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Dublin: 6 °C Monday 25 March, 2019
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Katie Walsh: My picks for the Cheltenham Festival

The retired jockey gives her thoughts on the eve of the opening race.

Walsh after winning with Relegate at last year's Cheltenham Festival.
Walsh after winning with Relegate at last year's Cheltenham Festival.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

CHELTENHAM IS A very special place and even though I’m not riding this year, I still can’t wait for the Festival to get started.

There really is nothing like riding a Cheltenham Festival winner, the feeling is incredible and I was very lucky to have a few winners there.

With the strange weather we’ve had this season there are a number of horses we haven’t see all that much of, but that just adds to the intrigue.

TUESDAY

Champion Hurdle

This should be a fantastic race. I hope it comes back to Ireland in the form of Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and Laurina (7/2) . My heart says that obviously. I’m also a massive fan of Apple’s Jade (2/1), she’s won 10 Grade Ones, which says it all.

My only fear for her is going left-handed, if it was right-handed she’d be the banker of the week. I know she’s won at Cheltenham before, but she’s also disappointed there. She tends to jump a bit right and I don’t know if you can afford to do that in a Champion Hurdle.

The hurdles at Cheltenham tend to be going a bit left, rather than straight so it’s a bit more exaggerated for her than somewhere like Leopardstown. They’re always rolling left because of camber and that’s my biggest fear with her.

Buveur D’Air (11/4) is coming back for his third Champion Hurdle, he’s been there and done it. I suppose I can see him tracking her and then coming with one go up the straight.

Laurina has been very good with everything she’s done so far, no-one knows how good she is, but Apple’s Jade has so much experience on her side.

It’s a very hard race to call, but I do think Sharjah (16/1) is a massive each-way price. He’s been in great form this season and I could definitely see him running into a place.

Dublin Racing Festival - Day One - Leopardstown Racecourse Gordon Elliott and Apple's Jade. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Other Races

Ruby says that Benie Des Dieux (Evs) is his best chance of a winner all week, so that’s good enough for me.

She won there last year, of course it’s not ideal that she hasn’t run so far this season, but they’ve done it so many times with different horses over the years like Quevega and Annie Power.

I could see Us And Them (14/1) running a big race in the Arkle, he’s a very big price. He’s been second to his stablemate Le Richebourg on his last two starts and he was going to go off favourite for this if I was running.

I see no reason why he can’t be placed.

WEDNESDAY

Betway Champion Chase

Altior (2/5) can’t be beaten, can he? He’s the English banker. I’m really looking forward to him and I hope the same Altior as last year turns up. Everyone likes to see a Champion win again, no-one wants to see them beaten.

Min (4/1) is a very good horse, he’s been unlucky to bump into Altior twice at the Festival. I think he’ll finish second again on Wednesday, but if for some reason Altior disappoints, he’ll be there to pick up the pieces.

Dublin Racing Festival - Day One - Leopardstown Racecourse Min, ridden by Ruby Walsh. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Other Races

I’m a big fan of Delta Work (15/8) in the RSA Chase, he deserves to be a short price favourite. He’s not flashy, he just sticks his neck out and tries. He gets it done. He beat Le Richebourg earlier in the season and that form is all tying together nicely.

Joseph O’Brien has a very strong team of juveniles and Band Of Outlaws (6/1) looks to have an obvious chance in the Fred Winter having won his last two well.

I do think introducing the Fred Winter a few years ago was a very good thing, it’s made the Triumph Hurdle a stronger race.

THURSDAY

Stayers’ Hurdle

Like many others, I have a real soft spot for Faugheen (4/1). Everyone was delighted to see him get back on his feet after his fall at Leopardstown on the last day. It would have been nice if he’d stayed up to see how far he would have pushed Apple’s Jade. He was travelling very well at the time.

We know he handles the trip, he’s won at Cheltenham before and I’m sure there’s life in the old dog yet. Ruby’s very happy with him.

Paisley Park (13/8) couldn’t have done it any easier in the Cleeve. He’s kind of sluggish, but then he gets there and comes right back on the bridle. It looked like there was plenty left in the locker the last day.

I suppose you could question the form slightly and he needed to win like that to justify the price he is now.

Willie Mullins Stable Visit Faugheen at Willie Mullins' yard in Carlow. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Other Races

I’m a big fan of Monalee (4/1) and I’d be leaning towards him in the Ryanair. I think this is his ideal trip, he’s been beaten at the last two Festivals over three miles and dropping back will suit. He won very well the last day.

Footpad (10/3) will obviously be a big danger, as will Road To Respect 9/2 who comes here instead of the Gold Cup. Hopefully this one will be coming back to Ireland and I’ll stick with Monalee.

FRIDAY

Gold Cup

I’m a big Presenting Percy (7/2) fan. After last year in the RSA, if I was a betting person, I’d have definitely backed him for the Gold Cup.

Pat Kelly is a very shrewd man and the horse was very good in Gowran in the Galmoy Hurdle the last day. It doesn’t bother me that he hasn’t run over fences this season. They’ll have done plenty with him, he’s won at Cheltenham for the last two years and he ticks all the right boxes.

Clan Des Obeaux (4/1) was very good in the King George and Paul Nicholls’ horses are in great form, so he has to have a chance.

Native River (4/1) won it really well last year and all the recent rain will help him. I just feel he’s going to have to produce something from last year’s form.

It’s a competitive year and it looks a strong race. Whatever wins it’s going to be a proper Gold Cup, not like the year when Lord Windermere won it.

Bellshill (12/1) could be the best each-way play in the race. He carried top weight in the Irish National last year and was a little unlucky not to win it. He’ll definitely stay.

I’m a fan of Kemboy (9/1) , but the race over Christmas was falsely run and there’d have to be a bit of a question mark over that.

2018 Cheltenham Festival - Ladies Day - Cheltenham Racecourse Presenting Percy and Davy Russell. Source: Steven Paston

Other Races

Hopefully Sir Erec (Evs) can get over his stone bruise because he’s probably the biggest Irish banker of the week. I was with Mark Walsh the other day and he can’t wait for it to come around.

He was very good the last day and he’s a very high-class flat horse. He jumps really well and he just looks brilliant. Let’s hope he gets there.

I’m not sure the Foxhunters is the strongest race this year and I could see Shantou Flyer (8/1) running well. He was second at the Festival last year and loves the track.

Prestbury Cup

It will probably be a bit closer this year, but I think it will be coming back to Ireland all the same. We’ve got a strong hand and hopefully we’ll edge it.

This article was originally published on the Betway Insider blog

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Katie Walsh

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