. It will be, it’ll be a fair race.
No emotion needed – Faugheen’s in great form
For Faugheen in the Stayers Hurdle, I don’t tend to look at it emotionally as to what it would mean. You look at horses as individuals and how you can achieve the most with them.
Faugheen’s in great form. He was brilliant at Punchestown last year when he beat Penhill. He was travelling well behind Apples Jade at Christmas. I don’t know what would have happened, but he was certainly going to give her a race. He was happy enough, but at the second last, three-and-a-half furlongs down, you’d want to be travelling well.
How many horses you think that would win at Leopardstown going to the second last at Leopardstown, and halfway round the bend they start to tread water and finish fifth? It’s just too far out on the wrong course. I was thinking, don’t go too soon, that’s all that I was thinking.
In last year’s Champion Hurdle he just got outpaced, but he kept going. I think stepping up in trip will suit him. He’s had niggles and injuries along the way, but for an 11-year-old he’s not exactly over-raced. Willie is very good at getting longevity out of horses.
Their ages don’t tend to bother me when he’s training them.
Paisley Park has been very good, but I’m not sure about a lot of the horses he’s beaten. Some of them haven’t got to their level of form this year. He’s the progressive one, and he’s progressed way beyond all of them.
But my best ride is Benie Des Dieux. I’m looking forward to riding her in the Mares Hurdle. Ask me that on Tuesday evening though, at six o’ clock if she gets beat, and I’ll probably have a different answer for you, but she looks the best out of what I have.