His profile these days isn’t as big as it was when he was providing insight on Channel 4 but John Francome’s love of racing in general and Cheltenham Festival week in particular continues to endure.
He makes an annual journey to Waterford to speak at the Ladbrokes Cheltenham Festival preview night where his wit and wisdom entertain and enlighten fans of the sport.
This year was no different as once again his enthusiasm shown through.
“Festival week is absolutely amazing,” he says.
“The Irish turn up in their droves and they’re absolutely hooked on their racing.
“In England, they don’t show anywhere near the level of interest in the horses, their knowledge isn’t as good.
"It’s a them and us and if you have more winners than us and Willie Mullins trains 11 or 12 winners, we’re absolutely delighted and if we win we’re pleased.
“But I think the people in racing, by and large, just like to see good horses. Whether they’re Irish, French or English – I don’t think it matters.
“There’s a few horses that aren’t running that you’d like to have seen, the likes of Thistlecrack and Annie Power, but come the meeting it will be just as exciting.”
The star of the show today is Altior. The Arkle Trophy looks a penalty kick for this insanely talented individual but Francome says he’s surprised Nicky Henderson hasn’t rerouted last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero to the Champion Hurdle.
“I’m surprised Nicky Henderson didn’t switch him back to the Champion Hurdle. It’s a much bigger prize, more money but he’s gone down the chasing route, he’s sticking to his guns.
“Altior has been amazing; he’s never put a foot wrong. It was a really good novice hurdle that he won last year, the form of it has worked out particularly well and I thought he won it with a fair with of authority.
"He seems to have improved, he jumps really well, and he looks to have everything. You can’t remount anymore but he could have fallen a couple of times in the past and still got up and won. He’s been extraordinary.”
The Champion Hurdle shapes as an intriguing renewal and Francome expects a horse wearing the green and gold silks of JP McManus to prevail. “Buveur D’Air is very good but I like Yanworth, JP’s other horse,” he says.
“I was in Wincanton when he won. I thought he jumped really poorly, I thought there was something definitely amiss with him, he wasn’t galloping in a straight line but he still won and if he can do that when he’s not feeling right, he’s good enough to win a Champion Hurdle.
“He’s got a really good attitude and I can just see him staying on up the hill. If he’s absolutely spot-on, I think he’ll win because he got the best attitude I seen in any horse running recently.
He really wants to win; he’s got a really likeable attitude. He’s got a big engine and he’ll get you into the race.
“Whatever happens, he will take you into the race going down to the last. If they’ve got him right, I think he could be a proper horse.”
The stars won’t all be of the equine variety. Jack Kennedy doesn’t turn 18 until next month but he already has over 100 winners to his name.
His 100th win was actually his first Grade One as the Dingle man steered Outlander to victory in the Lexus Chase at Christmas.
He didn’t have to wait long for a second success at the highest level as Death Duty won the Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle in January. A first festival success looks a question of when rather than if.
Francome has followed Kennedy’s progress with interest.
“I’ve been really impressed with him this year,” he says.
“I’ve watched him ride on plenty of occasions, he’s got a great will to win, a good racing brain, he’s very good at getting horses to settle, good at getting them to jump and all good jockeys make moderate horses look better jumpers than they are.
“You watch Ruby Walsh on Yorkhill, he’d probably have fallen with nine out of 10 other jockeys , Ruby made him look like he’s a half-decent jumper and I don’t think he’s a good jumper at all. Jack Kennedy can do that. He makes poor horses look good.”
Coming from Francome, a man who was champion jockey in England on seven occasions, that’s quite the compliment.