David Casey talks up Djakadam's Gold Cup chances at Cheltenham Preview Night
AS host Gary O’Brien was at pains to point out during Monday’s Sean Graham/The Irish News Cheltenham Preview Night, when David Casey talks, you should listen.
The diminutive former jockey is now assistant trainer to Willie Mullins at his all-conquering Closutton yard, and he isn’t afraid to give a strong opinion on things within the stable, as well as matters further afield.
So when Casey talked bullishly about Djakadam’s chances of finally capturing the Gold Cup, most of those in the packed Grand Ballroom took notice.
Djakadam (below) has been second in the last two renewals, to Coneygree in 2015 and Don Cossack last term, and with most of the top table agreeing that there is nothing of their calibre in the field for next Friday’s Blue Riband event, the notion that 2017 is his year is a widely-held one.
Not that it would matter to Casey who was in opposition, given how Djakadam is performing at home.
“I rode him for a piece of work on Saturday, and he is absolutely flying,” said Casey, who went so close to capturing the big prize himself when On His
Own controversially lost out to Lord Windermere in 2014.
A quick glance through the other leading contenders left Casey even more confident.
“Cue Card has no chance,” he said of the 11-year-old current favourite, while “Native River is probably not good enough”.
I’m not sure I agree with the latter assessment, but plenty on the panel did, with jockey Noel Fehily and trainers Gordon Elliott and Neil Mulholland also talking up Djakadam’s claims.
The room was likewise convinced, as an O’Brien-organised show of hands gave evidence that the vast majority were taking Casey at his word.
In terms of the Gold Cup, it was also very telling to see how frustrated Elliott is that Empire Of Dirt will not run in the big race, going instead for the Ryanair Chase, which is sponsored by his owner, Michael O’Leary.
Elliott, having the best season of his life, intends to run Outlander and Don Poli next Friday but has doubts about both and told the crowd that Empire Of Dirt would have been his best chance of retaining the crown he won with Don Cossack 12 months ago.
That kind of strong opinion was not in short supply from a top table that also included Ronan and Brian Graham from the sponsors, ITV commentator Richard Hoiles and outspoken punter and racing journalist Mark ‘The Couch’ Winstanley.
The latter is always forceful in his thoughts and also in getting his infamous one-liners introduced to proceedings, even if some of them have been recycled from a time when nobody had even heard of recycling.
“Native River is bombproof,” said Winstanley of Colin Tizzard’s Gold Cup contender, and that term was also used to describe Unowhatimeanharry, the big jolly for Thursday’s Stayers’ Hurdle.
Ronan Graham put forward a special offer of a 4/1 treble involving that favourite, Altior (Arkle) and Douvan (Champion Chase), which sent ‘The Couch’ scrambling to book later flights so he could hammer every Sean Graham shop in the vicinity.
Another runner that was talked up, almost across the board, was Neon Wolf, who heads the market for Wednesday’s Neptune Novices’ Hurdle.
Fehily said this two-and-half-mile trip would be ideal for him, while Winstanley once more talked of “a certainty”.
Any punter who has been stung in the past knows there is no such thing as a certainty at the Festival, although Altior and Douvan do look as close to it as is possible.
“Altior is the best horse I’ve ever ridden,” claimed Fehily.
And given that Mullins has recently said that Douvan could be the best horse he’s ever trained, it is little wonder the Graham’s special attracted brisk business.
A Tweet yesterday afternoon confirmed “outstanding interest on our Cheltenham special and we’ve now reverted to 10/3 – still standout industry price!”
If Monday’s panel are to be believed that remains a good thing, although apparently not as good as Djakadam at 5/1 to make it third-time luck in the Gold Cup.