THE jumps season really gets up and running with Cheltenham — and I’ve jumped at the chance to be in The Favourite again.
I’ll be doing a column every Saturday for all you Sun Racing readers — and also daily during all the big spring Festivals.
Cheltenham’s October Showcase meeting is the starting point of the season.
All the big tracks are kicking things off, but when you walk through those gates at Cheltenham there’s a different buzz, a different energy. That’s nothing against the other tracks, it’s just different here.
Even though the October meeting is one of the smaller ones, every winner at Cheltenham is cheered home like a champion.
I remember winning the first on the Friday of the meeting a few years ago on Carnardier — there’s nothing like it. It’s such a buzz.
I often get asked which of my winners at Cheltenham meant the most, or gave me the biggest thrill — but that’s like picking between your children!
Sprinter, Moscow, Kicking King, Bobs Worth, Epatante, Champ . . . they were all so special.
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I have a soft spot for all of them but we have a really special family connection with Constitution Hill.
He’s like a pet for us. I went down to see him with his owner Michael Buckley and he looked great.
He’s definitely strengthened up. He’s improved physically. Watch him go on the track next month!
We’ll never forget his Supreme Novices’ win. What a day — and what a performance that was!
On to today . . . and I hope I can give you some winners! But, before I get into my fancies let me just talk about the favourites.
As you can see from the table at the top of this column, 888sport, the Showcase Meeting’s sponsor, looked back at each Cheltenham meeting from the last five years and found favourites have won 36 per cent of races at this first meeting.
That means favourites today have up to nine per cent more chance of winning compared to the other six meetings throughout the year.
It’s no surprise. Much of it has to do with the going. At this meeeting the ground is always decent and the fields aren’t quite as competitive as they are at big winter meetings and, obviously, the Festival itself.
So to Saturday — and the opening 888sport Novices’ Hurdle looks a hot little race.
SAINT PALAIS (1.30) is rated 148 over hurdles and 153 over fences. This will be his first start of the season, but he won first time up last year and with a mark like that, and his level of experience, it’s hard to oppose him.
THE HOLLOW GINGE (2.05) was only beaten a head in last year’s 888sport Handicap Chase and I think he can go one better here.
He was disappointing for the rest of last season but is now 10lb lower than 12 months ago. Don’t forget he was a fine fourth to Cloth Cap in the 2020 Ladbrokes Trophy.
In the Masterson Holdings Hurdle there is nothing between Knight Salute and Gordon Elliott’s PIED PIPER (2.40) based on their Aintree run where they dead-heated before Knight Salute was awarded the race in the stewards’ room.
But I’d say Pied Piper has a bit more size and is open to more progression. He’s my banker today.
The 888sport Handicap Chase is always a good race and I like EDITEUR DU GITE (3.15). He’s on the verge of Graded level and had some great form last season.
He won at both November and December meetings and was then a fine fourth to Global Citizen in the Grand Annual. He’s the one to beat, but Effernock Fizz offers value. She’s improved a lot since moving to Cian Collins and won the Welsh Champion Hurdle the other day.
Pertemps Qualifiers are always hard puzzles to solve, but even more so when there are 18 runners.
The one who interests me here is AN TAILLIUR (3.50) for Jonjo O’Neill. He was second to Marie’s Rock at Kempton over Christmas and then won well at Haydock in April.
He has a good level of form, Jonjo’s horses are running well and, as a six-year-old, he can still find some more improvement.
LIFE IN THE PARK (4.25) was very good in Listowel on his chasing debut last month. Henry De Bromhead always has his chasers well schooled so this lad is one to watch.
You also have to respect Mahler Mission who won a Grade 2 at Doncaster in January. John McConnell does well on his raids here.
Finally, England could do with a strong leader right now and Olly Murphy has one in the Bumper.
STRONG LEADER (5.00) bolted up on debut in Warwick in May and is very well bred by Westerner out of a mare who was a half-sister to Hennessy winner Strong Flow.
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