Cheltenham stress factor starts to kick in

I have said before how nervous I get leading up to big races and major festivals.

None is bigger than Cheltenham so I’m beginning to walk the box a bit with the stress, but we’re nearly there now and it’s so far, so good with my intended runners.

All going well, we will have six horses participating over the four days. We are just waiting until this morning to make a final decision on Jezki in the Champion Bumper. If he gets the go-ahead, he will be joined by Steps To Freedom and Oscars Well on the journey to the track this evening.

The other three – Jetson, Citizenship and The Bull Hayes — will travel over later in the week. That way, they’re not hanging around too long and the first three can be brought back home at the same time.

I will travel on Monday afternoon but won’t go near the horses because there will be enough people looking after them. There will be absolutely nothing to gain from me looking at them as well. I’ve got a good team and if I don’t hear anything, that will be good news.

I will stay as I always do in Lambourn with Nicky Henderson, who’s a good friend. I will be up and out of there by 9.30am, heading for the track and getting the final preparations under way.

There’s no point going into too much detail about our horses as I will be posting daily briefings from the track every day next week and will assess our chances and the major threats then.

However, on a general level, we were going to bring them to Leopardstown to do some work but the ground was very quick so we went up the Old Vic. They all got a jump over a hurdle on Wednesday, with my heart in my mouth but, touch wood, everything was fine. Mentioning the ground, I am in the happy position at the moment of knowing that all my runners will like it as it’s predicted to be good. Sometimes you want one that needs it soft, and another that needs it good, and there’s a conflict there but not this time thankfully. I just want the rain to stay away. Good, safe racing ground will be ideal.

The good form of recent weeks has continued and that’s always nice going into Cheltenham. Mosstown got a great ride from Pat Smullen to win by a neck at Dundalk and he will tip away there for the foreseeable future.

Jezki had it very easy in making it two from two in the Leopardstown bumper, this time from stable companion The Big Easy. I was very pleased with both horses and they both pulled clear of the rest. It was a first run for The Big Easy, who will have learned a lot from that and should come on a ton for it. We will probably keep him now for Punchestown.

Most of the other runners ran well too. The ground was just too sticky for Imperial Cascade in Navan but I was pleased that he finished out his race, running all the way to the line. He’ll wait now until the ground dries up, hopefully at Fairyhouse and Punchestown.

I was happy with Rear View on his first run to be fifth in the maiden hurdle but Mystic Desir ran away with Barry, who mustn’t have had his Weetabix in the morning. To be honest, he’s a bit of a monkey – Mystic Desir, not Barry – and we’ll just have to keep trying with him.

I was very pleased with Jenari finishing third in his first handicap. He was just a bit novicey in his jumping and that will have brought him on a lot. He will return to novice company now. I was delighted with The Bull Hayes, who jumped for fun and that will have him spot on now for the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.

And I was absolutely delighted with Paradis De Thaix, who jumped and ran brilliantly in ground he loved to be fourth in a good race behind Leanne. He just got a bit tight to the last two and didn’t gain any ground which might have got him into third. We’d like to aim for the Topham at Aintree but we don’t know if he’ll get in. We may run him somewhere next weekend.

Maggie Neary is a new horse for me and he runs in the maiden hurdle at Gowran Park today. I have her since just before December but she’s not here for the long term as she was bought by an American group and will be going to race over there. She has won one of her last two in Dundalk for Charlie Swan and she’s a nice filly. She has schooled well so I think she’ll run well.

Maller Tree is in great form after winning his maiden very well and tries his hand now in novice company. I’m happy with him and I hope he’ll improve a good bit for that run. We’re just taking him back in distance to see how he gets on over two miles.

I’m looking forward to seeing Spanish Auriga, who’s back after a bit of a break as he would prefer better ground. There weren’t too many two-mile beginners’ chases coming up either so that’s really what we were waiting for. Hopefully he’ll run a big race.

Operating ran very well when second in his first bumper. I think it’s a good bumper tomorrow but his form has worked out quite well so I think he has a good chance.

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