Eden can have punters in Christmas paradise

Four rides at Ascot today, two at Thurles tomorrow and no Big Buck’s sums up my weekend rather neatly, I think.

As we all know, Big Buck’s is out for the season, so Prospect Wells does duty instead for Paul Nicholls and I in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

Attempting to replace Big Buck’s is the same as trying to find someone as good as Brian O’Driscoll or Henry Shefflin. You can send on sub, but that’s all it is.

Anyway, we have to get on with the show and let’s see how Prospect Wells measures up. We have always thought he shaped like a stayer, although two and a half miles was what was in mind.

But now Prospect Wells goes over three and there is simply no way of knowing whether he will stay a trip that is almost a mile in excess of anything tackled previously.

He performed poorly at Cheltenham last time, but ignore that, as it came far too quickly after his previous outing.

He’s in good shape right now and if you are tempted to back him then do so each-way, with the dead eight facing the starter.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility we could saunter along for much of the trip and I’ll certainly be taking my time.

My day starts aboard Cedre Bleu in a graduation chase. He may have only three opponents, but you still couldn’t be overly confident.

Cedre Bleu disappointed at Newbury and the headgear Paul is putting on will have to work the oracle and bring about plenty of improvement if he is going to deliver.

And there is Ranjaan in the Ladbroke Hurdle, which has the making of as open a contest as you could wish to see.

This is a big pot and luck in running could play a major part. More than likely a whole wall of horses will be in contention off the home turn.

It will be the first outing of the campaign for Ranjaan and he will arrive on the back of wins last season at Taunton and Kempton.

He has a handy weight, 10-12, and Paul feels a decent prize is within his compass. He jumps and stays, although lacking somewhat in experience.

Listen, we could talk about this for an hour and not come up with the winner. Realistically, I’m just hoping to get lucky.

I finish on what I consider my best ride of the afternoon, Ulck Du Lin, in a two-miles plus handicap chase. He won nicely for Daryl Jacob at Newbury and went up 10lbs.

I was due to ride the horse that Saturday, but circumstances dictated otherwise. I got a fall on the Friday and hurt my hand.

I then had to take anti-inflammatories and, of course, they cause you to retain water. As a result, I wasn’t going to be able to do the weight and Daryl proved a more than able deputy.

I watched the race and was quite impressed. I know the handicapper hasn’t exactly been kind, but I’m still reasonably confident.

At Thurles tomorrow, I team up with yet another of Willie Mullins’ French-imports, Unika La Reconce, in a maiden hurdle for mares.

Because she failed to win France, the four-year-old gets a 5lbs allowance and that’s obviously a help. She is working and schooling well at home and I’m hopeful she will win.

My only other ride is Caballo de Marcus for Conor O’Dwyer in another maiden hurdle. I rode Tony Martin’s Living Next Door to beat Conor’s horse by a head at Limerick last time.

I thought, prior to the race, it looked a very modest affair, but it didn’t ride like that at all. Let’s just say I’m more than happy to have been called on by Conor.

I fancy two of Willie’s at Navan today, Touch The Eden and Bally Longford. I liked what I saw when Paul Townend guided Touch The Eden to an easy win at Thurles and expect him to take a novice hurdle.

I think Bally Longford can land the bumper. I know he was run over by Curley Bill at Downpatrick, but will strip fitter now.

How I’ll spend Christmas

I will be at Willie Mullins’ yard early on Christmas Eve morning as a lot of the horses will be doing their last bit of work before the various Christmas meetings, so that will be very busy.

Then, like the majority of men in the world I’d say, I will do a bit of shopping. As a fella said to me the other day, I’ll be galloping around Kildare village. It’s amazing how often inspiration strikes when your back is completely up against the wall.

That evening, I’ll be at home with Gillian and the girls.

Isobel is three now and she’s really into Santa so there’ll be great excitement and I’m looking forward to that.

The girls will be ripping plenty of paper on Christmas morning and it will be great to see Isobel’s reaction in particular, as this is the first year that she’ll know what’s going on.

Christmas Day will be the same for me as for most people.

I mightn’t completely pig-out but I can eat a decent dinner. It will depend on what I’m riding in the handicaps the next day.

If I’m riding light, I’ll have to be fairly disciplined, but I won’t know that for sure until Christmas Eve. Whatever it is, it is, and it won’t bother me or affect my enjoyment of the day.

We will go over to my parents’ house for the dinner. They love having everyone around, especially the kids.

We’ll head back home pretty early and that night, I will do something in terms of my weight. I’ll see how I am, what I need to do, but I will go for a run or something like that.

Stephen’s Day is a normal racing day – or a normal one when I’m riding in England anyway. I have a flight from Dublin to Heathrow at 7.40am for racing in Kempton, where I will be riding as usual for Paul Nicholls.

In England, Boxing Day as they call it, is when the King George VI Chase is on, one of the most coveted races over jumps. It is special for me having ridden the now-retired Kauto Star on each of his record five victories in the race.

With Al Ferof having had a setback, I will now be on Kauto Star’s half-brother, Kauto Stone in this year’s renewal.

I have a return flight at 5.45pm from Heathrow and will be home in plenty of time to be rested for the three remaining days of the Leopardstown Christmas festival.

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