Nicky Henderson, all time top Festival Trainer with 58 Festival Winners, Racing Post 21st February 2018. 'You always say you'd settle for one and what you do settle for is a winner on day one. Its amazing what it does if you can get any winner on the first day.'
I said last year 'Watch for the jockeys/trainers who are just below the top tier with several Festival chances.' Well a slight change last year when the top tier guys got involved. More about 2017 below.
One Festival winner means well... Davy Russell - Racing Post March 2016. 'When you ride winners at Cheltenham it changes the look on everything really and changes the way people see you for a while. It means a huge amount.' Discussing the win on Mall Dini in the Pertemps, he says without hesitation, 'Ah yeah, it (Diamond King) would have helped, and I probably rode better on the Thursday because of it. That's the beauty of Cheltenham, when you ride a winner its a weight lifted.' Also some months after the 2014 Festival Davy Russell was interviewed in the RP Supplement and said that without the win on Tiger Roll in the Triumph he would never have ridden Lord Windermere as he did passing seven horse from the bottom of the hill to the winning post. He would 'have come there at the top of the hill, taken the lead early, finished 5th or 6th and everyone would have said what a great guy I was'.
In the film 'Being AP' they had a camera in the jockeys room on lunchtime on Champion Hurdle day for AP's last Festival. All jockeys including B Geraghty were just sitting there, no noise, no chat, just silence. Ruby talks over the pictures. He says something like 'The thing you notice about the jockeys at the Festival is the level of disappointment. So many jockeys in tears, sitting with their heads in their hands.' Remember Daryl Jacob's disappointment in 2014 after being caught on the line in the Pertemps by Fingal Bay? John Gosden - Racing Post 19th July 2015 - 'A horse will always sense an edgy atmosphere, someone who is nervous or a nervous jockey.'
So just how happy/relieved/de-stressed are they when they win one? Paul Townend had a losing run of 34 before Annie Power crumbled at the last in the 2015 Mares allowing Paul the chance to win on Glens Melody. He immediately followed up on Irish Cavalier and jogged round on Wicklow Brave later in the week. 4 timer in Limerick that Sunday. In 2017, his losing run was back up to 23, then he rides the top weight to win the County Hurdle. Seems to like that race. And what does Paul Townend do when he rides a Festival winner? He immediately rides another one. Penhill in the Albert Bartlett. Davy Russell (again) won on five successive Festival rides between 2014 and 2015, the last being Rivage D'Or in the cross country. That horse was a real stats crusher and hadn't gone a yard in the two races previous or in any race it ran since. 'Going easily 2 out, led last, ridden out.' Wins by 2 and 1/4 lengths. Davy's confidence that day can't have been a hindrance.
In 2015 Sam Twiston Davies was on a Festival losing run of 28 before Aux Ptit Soins in the Coral Cup. Relief? Self Confidence? 30 minutes later he was on Dodging Bullets and winning the Queen Mother. P Nicholls stable then on fire. 1-2 in Fred Winter. STD does have previous for this type of behaviour. Remember the Sam Winner long distance chase ride immediately followed by Caid Du Berlais on the 2014 Paddy Power Saturday?
2016 Well, to include Ruby, Min didn't fire but Douvan did in the Arkle. Weight lifted from shoulders? David Casey helped him onto Annie Power, saying 'don't look back'. He didn't.
The Twiston-Davies family. On the 2016 Wednesday Ryan Hatch got Blaklion up for Nigel in the RSA. STD got lucky in the 4yr old h'cap hurdle and then the Twiston-Davies family got together for the bumper. Sam seems a lovely lad who can be very hard on himself when things go wrong. But he seems to be a streak jockey when things go right. On the Friday Paul Nichols wins the Martin Pipe which meant that Paul, Graham Wylie and STD each had now two winners for the week. Then all three came together with Solar Impulse in the Grand Annual, pulled up last time out, was never out of the first two here, could be called the winner half a mile from home. 40s to 28s very quickly. Of the three people involved, people tell me that owners don't have any influence. Perhaps, at least you could say that the horse wouldn't have noticed any edginess or nerves from Mr Wylie. Gigginstown 4 timer Gold Cup Day 2014? Perhaps they just have the best horses.
2016 Gold Cup - Bryan Cooper got lucky when Empire Of Dirt didn't fall early in the Mildmay. As he had one of the big jobs that may have made him more relaxed for Don Cossack in the GC. Don't know. Paddy Brennan has been on the Festival Cold List for some time. That was his big chance of the week and his own words about the Cue Card fall 3 out, 'in hindsight, you might have done something different'. Colin Tizzard February 16th suggests that 'Paddy may have just panicked when the horse took off on him'.
Compare Davy Russell's view with Aidan Coleman interviewed January 22nd 2017 Racing Post Supplement. Aidan - 'I've never been disappointed, because the week has always gone as I'd expected it to go. I want to do better, I need to do better because it doesn't look great but it is what it is. I don't lose any sleep over it.' Hopefully its a brave face you were putting on but I don't see much of the Being AP hunger there, Aidan.
2017 Rollercoaster - Altior wins Arkle for Nicky, does that make everyone chilled that the Big One has obliged? I'm sure it but it didn't hold back Buveur D'Air nor Might Bite. G Elliott finishes with a first day treble, Labaik and Apples Jade can only have helped Lisa O'Neill's confidence as she got the leg up on Tiger Roll. Another back to back stable double Wednesday with JJ Codd on Cause Of Causes and Fayonagh. Supasundae gentle strolls to Coral Cup glory. Harrington stable in form. After Sizing John Robbie Power on Rock The World Grand Annual said he 'just floated around'.
But the big momentum winner last year was W Mullins. Douvan didn't fire and although the horses hadn't run badly, no winners by Wednesday tea time. Gordon had five by that stage and people were saying that Willie 'had gone at the game'. Well, no. The Willie Mullins 2017 Thursday saw him saddle four winners in the first five races, including the three G1s. Then on Friday he made in 6 wins in 9 races with the Paul Townend. I personally think that Yorkhill was the most important of these. Don't tell me that once he obliged, the whole Closutton organisation didn't let out a huge sigh of relief and everybody relaxed a little. I'm sure Ruby relaxed as well. 'We're on the board.'
Apart from Aidan Coleman this is so important to these people. Now, for betting purposes. Check if the winning jockey/stable has a horse under 20/1 for the rest of the day. Be prepared to change tack. We usually think these races stand alone as events. I'm not sure that's always true.
PS. Barry Geraghty's only win in 2016 was on Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Triumph first race Friday. As he circled at the top of the hill after his success, Alice, the C4 lady, sticks the mike under his nose and asks, 'Where have you been all week Barry, I've been looking for you?' The man has 34 Festival successes and a winner every year since 2011 (apart from when injured 2017) but it might be true to say that momentum was not the thing working for Barry in 2016. My Tent or Yours (a good second) was practically his only exercise on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he suffered on beaten favourites Yanworth and More Of that. Campeador might have got things rolling in the Fred Winter, but no. I'm sure he had a great seat to watch his old friend Sprinter Sacre, and JP's horses clean up in the amateur races. B Geraghty rarely gives much away. I'm not sure when he muttered in reply 'Oh, I've been about.' that he seemed all that happy with Alice that day.
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