Lucky Luke's Cheltenham Notebook: Part Four



It’s been a strange old week in the world of horse racing.

Last weekend we were treated to a whole host of Cheltenham clues from Sandown and the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown, with seemingly, National Hunt racing cantering towards the main meeting in March.

The excitement was building, and life was good.

Fast forward to Thursday and our flying equine stars were grounded to a halt after an equine flu outbreak was brought to light after racing on Wednesday.

It is news that has sent shockwaves throughout the sport, with over 100 yards across the county currently in lockdown while further testing takes place. Racing has even been cancelled in the UK till at least Wednesday 13th February.

As ever, our resident racing fan ‘Lucky Luke’ has been following all the latest as he gets back in the saddle for part four of his Cheltenham Notebook.

Hold Your Horses

I normally kick off my blog with a look back at last weekend’s action, but it only seems appropriate that I start with the recent breaking news.

Racing is quite simply on shutdown. Following racing at Ayr, Kempton, Ludlow and Wolverhampton on Wednesday, a statement was released by the BHA later that evening to confirm that racing on Thursday would be cancelled due to cases of equine influenza being found.

The announcement stated, “The British Horseracing Authority (BHA), with unanimous support of the BHA’s industry veterinary committee, has taken the decision to cancel racing at all British racecourses on Thursday 7 February 2019.

“This is following the BHA being informed this evening by the Animal Health Trust of three confirmed Equine Influenza positives from vaccinated horses in an active racing yard.

“Horses from the infected yard have raced today at Ayr and Ludlow, potentially exposing a significant number of horses from yards across the country and in Ireland.

“The fact that the cases have been identified in vaccinated horses presents a cause for significant concern over welfare and the potential spread of the disease and the action to cancel racing has been viewed as necessary in order to restrict, as far as possible, the risk of further spread of the disease.”

Those comments led many, including me, to fear what the immediate future held for racing in the UK, with many fans expressing their concerns over whether the outbreak could affect Cheltenham in March, or even beyond.

The BHA is hoping that isn’t the case, despite racing been called off until the middle of next week at the earliest. That is so testing can continue to take place, however, if more horses come back as testing positive, then it could be weeks and months rather than days, that we are without racing. Another three from Donald McCain's yard have already tested positive. 

Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Friday, the BHA’s chief executive Nick Rust said, “By Monday we’ll be in a strong position to make a definitive decision about when racing will return. I don’t know whether we’ll need a few more days or not but I strongly believe this will be for a few weeks at most because we’ve acted quickly.”

A few weeks at most doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Of course, the horse’s welfare comes first, quite rightly. You can’t help but think about the trainers, jockeys, owners and stable staff who could be affected financially by an extended break without racing.

Cheltenham is now under five weeks away and if there’s a chance that this could go on for say three weeks, that’s cutting it fine to have all the horses prepped for the biggest jumps meeting on the planet.

As racing fans, we can only hope that a positive outcome is concluded quickly and our great sport can continue with everybody happy and healthy. Without horses, there is no sport.

McManus At The Sandown Double

Back to the actual racing for now though, because we saw some cracking action last weekend, starting at Sandown.

I was looking forward to seeing Defi Du Seuil back in business and with the weights in his favour over Lostintranslation this time around, I was hoping he’d reverse the result from Cheltenham. As you can imagine, I was delighted when he did just that on Saturday, winning by ¾ of a length.

That should set him up nicely for the JLT, and with Festival form already in the bag after winning the Triumph Hurdle in 2017, I wouldn’t put you off backing him again.

That victory came after Buveur D’Air had already got back to winning ways earlier on the card, landing a nice double for owner JP McManus. The dual Cheltenham winner has used the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown as his prep race for his last two Champion Hurdle victories, so connections will be hoping that the plan can work again. At 7/4 in the NRNB market at Betfred, I’d say he’s a good bet to do just that.

Apple’s Jade Fires Herself Into Champion Hurdle Contention

Talking of the Champion Hurdle, super mare Apple’s Jade fired herself into the Champion Hurdle picture by winning the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Winning over two miles for the first time since switching to Gordon Elliot’s yard in 2016, the Gigginstown star had the Mares’ Hurdle in her sights at Cheltenham, but after bolting up by 16 lengths, connections soon changed their minds.

That saw her shorten into the second favourite for the opening day’s feature race, and with the mares’ allowance benefitting the likes of Annie Power in the past, you can see why the punters are rushing to back her.

For me though, I’m yet to see a horse quicken up in the same style as Buveur D’Air and considering he’s twice a winner of the Champion Hurdle, I’m sticking with him for now.

Cross Country Clues At Punchestown

Seeing as though there’s very little to talk about on the track this weekend in the UK, it’s all about the Irish this Saturday and Sunday.

Naas is first up on Saturday, with ITV taking the majority of their races, but for me, Punchestown is more appealing on the Sunday.

The first race on the card is a cross-country event over the famous banks' course. The likes of Josies Orders and Ballycasey are in contention, so it should be an interesting watch.

I think Tiger Roll will take some stopping when it comes to cross-country at Cheltenham, but I think Ballycasey could be a danger. He was slowly away at Prestbury Park in December but started to get the hang of things in the closing stages to grab 5th.

He’s been back to Cheltenham for a gallop on the cross-country course since, and I have a feeling that this could be a last sighter before really challenging in March. I’d expect him to go close.


See you at the races!