A huge crowd turned out at The Salthill Hotel on Monday night for the annual Cheltenham preview in association with John Mulholland’s bookmakers and Barney Curley’s charity Direct Aid for Africa.
Managing director of Mulholland bookmakers, Alan Mulholland said after listening to the panel talking about all the potential winning favourites, he was starting to get worried that Cheltenham could be a bonanza for the punters. “We’re now 80 years in business this year and trust me we’ll ready for a titanic battle. We’ll be offering excellent prices and special offers throughout the four days. On the opening day, we’re going money back all horses that fall, unseat of get brought down. This will be Tony McCoy’s last ever festival in the saddle and we’re boosting the price of all his mounts. The sentimental punters will be pilling in and if he wins a few races, we could be setting ourselves up for a fall of our own”.
It was unsurprising that racing fans came out in their droves as this year’s panel was top class, comprising jockeys Patrick Mullins and Davy Russell, Eddie O’ Leary of Gigginstown Stud, Racing Post Irish editor Jonathan Mullin, and betting editor Paul Kealy, along with local pundit George McDonagh. Hector Ó hEochagáin was also on hand to interact with the audience and added a gregarious touch to the night’s proceedings.
A lot of information tends to be bandied about during these preview nights and it is important to be able to pick and choose the most helpful.
Firstly to reveal the panel’s €100 charity bets, which would suggest these being the horses they most fancy; Patrick Mullins; D’jackadam [Gold Cup], Eddie O’Leary; Roi Des Francs [Martin Pipe Hurdle], George McDonagh: Don Cossack [Ryanair Chase], Jonathan Mullin: Toutancarmont [Cross Country Chase], Hector Ó hEochagáin; Don Poli [RSA chase or 4 mile National Hunt Chase], Davy Russell: Jezki [Champion Hurdle].
Other nuggets to emerge were that Eddie O’Leary believes Roi Des Francs in the Martin Pipe Hurdle is the most under-rated Gigginstown horse travelling to the Festival. O’Leary does not do many peview nights and is a notoriously shrewd individual, so anything he says must be taken seriously. He also believed Dermot Weld’s horses should be watched carefully at Cheltenham this year as the trainer has ensured they are peaking around this time, and he named Windsor Park, which runs in the Neptune Hurdle on Wednesday, as one to watch in particular. O’Leary also liked Toutancarmont in the Cross Country. Patrick Mullins believed his father’s Blood Cotil was ‘worth keeping an eye on’ in Friday’s Grand Annual Chase, a sentiment which has also been echoed by the horse’s owner Rich Ricci. Mullins was asked to pinpoint a pre-Cheltenham winner to get punters off to a winning start and he duly obliged, ear-marking York Hill in the bumper in Gowran Park on Saturday. He was told by Hector Ó hEochagáin that if it was a winning tip, he was ‘always welcome back to Galway’.
Next week’s festival begins with a cracking card on Tuesday afternoon, and unsurprisingly the panel all expressed how impressed they were with the Willie Mullins’ hotpot Douvan in the opening Supreme Novice Hurdle. The horse has not put a foot wrong in two starts over hurdles and has looked incredibly impressive. He was given a favourable talk-up by the trainer’s son Patrick and barring a major shock looks one to keep on side.
In the Arkle Chase, the experts were asked if there is any danger to the seemingly unbeatable Un De Sceaux. Eddie O’Leary reiterated that no horse in Ireland could stay with the French bred gelding, including his own contender Clarcam, but proclaimed that stablemate Vautour would put it up to him if he ran in the same race, something which Patrick Mullins unsurprisingly ruled out. Paul Kealy said rather than take on Un De Sceux, he would prefer to enjoy the race and he hoped he ‘hoses up’. Davy Russell sounded a note of warning about the Irish banker. “I wouldn’t back him until the day itself to make sure he doesn’t boil over. As long as he gets to the start with the lid still on, he’ll win.”
Tuesday’s big race has an interesting Galway connection, as has been written about elsewhere in the paper today; Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen was bred by Tuam doctor John Waldron. Looking for potential dangers, some of the panel were none too impressed with England’s number one chance, The New One, George McDonagh said he couldn’t have him, while Jonathan Mullin believes he jumps to the right. Russell likes last year’s winner Jezki, while Eddie O’Leary believes him to be a seven pound better horse in Cheltenham, but thinks Faugheen will win. Patrick Mullins outlined how his head said Faugheen but his heart wanted the veteran Hurracaine Fly to come home in front.
All about course form
On Wednesday, the feature race is the Champion Chase. The panel revealed themselves as firmly in the Champagne Fever camp. Doubts were expressed about Sprinter Sacre being back to his best, and Davy Russell revealed the horse had serious wind issues, undergoing between eight and 10 wind operations during his short racing career. Patrick Mullins said he would be concerned that Sire De Grugy had run so close to the Festival “giving away lumps of weight in a handicap”. Mullins Jnr acknowledged that Festival form is worth its weight in gold - Champagne Feveris a former Champion Bumper and Supreme Novice Hurdle winner and was just touched off in the Arkle last year. “Not every horse handles Cheltenham, it has a lot of ridges and bends. He loves it round there so has to have a good chance.” Eddie O’Leary believed that John ‘Shark’ Hanlon running Hidden Cyclone in the Ryanair Chase would increase Champagne Fever’s chances. “He will be left alone up front.“
Thursday’s highlight is the World Hurdle which ‘lacks a star,’ according to Paul Kealy. Patrick Mullins and Davy Russell were in the Sandra Hughes-trained Lieutenant Colonel camp. What a fairytale win that would be following the passing of the late, great Dessie Hughes. Mullins said it was an ‘inspired decision’ to bring the horse back hurdling after a short-lived chasing career. Russell pinpointed the Paul Nicholls trained Saphir De Reu as his biggest danger. Owner Eddie O’Leary was ‘just hopeful’ about Lieutenant Colonel. He believed Rock on Ruby would come into it as he liked the track but concerns were expressed about the former Champion Hurdle winner’s ability to stay three miles, a distance at which he is as yet unproven.
The Ryanair Chase also takes place on day three and it was all about the Gigginstown owned Don Cossack. O’Leary himself was typically cagey. “We have a chance. The horse was raw and weak last season and is a much improved animal after filling out over the summer.” Patrick Mullins proclaimed the antepost favourite as a ‘gorgeous horse’. Davy Russell said Don Cossack’s impressive performance in Thurles, when he was battling well under a bit of pressure from Champagne Fever before the latter hit the deck, had convinced him that Don Cossack was the one for the Ryanair. George McDonagh said at around the 7/2 or 3/1 mark, “he could be one of the bets of the meeting”.
Gold Cup views
And so to the big one. There is a nice Galway connection here, with former Plate winners Carlingford Lough and Road to Riches both lining up for racing’s Blue Riband.
The audience was well placed to get the views on last year’s winner Lord Windermere from Davy Russell. “I wouldn’t swop my own for anything. It is a huge plus to handle the track and he clearly likes the place having won there two years in a row. Road to Riches looks to be the biggest danger. He is an exceptional jumper and the improver in the race. I don’t think Silviniaco Conti handles the track.”
Paul Kealy was worried that Silviniaco Conti had run twice and been beaten twice in the Gold Cup. [Fell in 2013 when travelling well, finished fourth last year, but was found to have ulcers post-race]. Patrick Mullins revealed himself a big D’jackadam fan. “It was too big an ask to win the Hennessy on his first run back. He ran spectacularly in the Thyestes. It has to put him bang there. It is all handicap form and I think he will run a very big race.” Mullins later went on to lay out his charity money on D’jackadam.
Eddie O’ Leary said his horse [Road to Riches] was improving but D’jackadam was the unknown quantity and could be absolutely anything. He was impressed with the performance of the John Kiely trained Carlingford Lough in winning the Irish Hennessy. Jonathan Mullin believed Djackadam would be the plunge on the day and ‘flat-track’ specialist Silviniaco Conti will drift.
Davy Russell pointed out that Lord Windermere’s fledgling handler Jim Culloty had not trained a winner yet this year. Next Friday would be a nice time to get off the mark.
Check out page 111 where John Mulholland is giving all our readers €5 off their bets.