RACING fans from the capital descended on Dtwo in Harcourt Street on Tuesday evening to hear from a star-studded Cheltenham preview panel consisting of some of Irish racing’s most respected names.
Kevin O’Ryan acted as MC for a panel which included his Racing TV colleague Gary O’Brien, trainers Gordon Elliott and Joseph O’Brien, David Casey from the Willie Mullins yard, A.P. McCoy and Davy Russell.
Starting with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, A.P. acknowledged the solid form of favourite Al Dancer but said he favoured the same owner’s Angels Breath, despite that horse’s defeat at Kempton last month.
David Casey confirmed that Aramon will definitely go for the Supreme, while Klassical Dream could go for the Ballymore, suggesting that ground conditions will influence the decision. He added: “On his home work, Klassical Dream has improved a lot since Leopardstown the last day.”
Joseph O’Brien received some slagging when he said he was unable to say for sure how Fakir D’Oudairies compares with Sir Erec. “He’s never worked with Sir Erec, I’ve no idea which horse is better,” he said, prompting his uncle O’Ryan to respond: “Sure, of course Sir Erec is better, Stevie Wonder could see that!”
O’Brien did admit that Fakir D’Oudaires’ experience over both hurdles and fences in France could give him an edge over his older competitors in the Supreme.
Sir Erec was heavily fancied by the panel to continue his winning run in the Triumph. A.P. put it plainly: “Sir Erec would win any of the novice races.”
O’Brien was a little more cautious, identifying the Paul Nicholls-trained French import Pic D’Orhy as a possible threat.
Moving on to the Arkle, Davy Russell was against the favourite Glen Forsa on pedigree grounds and he suggsted that Gigginstown hopeful Hardline could be a contender. That horse’s trainer Gordon Elliott backed up this view, stating that Hardline is a stronger horse than last year, jumped well last time out and has a definite each-way chance.
Apple’s Jade was vastly more favoured by the panel for the Champion Hurdle than dual winner Buveur D’Air. Only A.P. remained loyal to the reigning champion, owned by J.P. McManus.
McCoy expressed concern that Apple’s Jade is inclined to jump slightly to her right, which may be a concern around Cheltenham.
Russell would not be put off Apple’s Jade: “It wouldn’t bother me if they went very quick. She’s got the stamina, she’s got pretty much everything,” he said of the mare.
Jokes were also made at Gordon Elliott’s expense. A.P. revealed that the secret to preventing Apple’s Jade coming in season is to show her a photograph of her trainer.
David Casey said he could see Sharjah running well if the ground was good but he acknowledged Apple’s Jade was the one to beat. Casey put forward Benie Des Dieux as his nap of the Festival in the Mares’ Hurdle. Nobody argued with him.
McCoy touted another McManus horse, Champ, for the Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle. The horse is reportedly named after McCoy.
Elliott has Battleoverdoyen in here and Casey took the view that “he looks a very big horse and probably more of a chaser than a hurdler”.
The trainer retorted confidently: “He’s over 17hh but he’s a slick horse and not as slow as he looks. My horse has a good chance.” Joseph O’Brien described Battleoverdoyen as “a beautiful horse”.
Gary O’Brien put forward longshot City Island, saying: “While he hasn’t achieved as much as the top three in the betting - who have all won Grade 1 races – I think Martin Brassil genuinely doesn’t overface his horses and if he thinks City Island is good enough to run here that’s good enough for me.”
The panel was in unanimous agreement about the prospects of the favourite in the RSA Chase, with Gary O’Brien describing Delta Work as “a rock-solid horse”.
Russell described him as a horse with a great attitude, always improving and one who always gets the job done. “He never really excites you but always just does enough.”
Elliott added: “If you asked me my best chance going to Cheltenham, I’d say Delta Work. He doesn’t do anything fancy. He just does what he needs to do to win. I don’t know how good this horse could be. It might sound stupid but he could finish in the first four or five in the Gold Cup next year.”
Elliott downplayed the chances of his own Tiger Roll in the Cross Country Chase, saying he was surprised by the horse’s recent win over hurdles. But this was rubbished by A.P. who cut across the Meath man to say: “He’s an absolute certainty!”
Faugheen came out more favoured than Paisley Park for the Stayers’ Hurdle. Faugheen took a heavy fall at Leopardstown when last seen but Casey revealed: “He’s fine now. I’ve been watching him closely the last couple of mornings and he seems in as good form as he’s been all year.”
Gary O’Brien made the point that the three-mile trip will suit Faugheen. “He won a point-to-point early on, he won a three-mile novice hurdle as a younger horse as well.”
Turning to the Gold Cup, Russell was very reluctant to say too much about his intended ride, Presenting Percy. He singled out Clan Des Obeaux as the strongest threat to his hopes of winning a second Gold Cup.
Russell said he wasn’t at all concerned that Presenting Percy has not jumped a fence in public since last year’s Festival. Gary O’Brien, too, made no issue of that fact, stating: “The horse is in tip-top condition. Pat Kelly hasn’t put a foot wrong with the horse.”
David Casey admitted that Bellshill probably has to improve if he is to give Willie Mullins a first Gold Cup success.