Top trainer Emma Lavelle is Jumps Racing Ambassador for Bet4Causes and columnist for the Racing Plus newspaper. In her brand new column, she outlines her Cheltenham Festival hopes and takes a look at Tuesday’s opening day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
FAIR play to the Cheltenham executive and those who promote inarguably one of the best racing Festivals in the world.
It has become enormous. In fact, it is a complete juggernaut. Nothing sets the pulse racing and the nerves jangling like having a runner in with a chance. Just being there is fantastic and if you are a racing fan who has never been before, put it on your bucket-list – it really is a must.
Most of us love these four days, so don’t get me wrong when I say that it is sometimes annoying that it is seen by many as the be-all and end-all.
It should not be considered the end game. If you have a winner in October, all that anyone ever starts talking about is whether or not the horse is going to be able to get to Cheltenham.
You sometimes feel that there should be something as big – a proper Winter Festival – whether it is at Kempton or Sandown, with a big pool of money that gives us something to talk about earlier in the year – something that could become as big as Cheltenham. Such a meeting would certainly keep the Festival’s executive on its toes!
Cheltenham is a big, galloping, left-handed track, so different conditions, going the other way round, would be preferable.
The most obvious solution would be to lift the quality of Kempton’s King George card and make it a bigger draw, with more money on offer. Winter ground is obviously a factor to consider, so the venue would need to have enough virgin ground to utilise, which is probably less of an issue for Sandown – it’s definitely food for thought.
Either way, we need a meeting that gives us something else to aim for, outside of Cheltenham, to take the juggernaut off the radar in October.
Still, we’d love to have a winner there this week and Javert (Cheltenham 5.30) is our big hope. We schooled him last week and he’s absolutely flying. The ground looks ideal for him and we are hoping for a big run in the concluding Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Fox Appeal (2.50) is our other runner today and while he has plenty of ability, he can make the odd error. A mistake-free round would be ideal in the ultra-competitive Ultima Handicap Chase and, in fairness, he really does deserve to win a big handicap at some stage – It would be quite some party if we got the double up!
The Champion Hurdle is always tough to win but this year’s looks an average renewal. I would love to see The New One (Cheltenham 3.30) getting his head in front, and Nigel Twiston-Davies’s horses could not be in better form.
Like others, I have been extremely impressed with Douvan (2.10) who can land the Arkle for the Willie Mullins team, who look sure to have a great week.
There has also been a bit of a whisper for the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior (1.30). It would be nice to think we might have a chance of keeping the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on this side of the Irish Sea for a change!
And my banker in the Lavelle Lucky 15 is Vroum Vroum Mag (4.10) in the Mares’ Hurdle.
Finally, it was great to have a winner at Sandown on Saturday. Mosspark has taken the race well and loves going right-handed, so ultimately the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase, back at Sandown, is likely to be the aim now.
SHOTGUN PADDY, who was second in the Eider Chase at Newcastle last month, has come out of the race incredibly well.
But do we head to Aintree with him?
Much like Cheltenham, I don’t want to go anywhere to make up the numbers – I want horses to run with a chance of winning.
The ground would have to be on the soft side if we did go for the Crabbie’s Grand National.
And the thought of him running with just 10st 3lb on his back is extraordinary, because he has never had the chance to run with that weight, even up the gallops! I confess, it is a tempting thought.
He is a nine-year-old though, and I’m just not 100% sure whether or not it would be a year too soon for him.
It may be that we go to Uttoxeter for Saturday’s Midlands National instead. We will make a decision by the middle of the week, but at this stage will just keep our options open.
In other Aintree news, I am trying to find a race for Gullinbursti. He missed a season with a tendon injury, but he is in great order again.
I want to run him in the Topham and I will be trying to look to win something with him, just so that he could guarantee getting in as I think it could be the perfect race for him.
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