Counting down the days to Cheltenham Festival

The preview nights have started in earnest and it’s a case of counting down the days to Cheltenham, after so long ticking off the weeks.

I am taking part in four preview nights this year, with the first taking place at the Woodlands Hotel in Waterford last Thursday night. John Francome, Mick Fitzgerald, Davy Russell, Tom Segal, Nick Luck and Mike Cattermole were there too and the place was packed to the rafters. They even had a hundred people watching on a big screen in another room.

These events have become a phenomenon all of their own but Cheltenham is so big and popular, there seems to be an insatiable desire for anything to do with the festival.

I went off to Naas on Monday to gallop Steps To Freedom, Jezki and Jetson, as well as Gimli’s Rock, who runs at Leopardstown tomorrow.

The first three will all hopefully go to Cheltenham. I had considered running Steps in Dundalk last night but decided against it. He’s in good form and the ground is going the right way for a really good crack at the Champion Hurdle. I’m excited about that.

The improved going is good for Jezki too. I’m very happy with him and, as I said last week, I wouldn’t swap him for anyone in the Supreme Novices’. His form is in the book, with two Grade 1s to his name. He couldn’t do anymore.

Jetson will have to have a bit of luck to get into the Pertemps final. I hope he does as it’s been the aim all along and he is in great order. He really seems to be bouncing. Again, the ground is coming right, as it is for most of mine.

As I mentioned, Gimli’s Rock (2.10) runs in the Ballsbridge Hurdle, along with Takeyourcapoff. It’s a good race, with Whatuthink, Blackstairmountain and Fosters Cross all involved.

Gimli’s hasn’t run since October and has had a wind operation. I hope it works but it’s great to get him out and hopefully build his confidence again.

Takeyourcapoff is in great form. She’s coming back from an even longer lay-off but her absence has been due entirely to it being so wet. I haven’t had a chance to run her over hurdles since September 2011 because of that.

Her last run was in August, when she was second in a two-mile handicap at Leopardstown. That was excellent effort in ground that was a bit soft and I’m just looking forward to getting her out again.

Operating gave us a bit of a scare during the week as he had a stone bruise after work on Tuesday. That is an abscess, which is very sore, and he was lame. The abscess burst out the following day though so he should be fine.

He has run against some decent horses in unsuitable ground when second twice and third in his three maiden hurdles since winning his bumper.

Getting the nicer ground, you would think he has a very good chance now of getting home first. Going over two and a half miles for the first time will help too. He definitely needs that and I’m very happy with him.

Citizenship (3.10) appears to have no chance of getting into the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, which is a pity, as, again, he will prefer the good ground and the hunting seems to have reinvigorated him.

His run in the Boylesports Hurdle in desperate ground was a much improved effort and I think he has a great chance tomorrow.

If he wins, he might get a penalty and that would certainly help his chances of getting in at Cheltenham. All I can say is that he is great form, better than before the Boylesports Hurdle.

With the ground, and with Kevin (Sexton) taking seven pounds off so that he’s running of a good racing weight of 10-7, I will be disappointed if he’s not in there at the business end.

Smithfield goes in a maiden hurdle at Clonmel on Thursday and I’m looking forward to him, too.

He just found it all happening a bit too fast for him in Graded company last time, but a repeat of his third in the maiden before that, when he jumped and settled much better, would see him go close.

Just a quick word on Madam Bovary last Sunday. She didn’t jump all that well, which is very unlike her, but the thing that surprised us completely was that she didn’t appear to like going left-handed.

We hadn’t run her that way before but that wasn’t pre-ordained; it just happened that way. It’s clear that it’s something we will have to take into account from now on though.

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