THE Cheltenham Festival is where legends are made and over the years trainers, jockeys and, of course, horses have etched their names into jumping history with their victories at the meeting.With the four greatest days of jump racing just around the corner, we spoke to five greats from the festival’s past to go down memory lane and get their views on this year’s spectacular.
What is it that makes the Cheltenham Festival so special?
Paul Carberry, festival-winning jockey: Everything is geared towards Cheltenham when you’re riding and training horses. When you win a race you’re hoping that horse if good enough to run and hopefully win at Cheltenham. The atmosphere there when you come in on a winner is out of this world.
Noel Chance, dual Gold Cup-winning trainer: To have a runner there is an unbelievable feeling, but to have a winner there in one of the championship races is out of this world. We were very lucky with Mr Mulligan and I wasn’t, for want of a better term, able to milk the atmosphere as I’d have liked. When Looks Like Trouble won I knew exactly what to do, and I was thinking about the how good it was just the other day.
Adrian Maguire, Gold Cup-winning jockey: It’s said every year but it really is our Olympics. It’s where winners are remembered and the absolute pinnacle of our sport.
Colm Murphy, Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase-winning trainer: The hype that goes with the meeting means when you do have that winner it’s huge. It’s the Olympics of jump racing and to be able to succeed there just means so much. It’s the best place in the world when you have a winner.
Peter Scudamore, former champion jockey: I’m not entirely sure why it’s such an extraordinary meeting but there is nothing like it. I think as humans we see many aspects in those great horses that we like and respect. When you see what these incredible horses do then you have huge admiration for them and they shine.
What is your best memory of the meeting?
Carberry: I had so many good days there and a lot of good memories. Solwhit winning the Stayers’ Hurdle was the best feeling of the lot, but the likes of Sausalito Bay, Frenchman’s Creek and Crack Away Jack gave me some good times too.
Chance: Looks Like Trouble winning the 2000 Gold Cup. He’d won the RSA Chase the season before and I was sitting at home having breakfast the November after and I saw him priced at 50-1 to win the Gold Cup. I got the hump and backed him for the race. He started 9-2 and it was happy days.
Maguire: Undoubtedly Viking Flagship winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1994. It was a great race to be involved with, to win and to watch too. Even though I won the Gold Cup on Cool Ground it has to be that Viking Flagship win that sticks out.
Murphy: We were so fortunate to have many good days there but Brave Inca winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was fantastic. He was our first runner at the festival and set the bar pretty high in winning that race and beating a future Gold Cup winner in War Of Attrition too.
Scudamore: Granville Again winning the Champion Hurdle in 1993.
Which horse running at the festival this year could convince you to take your licence back out?
Carberry: For sure, I’d love to have the chance to ride Altior.
Chance: I’d love to be able to train Presenting Percy.
Maguire: I would jump at the chance to ride Altior – it wouldn’t take me long to get back in the saddle if I was offered the chance to ride him!
Murphy: I do like Laurina. She’s been very good in all of her races so far and I can see her going very well in the Champion Hurdle.
Scudamore: It has to be Altior doesn’t it? He’s the one we’re all looking forward to seeing the most and he’s potentially one of the greats.
Starting with the Champion Hurdle, are you with Apple’s Jade or Buveur D’Air?
Carberry: Buveur D’Air has been there twice in the Champion Hurdle and won twice, whereas Apple’s Jade has been beaten twice at the festival. I’d side with Buveur D’Air.
Chance: I’m edging towards Apple’s Jade. I was a bit disappointed in Buveur D’Air the last twice. We learned nothing from Sandown and it wasn’t good when he was beaten by Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle.
Maguire: I’m a great admirer of Apple’s Jade but you can’t take away from what Buveur D’Air’s done at the Cheltenham Festival. He’s twice a winner of the Champion Hurdle and there’s no better man to have him right on the day than Nicky Henderson, so I expect his to complete the hat-trick.
Murphy: I think Apple’s Jade, Buveur D’Air and Laurina all have strong chances in the race. Apple’s Jade was very impressive at Leopardstown last time, although I’d question the strength of the form. I think Buveur D’Air has been disappointing really, so that brings Laurina into things big time.
Scudamore: Neither! I’d much rather be with Laurina. I think she has an excellent chance and has so much untapped potential still. I think she’s going to surprise a few people next week.
Can anything stop Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase?
Carberry: It took him a while to getting going on that soft ground last year, so I suspect they’ll want the ground to be better than that for him. He does look a class above them and looks nailed on.
Chance: No. The only thing that will prevent him from winning is him falling for some reason.
Maguire: I don’t think so and plenty of people are thinking exactly the same. If he gets around safely he wins, simple as that.
Murphy: Not on paper. Stranger things have happened on a racecourse – I remember the year we won the race with Big Zeb everyone thought Master Minded was a certainty and just had to turn up. Altior jumped to his left last time at Ascot so that’s a little worry too.
Scudamore: If he turns up he wins, barring accidents.
Paisley Park: the right favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle or one to take on?
Carberry: That’d be a great story if he won the race for Emma Lavelle and he looks a really solid horse. With Samcro out there doesn’t look a lot of strength in depth. He’s one to be on side with.
Chance: He’s come through the ranks and done everything right. Six month ago you wouldn’t have given him any chance but he’s definitely an improver. I’d love him to win for Emma Lavelle and the owner seems a proper fellow.
Maguire: There has to be a favourite and the horse has done nothing wrong. There are doubts about the other contenders, but I’m still not convinced by Paisley Park. I think he’s got questions to answer.
Murphy: His win in the Cleeve Hurdle last time was almost too good to be true. He’s done nothing but improve all year and with Penhill out there’s not a lot in the race. I’m not won over by him, but it’s hard to make a case against him.
Scudamore: I think he’s got an excellent chance. If I was connected with the horse I wouldn’t want to see a good Faugheen turning up, but otherwise he’s the best horse in the race on this season’s form.
What do you make of the Gold Cup and the preparation of favourite Presenting Percy?
Carberry: I know his trainer Pat Kelly very well and he’s a very shrewd operator. I was meant to go down and school the horse last week but it didn’t happen in the end which was a huge shame as he’s a horse I think has it all. Pat will have him absolutely spot on for the race, don’t worry about that.
Chance: He’s had an unconventional preparation on account of us not having had any rain. He’s a very good horse although you could say he doesn’t have enough experience really. Pat Kelly, who trains him, says very little but does a lot and the horse will be spot on. Davy Russell rides and is a master jockey too.
Maguire: I have no doubt in my mind that Pat Kelly will have him absolutely spot on for the race. If it was another trainer who’d given him that prep I’d be worried, but Pat Kelly is a genius and I really do think he’s the one to beat.
Murphy: There’s no doubt it’s not ideal for a horse to be going for the Gold Cup having not run over fences since the RSA Chase the year before. In fairness, Pat Kelly’s not done a whole lot wrong with him and he’s doing what he feels is right for the horse. It’s been an extraordinary year with the ground and we have to take that into consideration as well.
Scudamore: If the ‘proper’ Presenting Percy turns up he’s going to take a lot of beating. He’s got the best form, he’s won around Cheltenham twice and he’s still got a lot of potential. From a personal point of view, I’d love to see Thistlecrack win as my son Tom rides him.
And, finally, what one thing would you love to happen at the Cheltenham Festival this season?
Carberry: I’d love to see my old boss Noel Meade win the Gold Cup with Road To Respect. He’s a horse with a lot of class and I think he’s got a really good chance of winning.
Chance: Even though I’m so keen on Presenting Percy, I’d love to see Native River win the Gold Cup as he’s ridden by my son-in-law Richard Johnson. And I’d also like to see all the horses and jockeys come home safely.
Maguire: For all the horses and jockeys to have come home safe and sound.
Murphy: I’d like to see the Irish win more races that the British during the week – I enjoy the friendly rivalry.
Scudamore: Definitely for Thistlecrack to have won the Gold Cup for Tom – that’d be fantastic.