Classy Melon can get my festival off to a flying start

It’s that time of year again, when National Hunt folk become consumed by the Cheltenham Festival, and while it’s going to be a long week, it’s also a tremendous occasion.
Classy Melon can get my festival off to a flying start

I’ve been fortunate enough to make the perfect start to the meeting on a number of occasions, but who knows if I’ve got it right by picking Melon in this year’s opening race, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The decision was much easier for me in the past, when we had Champagne Fever, Vautour, Douvan, and Min.

While Min didn’t win, he was a straight-forward choice amongst Willie’s horses, whereas this year, I’m afraid, I think it’s much more difficult.

I’m probably riding Melon on what he has done at home, more so than on what he has done on the track.

But, I have always liked him, think he’s a very exciting horse, and I hope he will prove me right this afternoon.

Willie’s other horses must be respected. I thought Cilaos Emery was very good when he won his maiden hurdle, but was slightly disappointing at Punchestown, and I thought the same of Crack Mome, who was very good the first day but slightly disappointing the second.

To be fair to Bunk Off Early, he has done little wrong and was probably the form choice, and maybe I should have ridden him.

But I can’t get away from the fact I’ve always liked Melon, and I think he will run a huge race.

If you’re looking at it from an experience point of view, Ballyandy is probably the percentage call.

He won what is a notoriously competitive handicap, when he beat Movewiththetimes, and could be a danger to all.

I ride Royal Caviar in the Arkle, but I’m under no illusions. Last year I rode Douvan in this race, and I think Altior is going to do exactly what Douvan did last year.

I think he is by far the best horse in the race, and wins bar something goes wrong — and you don’t wish that on any horse.

He has been very good to watch, last year as a novice hurdler and this year as a novice chaser.

I think he is an outstanding horse and, with average luck, will win.

My mount, Royal Caviar, fell at the last when going to win the Irish version of this race. That form probably gives him place claims, but that’s probably what he has — at best!

In the Ultima Handicap Chase, Irish eyes will probably be on Noble Endeavor, who won the Paddy Power Chase on his last start and is an improving sort, but I think the horse that won it two years ago, The Druids Nephew, can win it again.

Neil Mulholland and Noel Fehily are having a great season, and it could be a big week for Noel, and this would be a great start.

ride Footpad in the Champion Hurdle. The ground would need to be as slow as it is, or, ideally, a bit slower for him.

He was a stayer last year, as a juvenile, and has progressed throughout this season.

He improved from Christmas to January, and we think he has improved again since, but he will have to have done so, because the race is very difficult for five-year-olds to win.

I had the choice between him and Wicklow Brave, but that was a slightly easier than the next decision I had to make, in the Mares’ Hurdle.

They are 20-1 and 33-1, and I went for Footpad because he had better recent form.

He was second to Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion Hurdle, and that is a higher level than Wicklow Brave has ever run to over hurdles.

But, I think this race will be staying in England, as I fancy Yanworth.

I think he is tailor-made for the race. He stays well, is not short of pace and, while people have been crabbing his jumping, I think he’ll be okay. He is the one we all have to beat.

I’ve done lots of things as a jockey, but I still haven’t figured out how to ride two in the one race, so it was a very hard decision to choose between Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag in the Mares’ Hurdle.

Nobody in the camp had a definite opinion, so the way I looked at it was that I had to go with the form, and the formbook suggested Limini.

The safe call was to ride Vroum Vroum Mag, as she has achieved more in her career than Limini But, I think the slightly braver call was to ride Limini, and that’s what I’ve gone with.

Her only run this season, against Apple’s Jade at Punchestown, is stronger than any of Vroum Vroum Mag’s form this season, and that’s why I’ve gone with her.

But we must also respect Apple’s Jade, who is a very good mare. I think Ireland will win the race, and I’m hoping it’s me.

If not, I hope it’s Vroum Vroum Mag.

In the John Thomas McNamara National Hunt Chase, I think A Genie In Abottle will take plenty of beating, for Noel Meade.

He jumps well, stays well, and has a good man on board, in Jamie Codd.

Whatever you fancy in this race, with the greatest respect to the British jockeys, the Irish amateurs have a much better record in this race, and I expect that to show once more.

Tully East should go well in the novice handicap chase which wraps up day one.

He won a decent beginners’ chase in Thurles before being stepped up to Grade One company at Christmas.

He caught my eye at Navan, last time, and has good course form, having run very well in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at last year’s festival. He will be hard to beat.

It’s fantastic to be back here again, for the the start of what will be a long week.

There’ll be plenty of ups and downs along the way, and I just hope I come out at the other end of it in one piece, having had more ups than downs.

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