Three weeks to go - who are the bookies fearing?
With the Cheltenham Festival in touching distance we caught up with Barry Orr from Betfair and Brett Williams from Unibet to find out which horses have impressed them most so far this season and which names are keeping the traders awake at night.
So Brett let's start with you, which race are you must looking forward to and why?
Obviously I’m very excited about the Unibet Champion Hurdle and it will be fantastic if Buveur D’Air and Faugheen can make it their in one piece. But there is no doubt the Supreme really gets the Festival off to a fantastic start when the runners come into line and the roar from the crowd sends shivers down your spine, it is simply indescribable. The field is packed of horses with untapped potential and I love witnessing their future progression.
Which Novice Hurdlers have caught your eye this season and what race would you like to see them run in?
I have been very impressed with Getabird and he looks the real deal. I was lucky to visit Willie Mullins’ yard last month and see the horse for myself. He’s not that big but is very strong and compact - like a pocket rocket. I suspect he’ll head for the Supreme which seems the ideal race for him and I believe he could be the next big thing.
Which Novice Chasers have caught your eye this season and what race would you like to see them run in?
This is a pretty weak division in my opinion as nothing has really captured my imagination. Yanworth hasn’t looked a natural but was good in the Dipper and I suspect he will get better with more experience over fences but he hasn’t impressed me by any means. If I was calling the shots I’d run him in the RSA as he doesn’t do anything quickly unlike Footpad who is a ball of speed and I can see him going very well in the Arkle.
As a bookmaker which horses are your biggest antepost worries at the moment?
Anything trained in Ireland! That said, Might Bite is by far our biggest liability in the Gold Cup so we are happy to take him on in what looks a wide open race. A win for Samcro in the Ballymore would also be a bad result for Unibet while Presenting Percy has been well backed for the RSA and NH Chase and would be a poor result for us in either of those races. However, at this stage, Apple’s Shakira has been very strong all season and is one of our biggest liabilities of the whole week.
What is your most memorable/favourite Cheltenham moment?
There is no doubt it’s Istabraq. I remember finishing school at lunchtime to go home so I could watch the racing and there was only one horse every tv pundit, jockey, trainer and owner were talking about, and it was Istabraq. He bolted up in what was the Sun Alliance in 1997 before winning three consecutive Unibet Champion Hurdles. He was amazing to watch and just oozed class. I’d love to have seen him take on Faugheen when they were both at the peak of their powers - that would be some race! It was also good to see One Man gain a deserved festival success in the 1998 Champion Chase after two failed attempts at the Gold Cup.
And so Barry, from Betfair's perspective, which horse is your biggest antepost worry at the moment?
Footpad in the Arkle has been punted off the boards and the liabilities on Samcro are mounting with Betfair.
Which Novice Hurdlers and Chasers have caught your eye this season and what race would you like to see them run in?
Apples Shakira looks a very smart horse and if connection go down the Mares Novice Hurdle, and they may well as they also have Espoir D'Allen in the Triumph, she will make them all go. I have never seen a novice jump a fence with such an appetite as Footpad. He looks an absolute monster and the Arkle is at his mercy.
Which horse are you most looking forward to seeing this year at the Festival?
The legend that is Cause of Causes. He’s has established himself as a standing order at the festival now and its warriors like him that keep us all coming back for more.
What is your most memorable Cheltenham moment?
Easy, the 1994 Queen Mother Champion Chase. Viking Flagship, Deep Sensation and Travado went at it hammer and tongs from some way out. They jumped the last in unison and fought out the most thrilling finish I have every witnessed. Viking Flagship and Adrian Maguire just prevailed but the other two lost little in defeat. For younger readers, I urge you to watch the race on YouTube. You won’t be disappointed.
Do you think the Irish will be as successful as last year?
They are sure to have another excellent year as the ammunition which Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins have is freighting but Nicky Henderson may pip them both to the top trainer award.