By Darren Norris
It’s hard to believe three years have already flown by since AP McCoy powered Uxizandre to an emotional victory in the Ryanair Chase in his final Cheltenham Festival as a jockey.
Since calling time on his remarkable career, the 20-times champion jockey has kept himself busy, doing some work for former boss JP McManus and as an analyst for ITV Racing, for whom he will again be in action for this week.
In the build-up to this year’s extravaganza, McCoy was a star attraction on the Cheltenham preview night scene, offering his thoughts on what lies in store this week and reflecting on Festivals past.
Buveur D’Air provided McManus with a 50th Festival triumph when winning the 2017 Champion Hurdle and McCoy expects the Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old to follow up in today’s feature.
“It doesn’t look a Champion Hurdle that has loads of strength in depth,” McCoy told his audience at The Castle, Riverstown, Co Cork. “Every horse is beatable but Buveur D’Air’s been very impressive this season, He hasn’t beaten anything at Newcastle, Kempton, or Sandown but he’s a very slick jumper.
Does he have to perform any better than last year to win it again? Probably not. Is he capable of doing that? Definitely. He looks a better, slicker horse than he did this time last year. He’s a very straight-forward horse and he deserves to be a very short price.
Ireland’s leading Champion Hurdle contender is 2015 hero Faugheen but the Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old will arrive at Prestbury under a cloud having been pulled up following a listless effort at Leopardstown at Christmas before being outgunned by leading Stayers’ Hurdle contender Supasundae in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month.
“Faugheen obviously ran a lot better in Leopardstown last time than he ran at Christmas — that wouldn’t have been hard — but he’s still a million miles away from the Faugheen that won the 2015 Champion Hurdle,” McCoy says. “He needs to perform a lot better (to win) but you’d be surprised if he’s not capable of finishing in the first three.
At Leopardstown the last day, Faugheen never got Supasundae, a three-miler, out of his comfort zone. When he was at his best, Supasundae wouldn’t have been able to be in contention. When he was at his best, he got everything out of their comfort zone.
If McCoy is right, today could be a tough one for Willie Mullins as McCoy thinks Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Getabird will get turned over by Kalashnikov and reckons Petit Mouchoir can turn the tables on hotpot Footpad in the Arkle Trophy.
“Kalashnikov has the experience of winning a big handicap at Newbury. He’s definitely improved from when Summerville Boy beat him in the Tolworth at Sandown. I cannot see him being out of the first three.”
Last time out, at the Dublin Racing Festival, Footpad beat Petit Mouchoir by five lengths but McCoy doesn’t expect that form to be confirmed.
“There’s no doubt Footpad looks much more efficient jumping fences than hurdles but I do think Petit Mouchoir has a good chance of beating him,” he says. “He was very unexposed at Leopardstown last time, he looked a little fresh, he hadn’t run for a while. If he jumps a little better I think he has a big chance of beating Footpad.
“Footpad has been very impressive but I do think there’s more to come from Petit Mouchoir. At the prices I’d be inclined to go with Petit Mouchoir.”