In a second exclusive blog for thejockeyclub.co.uk, The Festival™ supporting WellChild, our ambassador Barry Geraghty gives his views on all the big favourites this week, before turning his attentions to the five Championship races…
This is my first Festival as a retired jockey and although I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it when I called it a day, I’m more comfortable with it than I would have thought. It’s a change of pace in life, which I’m enjoying, and when you’ve not done the graft for the last 51 weeks you can’t really expect to turn up for the final one!
It’s going to be strange to be watching everything from the sofa, but there’s nothing normal about this year and we at least have some brilliant racing to enjoy.
Here are my views on all of the big favourites
Appreciate It – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
He is the best horse in the race, but this certainly isn’t a penalty kick and a lack of emphasis on stamina could be the chink in his armour. This is a small field for a Supreme, which could work against him as he’s going to have to do his own donkey work. I personally feel that on good to soft ground he’d be better over two and a half miles and I think the door is open for pace horses to come and have a go at him. Ballyadam and Soaring Glory would be the two I would side with to give him most to think about and there’s probably more value in backing Soaring Glory each-way at 6-1 than there is to back Appreciate It at 11-8.
Shishkin – Sporting Life Arkle Trophy
First things first, it’s a pity that Energumene won’t line up, as it was building up into a first-class clash between two superstars. It takes something from the race and all being right, Shishkin is going to be very difficult to beat and I can’t oppose him. The horse is so straightforward, he’s very relaxed and jumps well, so you’d be looking for a clear passage and to just try and keep it simple. A horse I do like is Captain Guinness, who was running well in the Supreme last year when brought down at the second last. He was second to Energumene at Naas on very heavy ground, but he’s a horse who’d prefer better ground, so I think he’s one that will put up a good show.
Chacun Pour Soi – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
It’s very difficult to see him being beaten. Saying he needs to prove himself at Cheltenham is a fair point, but there are far more horses that handle Cheltenham than don’t and with the exception of missing The Festival last year, he’s had a clean bill of health since his novice years. It’s a real shame that we won’t see Altior and in his absence I’d be keeping an eye on First Flow and Cilaos Emery - they are the two that I could see running big races.
Concertista – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle
I think Concertista is rock solid, and she should be hard to beat. She’s improved and has been very impressive in Ireland on her last two starts and although Roksana has been flying this year, she’s better suited by three miles. Dame De Compagnie beat Black Tears last year in the Coral Cup and I don’t see any reason why she’d reverse that form, so Dame De Compagnie could be the biggest danger to the favourite. She was very good for me last year, but I think she has to improve again to trouble the favourite.
Monkfish – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase
There isn’t much value in backing him, but Monkfish is the banker of the week. This fella could be another Denman, he’s the real deal and you’d fancy him to win a Gold Cup one day. I can’t see anything giving him a hard time with how he was at Leopardstown. I thought maybe he’d feel a bit of pressure back at 2m 5f, but he improved and was better again so I think he’s a very exciting horse for the future.
Easysland – Glenfarcas Cross Country Chase
He won this well last year and if he returns in that kind of shape he’s going to be very hard to beat. Tiger Roll has been struggling and the fact they’ve taken him out the Grand National doesn’t reflect well on him, so this could be his swansong. Potters Corner is a very good horse and brings a good standard to the race, but Easysland is the one they all have to beat.
Kilcruit – Weatherbys Champion Bumper
Willie has the strongest hand once again with Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard, and Gavin Cromwell’s Letsbeclearaboutit is a good marker here. He’s finished second behind both horses, and I thought Sir Gerhard showed more pace when he won at Navan. Switching stables is not ideal, but it just depends on the individual and how they settle, so between the two I’d probably side with him. It’s wide open beyond those two though and the value in the race is Ramilles. The Mullins team all thought Patrick should have ridden at Leopardstown last time and as a previously good winner he could offer value at 16-1.
Envoi Allen – Marsh Novices’ Chase
I’ve picked out Monkfish as my banker of the week, but both he and Envoi Allen are rare ones. The only doubt around Envoi Allen is the last minute switch to Henry de Bromhead, but I don’t think that will affect him too much. I’ve had the chance to sit on him and he’s very laid back. He wasn’t unlike Sprinter Sacre in that he had a similar way of going and was just electric underneath you. It’s great to see Henry get the opportunity to train him – he’s top class and his progression and results over the years prove that. I’m sure he’d rather have got him in different circumstances, but he was the obvious candidate to get the horse having done so well with A Plus Tard at Christmas.
Elimay – Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase
It’s a classy field, but Elimay has looked really good so far this season. She’s jumped brilliantly and travelled nicely and I think the step up to two and a half miles is ideal for her. She won in very heavy ground at Naas and isn’t the biggest in the world, so I’d imagine a little bit of better ground would be no harm for her. Coolreevy has done really well on heavy ground and looks at home on it, meaning faster going here may not suit, and I suppose if Shattered Love was to reproduce some of her best form she’d be the biggest threat.
We’ve already touched on the Champion Chase, but here are my thoughts on the four other Championship races…
Unibet Champion Hurdle
This isn’t me being sentimental, but I do think that Epatante is the one to beat. She was brilliant for me last year and although I respect Honeysuckle, I think she’d want it soft to beat Epatante. Abacadabras could be a danger because he has plenty of pace and you can’t rule out last year’s runner-up Sharjah, while Goshen is the fly in the ointment. It was a big performance at Wincanton, and it was a firm indication on Goshen’s wellbeing. The ground being as heavy as it was means it isn’t easy to take a line on any form, and he has the challenge of a different course this year. The New Course which he tackled in the JCB Triumph Hurdle has more emphasis on speed and both he and Honeysuckle could be vulnerable on the Old Course. I’d love Epatante to win the race again, and I’ll be cheering her on!
This is wide open, and there are question marks over a lot of them. Min blotted his copybook last time, so it would be hard to fancy him as such, while Melon regularly comes up short at this level. Allaho did put it all together at Thurles last time but he’s another who’s been beaten a good few times at the top level, so Fakir D’oudairies could be the way to go. I thought he ran really well behind Chacun Pour Soi last time and I think he’s better over two and a half miles, so he’s got a good shout.
Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle
I thought that Paisley Park was the one to beat when Thyme Hill was in the race, so with that rival missing I think he offers value at 15-8. There’s potentially some improvement in Sire Du Berlais, whose last run came when Gordon’s (Elliott) horses weren’t flying at the time, so he has a chance. Flooring Porter would have a chance but I just worry about a six year old in a race like this. He might not have the resilience for it just yet, and I think Paisley Park is the horse to beat.
WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo is the one they all have to beat, but Champ is the big danger. I was really impressed with his run over two miles at Newbury last month, and if he puts everything together I think he has enough talent to win this. Nicky has always said that Champ’s stablemate Santini is better on better ground, and he could build on last year’s effort to finish second, while you’d have to respect Royal Pagaille. His last win at Haydock was so impressive, but that was on testing ground and this is another step up for him. Meanwhile, Frodon was brilliant at Kempton, but I would have thought that three miles there is more up his street than 3m 2f here.
The way Al Boum Photo has campaigned means that he doesn’t catch everyone’s imagination, but it works for him and you’d have to admire him if he can do it. There should be a good gallop which I think will suit him, so there’s no reason why he can’t put in another performance, but I’m really sweet on Champ