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Ed Chamberlin’s five wishes for the week

Our columnist has five Cheltenham wishes – and one nightmare scenario he’s hoping to avoid in front of the ITV cameras.


1. Let Tuesday shine

My first wish is that the first day of the festival gets off to a brilliant start. There’s a lot on paper. It starts with an intriguing Sky Bet Supreme, then a proper head-to-head between Ireland and Great Britain at the Sporting Life Arkle with El Fabiolo versus Jonbon.

It then goes into the ultima for a wide-open race that ITV players will love and then Constitution Hill could absolutely light up the place in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. It doesn’t even stop there.

Right after that you have the best renewal of Mares’ Hurdle yet as we say goodbye to Honeysuckle. Whatever happens, she and Rachael Blackmore are given a rousing reception from the crowd at Cheltenham. I’m sure she will do a lap of honor around the Cheltenham parade ring, win, lose or draw.

It promises to be the most extraordinary day and we need it because the build-up to Cheltenham has been anything but easy. It was far from a vintage season, in fact it was quite a struggle, especially with the weather, the stop-start nature of the campaign with the Frost and Forsaken.

We’ve seen small fields formed for lack of rain and all the negative headlines that have accompanied the new whip rules. It feels like in my football days they decided to change the offside rules just before the sport’s biggest event, say a World Cup.

Let’s hope Tuesday can lift everyone’s spirits and showcase this great sport in the best possible light.

2. A true champion within a champion

I hope Constitution Hill does something spectacular. This sport has proven that what sells it to the British public in the first place is the horses. They are the stars, they are our showcase of what we need to promote and at Constitution Hill we have one that could resonate well beyond racing.

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He’s not there yet, far from it, but he’s made some good steps towards it and could be very, very good, but Tuesday is his day of reckoning. We need him to show his stuff, have the power to clear up the hill and easily beat State Man from my perspective. Just like Sir Henry Cecil who had Frankel in the twilight of his career could have found Nicky Henderson The one. This could be the milestone horse in the twilight of his own career and we could be witnessing something very, very special.

3. David will triumph again

The Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase is the most intriguing tactical battle of the week, can’t wait for Ruby Walsh and the team to get stuck into it.

It’s a rematch from Clarence House where the only talk beforehand was that Paul Townend had a mark on his back for Tom Cannon and it looked like Energumene was being pursued by Edwardstone and that’s exactly what happened.

He beat the Irish attacker but hadn’t expected Editeur Du Gite to be so brilliant from the front and it was only that second try to get close to the leader that gave Edwardstone away as he wasn’t ready to race.

The reaction afterwards was very revealing. I like Alan King but he would be one of the worst losers in the training ranks but he was smiling and made no secret of the feeling that they had lost the battle but were going to win the war and I think Edwardstone will actually land the Champion Chase. He’s one of my bets of the week and I’ll settle it on ITV as David vs Goliath.

The two Edwardstone owners say they have bred many slow horses and are charming and engaging to us, competing against the might of Closutton and Willie Mullins plus Brighton owner Tony Bloom. I hope David can defeat Goliath again.

4. One more golden hour please

We’ve been spoiled on ITV Thursdays for the last few years. We had Flooring Porter, his syndicate owners and Danny Mullins, which was great fun. Before that we had the golden hour when Bryony Frost and Frodon won Ryanair and just as you were wiping away the tears Paisley Park and Andrew Gemmell got you going again.

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Paisley could put the roof back up and I mentioned Honeysuckle before, but can you imagine the reception Emma Lavelle’s protégé would get if he could sneak back into a seat in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and return to this incredible amphitheater like the hero he has been.

Before that we have Shishkin at Ryanair and he is a public horse. He’s done it twice at the festival and is a horse that people know.

They also know he’s been through that rocky period and bounced back at Ascot and if he can win – which frankly isn’t a Ryanair renewal – he’ll get a very special reception too and Cheltenham will take Nicky Henderson to their hearts. It could be a wonderful moment.

5. A Gold Cup that meets all criteria

My wish for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup has already been granted – this is the perfect renewal for terrestrial television. People will open their newspapers on Friday morning and see a large field. I can almost guarantee the bookies will come out and play with brilliant course conditions and that is what the sport needs.

We want big field sizes, each way betting and the kind of races that people want to get into and that’s what we have here.

I have great stories to tell, too. We have a potential superstar in the sport in Galopin Des Champs, a defending champion ridden by Rachael Blackmore which is a huge plus, a Grand National winner in Noble Yeats who everyone knows too.

There’s the fairy tale story of Hewick, an £800 horse who has won prizes in America, a US Grand National, a bet365 Gold Cup and a Galway Plate. Victory for him would be a story. Going for gold this time for Gordon Elliott and the O’Learys, Conflated is a big player.

There is a King George winner in Bravemansgame that is part of a strong home defense which is great. Ahoy Senor for Lucinda Russell and Peter Scudamore would be popular and the Skeltons join the party with Betfair Chase winners Protectorate.

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It’s a Gold Cup with everything and as much as I’d love to see Galopin Des Champs blast the race apart and emerge as a true superstar, I’ve had each-way bets on Stattler and Noble Yeats and would love it if they run well too!

It’s the best Gold Cup we’ve had at ITV – it packs a punch.


PS My biggest fear…

I don’t want disqualification – or even talk of it. I don’t want to mention the whip all week if I can help it because it hasn’t been released to the public and has been a racing story that gets hot under our collars within the sport.

It hasn’t reached the public and I don’t want it to – it’s potentially so damaging to racing. If we get through the festival without talking about it, I’d be so relieved, but unfortunately also a bit surprised.

I was against disqualifications for the whip from day one. We’ve talked about this a lot on the Sporting Life Podcast and I see taking the decision to the Whip Review Committee as the lesser evil.

I would much rather do it than trigger disqualifications that day but let’s face it we’re looking at these big races right now and counting which is so sad. I just hope the jockeys play ball this week, I’m sure they will, or at least hope they will. But if it’s almost 11 strikes then we need to highlight it on ITV – from a journalistic perspective it’s our responsibility to do that if we get to the stage where we could be disqualified in one of the big races.

Analyzing the use of the whip is a nightmare, but I’m afraid it could happen during the week, and worse if I have to give a presentation and I think these connections know full well they’re going to lose that prize on Tuesday.

That’s my biggest fear, but there’s also so much to look forward to. I can’t wait for it to arrive now.


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