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Keeping as close an eye on the Cheltenham Festival as possible

15 Mar 2017

Oisin Murphy rides another winner. We here his thoughts on the Cheltenham festival

Oisin Murphy and Surrey Hope bag a win on the all-weather at Kempton in March. Pic via racingfotos.com

I’ve been keeping myself on the straight and narrow for the past couple of weeks doing plenty of work riding out for lots of different trainers.

It’ll be more of the same this week but I’ll be keeping as close an eye on the Cheltenham Festival as possible!

I must start by saying what a huge thrill it was to see Jack Kennedy bag his first Cheltenham winner in the Supreme Novices Hurdle yesterday. To land a Festival Grade One at only 17 is such a freakish achievement.

I’ve known Jack a long time, having learnt to race-ride on the Irish pony racing circuit with him and it’s always been clear what a special talent he is. He just has an amazing knack of getting horses to run for him and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he were to be in the Winners’ Enclosure again at some stage this week.

Another jockey that deserves a heap of praise is Lisa O’Neill, who won the amateur race yesterday. I can’t think of any other sport where you can go from helping out in the back room to then landing a winner on the biggest stage like she did.

For Festival Day Three, I’ll have my patriotic hat on and will be backing the Irish to bring home the big prizes.

In the opener, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I can’t see past the Willie Mullins-trained favourite Yorkhill.

I was actually at Leopardstown to watch him school the other day and despite looking pretty sticky over his first couple of fences, he looked very slick over the rest and got better the further he travelled.

If they go a good gallop, as they should, then I think that’ll suit him down to the ground and he looks like he has more class than the rest of them.

In the Ryanair, I’m a big fan of Empire of Dirt. Gordon Elliott has made no secret that he thinks this horse is good enough to run in the Gold Cup, so that tells you he how highly thought of he is.

I’m not convinced that Un De Sceaux will like the good ground or the step up in distance and would back Uxizandre to be the one chasing Empire of Dirt home.

The Championship race of tomorrow, the Stayers Hurdle, looks to have a pretty bulletproof favourite in it in the shape of Unowhatimeanharry.

He’s won his last eight races and beaten pretty well everything he’s up against tomorrow already this season with relative ease, so it’s tough to see anything improving past him.

One other to look out for tomorrow in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle is one trained by my uncle Jim Culloty, Electric Concorde. He’s very well at home and at big odds could upset the applecart.

A word of warning though that he’ll need to be on his game as soon as the flag goes up. He has been known to be a little lazy at the start of his races and he won’t get away with that in a big-field handicap at Cheltenham.

You’ll be able to tell after the first few hurdles if he’s in with a squeak or not.

Onto Gold Cup day and (I’m probably being very Irish blinkered again here) but I really like the chances of Djakadam in the main event.

He’s been put away for this since a below par effort at Christmas and the vibes from the yard are that he’s coming into this year’s renewal with a much clearer run than any time before.

I rate the two Colin Tizzard horses, Cue Card and Native River, highly but just fancy this to be Djakadam’s year.

Finally, I’ll be watching the Foxhunters Chase with a keen eye as I root for On The Fringe to make it a hat-trick for trainer Enda Bolger.

I spent a few weeks at his yard as a kid and can honestly say that you won’t meet a nicer man in racing. He’s had so much success over the years and doesn’t really get the credit he deserves.

On the Fringe might be 12-year-old now but his comeback run was super impressive and I struggle to see any of these young horses improving past him. He’ll take all the beating for sure.