Cheltenham tipster – Change in going to make big difference this week
Top Irish trainer Edward O’Grady will be offering advice on the horse to have a punt on and the ones to avoid throughout the coming week in The Irish Times
It is 40 years since Mr Midland gave me my first Cheltenham winner in the National Hunt Chase. That race has changed in the meantime, something that can be said of the festival too, some of it for the better, some not – a little each way!
Change has been undoubtedly better for that particular race. It used to be for horses that hadn’t won a race at the start of the season whereas now it is a four-mile novice chase that is a very good race in its own right. There have also been enormous improvements in terms of safety and the stables at the racecourse. But I think the extra day and the corporate ‘hoo-ha’ have detracted from the overall pleasantness of the festival. It’s like paint, or butter: if you spread it further, it is automatically diluted.
There will be three teams this week – Ireland, England and Willie Mullins. Willie and Ruby Walsh have got the horses to go with them but they are a fantastic partnership. If what they do looks easy, then I can assure you, it isn’t.
What Willie has done with Quevega for instance is extraordinary, especially since she’s known to be a quirky lady. To send her there three or four times without a run and win is unheard of and she is going for six-in-a-row tomorrow. If she turns up her usual self it will be no contest. But she’s 10 now. So is Hurricane Fly. You can’t oppose them until they start getting beaten but they must be getting close to the day when the bubbles will burst. At 10 they are getting closer to being vulnerable.
Willie has quite a few bubbles this week and they can’t all stay-up. The great inestimable, as Phil Bull put it, is the amount of change a difference in going makes to different horses and the going this week will be very different to the heavy ground we’ve had all winter.
I also think Willie’s horses have had relatively unchallenged seasons in Ireland. Noel Meade hasn’t been very strong, Jessica Harrington hasn’t been very strong, I haven’t had a star to pitch in against him, so Willie has had something of an uncontested season so far. I rather think that will change once he gets to the UK.
Having said that, if there’s one that right now I think has a great chance, it is Willie’s Faugheen in the Neptune Novices Hurdle on Wednesday. He is unbeaten and has looked impressive. He hasn’t run since he won over three miles in Limerick at Christmas but that’s not a concern.
It’s remarkable how fresh horses have a good record at Cheltenham. Sometimes we see too much of the trailer going there and it can colour our vision, especially since the improved ground is likely to be a big factor in this week’s results. Racing on heavy ground can leave its mark. But a fresh horse can perform very well at the festival.