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Looking forward to The Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham Festival 2016 is now under 50 days away, as the excitement builds to my favourite meeting of the season. The unforgettable Cheltenham roar will be heard, for the first time on Champions Day on Tuesday 15th March. With 4 days of glorious racing to look forward to, Cheltenham see’s the best horses from across the UK and Ireland go head to head. This is the meeting that every jockey wants to ride a winner at, the great McCoy once said “I would swap all my winners for the season, for one winner at Cheltenham.” The course tests the horse like non other. When the jockeys jump the last it’s normally a sprint for home at any other racecourse, but here at Cheltenham once you are over the last you still have to get up the famous hill. The hill has shattered so many dreams over the years, as only the greats conquer hill after jumping the last. With the Cheltenham Gold Cup dating back to 1924, when Red Splash won the very first to last years’ winner Coneygree.

My first Cheltenham memories go back to 2002 when the great Best Mate won an unprecedented 3 Gold Cups in a row, a feat that I’m not sure we will see for a while. Then it was a golden age for jump racing when Kauto Star won his first Gold Cup. The following year we saw one of racings great rivalry’s, as Kauto Star and Denman lock horns, the pair jumped the last together but it was Denman who powered up the hill in the rain. That season Denman also won the Hennessey Gold, to add to his Cheltenham success. The following year the atmosphere and excitement had been building for weeks, as Denman and Kauto Star went head to head again. In the sunshine this year the pair were stalking each other all the way round the course, and as they approached the last……. The pair jumped together and on landing Ruby Walsh asked Kauto Star to go, and the great steeplechaser beat his rival. Kauto Star was the first and and only horse to date, to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup after losing it, giving trainer Paul Nicholls his fourth Gold Cup. In 2012 the moment the racing world had been waiting for happened, as AP McCoy won his only Gold Cup on Synchronised. The 10/1 shot had come from a long way back, to claim victory for the best jump jockey the world has seen. Last year Coneygree won a thrilling race, for the first time in a while there was no clear favourite last year.

Last year Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh stole the show on the opening day as: Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen all won in champions style. In the Champion Hurdle Mullins had a 1,2,3 with Faugheen, Artic Fire and Hurricane Fly all coming home for the trainer. Day 2 was a bookies dream, picking a winner was hard work as the form book went out of the window. Day 3 saw the first big shock of the festival; as strong favourite Don Cossack was beaten in the Ryanair Chase. The 5/2 shot was beaten by the 16/1 Uxizandre, AP worked his magic on the long shot to give him his first winner of the festival. Gold Cup day lived up to expectations as Willie Mullins was at it again. The trainer picked up another 3 winners: Wicklow Brave, Martello Tower and Killutagh were all victorious. Ruby Walsh was Top Jockey for the festival with 4 winners, and Willie Mullins was Leading Trainer with 8 winners.
Last year was also the last time we saw 20 times Champion Jockey AP McCoy gracing the festival, as he had announced his retirement from the sport after a glittering career. Not seeing AP at this year’s festival will be a little strange, after seeing so many fantastic rides from the great man.

This year the Mullins stable is again looking very strong with last years’ trio of: Douvan, Faugheen and Un De Sceaux have all won well in the build up to the festival. It would be a brave man to back against the pair clearing up again. Mullins has won the Top Trainer award for the last 3 years, and Walsh has been Top Jockey for 7 of the last 8 years with only Barry Geraghty stopping him in 2012.

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