As the weeks roll by you can feel the tension and the tangible air of excitement as the big day draws ever closer and we had a fantastic day last Tuesday when around fifty of the greatest scribes (and Dave Mitchell), television and radio presenters attended our annual Cheltenham Festival Press Day.  Last week we brought you daily videos of the horses parading for the media and we will continue to do that this week, so do pay a visit to Chester’s Daily Chat.  Meanwhile, below you will find a video of Gerry Supple as he gives an insight into what goes on behind the scenes and how the staff deal with the increasing pressure leading up to the finest four days of jump racing in the world.

Gerry Supple Press Day

Following on from Franklin Roosevelt’s success last Monday, we notched an across-the-card double on Tuesday with the successes of Edmund Kean at my local track Taunton, as well as No Secrets at Wetherby.  Edmund Kean is rapidly improving and won readily here under Conor O’Farrell despite the fact that he will probably improve further for a stiffer test on a more galloping track.  He could next go for the final of the EBF novices’ hurdle at Sandown the Saturday before Cheltenham, while he does hold an entry for my dad’s race at the Festival although he might struggle to get in there.

No Secrets proved to be something of a revelation by winning at Wetherby with an exemplary round of jumping.  He has always been a quality individual but he was scarcely recognisable from the horse we schooled prior to the Christmas period, such was the extent of improvement in his fencing.

Friday saw the stable record a fabulous four-timer with doubles at Warwick and Sandown and a couple of those winners could have connotations to next month’s Festival.  Broadway Buffalo managed to take his unbeaten record to four with success in the National Hunt novices’ hurdle at Warwick while Shotavodka followed-up his impressive Taunton success with another polished performance at Sandown, this time under champion jockey A P McCoy.

Ballynagour_Warwick_220213The highlight of the day though was certainly Ballynagour (pictured right) who made short work of his rivals in the Budbrooke Handicap Chase at Warwick under Tom Scudamore on his debut for the yard.  Taking up the running down the back straight on the final circuit he easily pulled 19 lengths clear of his rivals and is now a short price for one of the Cheltenham Festival handicaps, for which he has six engagements.  He showed useful form in Ireland and France but had something of an in and out profile and that would go some way to explaining his initial handicap rating of 122.  We can expect quite a sizeable hike in the weights for this success and consequently we will wait to see what the handicapper does and choose the easiest option for him next month.  If you were suitably impressed by the manner of his victory on Friday and you were tempted to have a little bet on him I would advise finding a bookmaker who is offering the non-runner, no bet concession.

Another who may have booked his ticket for the Cheltenham Festival was the David Johnson owned Doctor Harper who was the final leg of our four-timer when winning the concluding bumper at Sandown.  Defying a penalty and conceding weight to all of his rivals in what looked (on paper at least) to be a decent bumper, Timmy Murphy gave him a masterful ride.  Switching his charge around runner-up The Clock Leary a furlong out, he showed a really likeable attitude to get on top close home.  The form of his Taunton debut success has been franked and he could well join The Liquidator in the Festival bumper.

Volt_Face_TowcesterOn Sunday Volt Face made a successful racecourse debut at Towcester proving to be yet another promising young bumper performer – like another of our National Hunt flat winners Red Sherlock , he will be put away now until next season.  Meanwhile Shoegazer continued his improvement over fences by winning his fifth chase of the campaign at Fontwell in the Josh Gifford Memorial novices’ chase.  It is a great honour to win the inaugural running of the race run in the late great trainer’s name at his local track – I couldn’t be there as it was my son Jack’s third birthday, however owner Wayne Clifford was on hand to collect the trophy and was thrilled to add it to his burgeoning cabinet!

While we are on the subject of trophies I was delighted to receive an award at Kempton on Saturday for Swing Bowler who was named the OLBG mare of the month following her tremendous third to My Tent Or Yours in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.  This may have marked her first defeat, but it was yet another step up the hurdling ranks and she remains firmly on course for the County Hurdle at Cheltenham next month.  Many thanks to OLBG for their generous sponsorship and continued support of our sport.

Looking to the week ahead the weights for the Festival handicaps will be announced on Thursday and then we can start the serious business of trawling through the form books to find the best opportunities for our entries.  Talking of which, I notice that Katkeau who finished a close runner-up at Kempton on Saturday is favourite with some bookmaking firms for my father’s race.  To say I find this incredible is something of an understatement when you consider that his revised rating of 125 means he is most unlikely to even get into the race!

Onto the Grand National and one of our hopefuls, Hennessy fourth The Package could well turn out in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster this Saturday or take in one of the handicaps at Cheltenham en route to Aintree.

Don’t forget to keep up to date with all the latest news and videos by visiting Chester’s Daily Chat…