Summerville Boy can reign Supreme today at Cheltenham says Noel Fehily
It would be fanciful of me to think that this week I could emulate what I achieved at last year’s Festival.
Any Cheltenham winner is welcome but to win two of the Feature races – as I did on Buveur D’Air and Special Tiara – over the course of the week is a once-in-a lifetime thing and if I’m being honest, I will happily settle for one winner come Friday evening.
There are plenty of good rides to look forward to but I’d describe myself as ‘hopeful’ about many of them rather than ‘confident’, especially given the conditions.
The long winter has really taken its toll on the ground and yesterday morning the going officially went to ‘heavy, soft in places’.
I believe it’s the first Festival in 32 years to have heavy in the official going.
From a personal point of view, it’s nice to experience something different as opposed to the normal better ground that we get at this time of the year, though I’m not sure the horses will see it that way.
It is going to be very tough for them, and with more rain forecast over the course of the week, it isn’t going to get any easier.
Put simply, some horses will like it and some won’t, and while it’s easy to say that it makes the favourites more opposable, I happen to think that all four of the day one hotpots will be fine with conditions.
That’s not to say they are all going to win of course, but Getabird (Supreme Novices’), Footpad (Arkle), Buveur D’Air (Champion Hurdle) and Apple’s Jade (Mares’ Hurdle) are all still going to take some beating, as the prices would suggest.
One of my best chances of the week comes in the very first race on Summerville Boy.
He ran in a novices’ hurdle at the course in December, where he was well fancied, but it turned into a farce of a race as we trotted round the first circuit and he could finish only third behind Western Ryder, who re-opposes today.
Summerville Boy then came out and won the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown for me in early January, in conditions that won’t be dissimilar to today’s, beating Kalashnikov, who went on to win the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month and is second-favourite for this afternoon.
Summerville Boy hasn’t run since Sandown so he’s fresh and in great order at home and I don’t see why he can’t turn the tables on Western Ryder and beat Kalashnikov again.
Getting the better of Getabird might be a little bit more tricky. He’s a worthy favourite and has good form in Ireland in the book and his connections certainly know what it takes to win a Supreme.
I’d expect the favourite to be well there but Summerville Boy has a great chance of making the frame. Footpad in the Arkle is probably the favourite that is most likely to get turned over on day one.
I’ve plenty of time for the horse because he’s a very good jumper but I think the conditions bring Saint Calvados into it and I reckon he can cause a minor upset.
It's a shame that I can’t get on Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle as he tries to win the race for the second year in-arow, but obviously with Barry Geraghty being injured last year somebody had to step in and luckily enough it was me. I’m due to ride Charlie Parcs for JP McManus in this but the ground has gone against him and he might not run.
I fully expect Buveir D’Air to oblige for favourite backers.
Barring a mishap it’s all about who will chase Buveur home and I’d be happy to put up Melon as an each-way prospect. He ran well to get within a few lengths of My Tent Or Yours in the International Hurdle in December.
He’s 6lb better off with that one so I’d expect him to turn the tables and reward each-way backers.
My only other booked ride today is in the last race, the novices’ handicap chase, on Barney Dwan.
In better conditions I really would have fancied his chances in an open race. He was second in last year’s Pertemps Hurdle at the Festival but that was on better ground and today’s conditions are a big worry for him.
Apple’s Jade is the last of the four hotpots to run, in the mares’ hurdle at 4.10pm, and she ought to outclass her rivals.
She was high in the betting for the Stayers’ Hurdle through the winter, but connections have decided to go for this ‘easier’ option and she shouldn’t let them down in her bid to win the race for the second successive year.
Benie Des Dieux is interesting back over hurdles after starting over fences for Willie [Mullins] and Ruby [Walsh] but I doubt that she’d have enough to trouble Apple’s Jade.
The two remaining races are tricky handicaps and it’s always difficult to weigh up the English form against the Irish form but I’d give Coo Star Sivola a big chance for Nick Williams in the Ultima Handicap Chase at 2.50.
He’s only a six-year-old but already he has two good Festival runs under his belt, having finished third in the Fred Winter in 2016 and fourth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle last year.
He will be okay on the ground and should go close for Lizzie Kelly.
The four-miler is going to be unbelievably testing and no horse can be guaranteed to get the trip, but Derek O’Connor is always worth keeping an eye on in this race and his mount, No Comment for Philip Hobbs and JP McManus, impressed me on his debut over fences in a Grade One novices’ chase at Sandown last month.
That was his first outing since last April and it’s clear that this has been the plan for him.