Three things we will learn at Cheltenham today

Joseph looks to follow father’s example

Three things we will learn at Cheltenham today

1. Are we at the beginning of the future?

There has been a school of thought over the last few years that whatever Joseph O’Brien achieved in the saddle, it would only be a prelude to what he would achieve when he went training in his own right.

Although he has yet to be formally awarded a licence, he has been gradually building a jump string at Piltown from where his father Aidan sent his first Cheltenham winner, Urabande, to win a novice hurdle 20 years ago this week.

Today represents another notable milestone in his transition from jockey to trainer as he prepares Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Triumph Hurdle, the first race on the card and who will formally run in AP O’Brien’s name.

Unsurprisingly for a horse with a Ballydoyle heritage, he is classically bred, but his sire Montjeu was also responsible for Hurricane Fly and he carries the McManus Istabraq colours — the greatest jumper to be trained by Aidan.

Ivanovich has been drifting in the betting in recent days but still remains favourite despite an unexpected reversal last time out on bad ground.

Whatever the future for the horse, if he wins today, it could signal the arrival of a star.

2. The solution to the ‘Mullins Mystery’ gallop

It seems like everybody at Cheltenham this week had a theory on why Vautour bypassed the Gold Cup in favour of the Ryanair and why it all happened so late in the day.

It was hard to keep up with all the rumours but in betting terms, think of it as perming two out of three. The three are of course, Willie, Ruby and Ricci, who in combination are the most powerful triumvirate in jump racing. Some of the theorists were sure the owner got his wishes against the trainer and jockey, others that it was he who had in fact been overruled by Willie and Ruby. And on and on it went.

The victory of Vautour yesterday and the commentary afterwards by the principals didn’t bring much greater clarity. Ricci said: “I feel odd, to be completely honest, but of course I’m delighted to win. They insist he hasn’t been working well so when he does, what is he capable of? Djakadam must be working the house down is my immediate reaction, so hopefully it bodes well for tomorrow.”

The ‘they’ in that comment sounded pretty heavily loaded and a win for Djakadam tomorrow would help settle the horses — and the humans.

3. Marketing works, doesn’t it?

At times the horse racing administrators and broadcasters in Britain seem to lack any kind of confidence in their core product.

That core product, lest you forget, is athletic contests involving man and beast, with spit and hair flying and played out in an arena of betting, merrymaking and passionate debate. It has worked this way for over 300 years and managed pretty well on it. So at last we get to Cheltenham week, where more than any other time of the year the sport speaks for itself, and then everything seems to get a little weird.

Channel 4 have marked their last year as the sole terrestrial broadcaster with a jockey go-kart racing segment on their Morning Line programme that manages to be time wasting, banal and aggravating at the same time.

And that is before we get to Victoria Pendleton and her attempt at negotiating her around in today’s Foxhunters Chase. The day of the Gold Cup will likely be overshadowed by a stunt conceived and financed by a betting company. They may get curious viewers who will come and go as quick.

Whether it will do the sport any good is debatable.

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