What the ground is like on Tuesday is, as Robbie Power said to me, totally dependent on what happens on Sunday and Monday. The forecast is wet, and it looks like it’ll be soft or even softer than that.
As a jockey in jump racing, the softer the ground goes, the slower the horses go and it becomes slightly easier. The slower the ground is the more tactics come into it, which I have always liked. You have to preserve energy, delay your challenge if you go a fraction fast on heavy ground you just get wrecked.
To give you an idea, testing ground would suit Asterion Forlonge over Shiskin in Tuesday’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – even though that horse is at a larger price.
If it gets really soft, in the Champion Hurdle I’m not sure it would suit Epatante, but it would suit Cilaos Emery or Honeysuckle – it could really disturb some of the short-price favourites. In the Ballymore, I’d be looking at The Big Breakaway or Sporting John – they’d love the soft ground, they’d handle that.
It would be a huge inconvenience to Altior, though.
Nicky Henderson has always said that – testing ground doesn’t suit him. That’s where Defi Du Seuil steps in for me, it’d really suit him. In the Ryanair, if the ground is testing, I’d be backing A Plus Tard over Min, too.
My standout name, my top tip if the ground is soft or worse, which it looks like it may be: Benie Des Dieux.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO RIDE AT CHELTENHAM AND DEALING WITH MEDIA
You get two tickets as an amateur or four as a professional. You head up there, and they know your face or they check your name, and you pick it up from there. You walk in the door like everybody else.
But then – not that they were waiting for an 18-year-old Ruby before my first win on Alexander Banquet – you walk into photographers, press, reporters. As we know, I was always very good at that.
So, when I got older, I found the back ways in to avoid that. I would come in where the horses came in with a stable staff wristband. I didn’t have to stop and talk to anybody. Even this year, throw on a woolly hat and avoid the selfies, it’ll be grand.
As a jockey, when I had a bad result, I knew I didn’t have to stop if I didn’t want to. Either you walk fast past media and say you have to go to the ambulance room, or whatever. Often, when I was heading out of the back door, you’d see trainers also just trying to get a bit of solitude. Sometimes staring at their phones, sometimes just staring into the abyss. It’s not just jockeys who need the alone time!
NERVES IN THE WEIGHING ROOM, GETTING TO THE TRACK, RUNNING THE RACE:
It’s very different in that room in Cheltenham than it is anywhere else. You have to imagine the volume of jockeys that are in the room compared to a normal meeting. The place is crowded, noisy, active. There’s a tension in the air but that’s just to do with numbers, I think.
When I was younger, I would care about where I was on the track – i.e, on the inside, outside, whatever my plan was – but as I got a bit older, I started to realise that if there’s a 25-runner race, and 15 are hellbent on being on the inside, it’s going to be far easier to run on the outside.
One thing people don’t realise is when you turn away from the stands, to the first hurdle on the back straight, it’s like someone’s turned the volume off. Whatever way the wind blows or sound travels – just total silence. It’s weird, it’s quiet and as you climb up onto the hill and you can see the volume of people, you can’t hear a thing – and then it just hits you.
When you’re riding the race, you do chat to other jockeys. You might try to double bluff them – you might say ‘Jeez, we’re flying here aren’t we?’ or ‘Did you see the fall that got?’ it’s conversation about what’s going on in the race, but the further into the race you get the more you try to double bluff.
- Ruby Walsh’s Cheltenham Festival Cheat Sheet
- Frank Hickey’s 3 horses he fancies who are well handicapped
- Frank Hickey is taking on these 4 favourites at the Festival