Oscars in with a great each-way shout in Champion

I arrived in Lambourn last evening safe and sound, but more important was the fact that Steps To Freedom, Oscars Well and Jezki were well settled in at Cheltenham racecourse by that stage ahead of their engagements on the first two days of the festival.

They were ridden out yesterday morning. Robert rode Steps, Kate was on Oscars and Andrew McNamara rode Jezki for me and they were all very well. They have all eaten up since so there is no need for me to see them until I arrive at the track this morning.

Oscars and Steps had made the journey before so you would really have only been worried about Jezki but he’s fine. I know he’s only four but he’s as tough as old boots.

The weather is absolutely beautiful which is great for the thousands who will flock to Prestbury Park. It also means that the ground will be good barring what would be a completely unexpected deluge and that is positive news, not just for these three, but for all my runners this week.

Another plus point is that the entire stable has been in good form in the past four or five weeks, providing us with plenty winners and even more placed finishes. You’re certainly happy to see that being the case leading into a major festival. You know the horses are well and you’d rather that than trying to second-guess if they are alright or not.

Steps To Freedom has done everything that has been asked of him since coming to me last year. He had a good flat campaign and since then, is three from three over hurdles. He hasn’t run since winning at Cheltenham last November. That lay-off doesn’t concern me as I think he has matured in that time and there was no point running him on heavy ground anyway. He showed a lot of guts to win that day and had no problems coming up the hill.

I know my landlord for the week, Nicky Henderson, is very keen on Darlan and Tetlami, Willie is keen on Midnight Game and Alan King thinks Montbazon is in very good form. There are 19 of them. We’re going to have to have a bit of luck in running and it’ll be harum-scarum.

We’ll probably take our time early on. We’ll get him settled, get him travelling, creep into it and get into position at the top of the hill. I think having been around the track will help him. He had been a bit green in some of his races but I think he knows what he’s about now. He schooled very well over 12 hurdles at The Curragh last week but of course we won’t really know until today.

Steps is a very good horse. I like him a lot and we’re hoping for the best that things will go his way in what is a very competitive contest.

I have said all along that I think Oscars is a great each-way shout in the Champion Hurdle. He certainly was when he was 25/1! He ran very well here last year and there is no doubt in my mind but that he would have won the Neptune but for stumbling when in front after jumping the last.

He has improved with every race and is always at his best as we get into spring. He will like the ground and will definitely be suited by the strong pace that Overturn is guaranteed to set from the off.

Binocular is in good form according to Nicky and there shouldn’t be much between him and Oscars on a line through Rock On Ruby. I’m not saying that he will beat Hurricane Fly but he is a great chance of being placed.

Sprinter Sacre has been my banker for the meeting for a long time. It’s a hell of a good race even with only six runners, as Al Ferof, Cue Card and Menorah are no slouches. But Sprinter Sacre has been awesome all year and when you hear Barry speaking so highly of him, you’ve got to take notice.

I couldn’t tell you what might win in the handicaps but I’d be fairly confident an Irish horse will win the cross-country chase.

Which one?

That’s another question entirely. Everyone is talking about Willie’s pair, Scotsirish and Uncle Junior, but Sizing Australia relished the good ground when winning it last year and he might be the one they all have to beat again.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

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