I remember nearly having heart-failure before the start of the 2009 Fairyhouse Winter Festival as there was talk of calling off the meeting due to fog. I had been booked on some excellent rides for Noel Meade as I think Paul Carberry was in England and unavailable. I did not want to miss out on the opportunity to get on those horses because of fog! Wexford was abandoned the same day, and the next day at Fairyhouse was also abandoned. Fortunately, the racing went ahead on Saturday and three of my four rides for Noel were winners.
A start like that can really set you up for the season and it will be the same for the runners and riders lining up this weekend. As a jumps jockey you can’t wait for this time of the year, you know the good horses are coming. If you can rattle off a few winners this weekend, it motivates you. You suddenly have hopes and ambitions for the rest of the season. You may feel you now have a Cheltenham horse or an Aintree horse on your hands. Winners at this time of year can be a big boost to the confidence of a jockey and can also setup the prospect of more good rides in the season to come. And it is not just about winners, horse you have been working with going well will also give you a lot of confidence for the season.
This confidence will feed into the whole yard. The trainer, the staff, the horses, everything. Equally, a disappointing start to the season can be demoralising. It’s all a confidence game.
This year’s Winter Festival begins with Saturday’s Beginner’s Chase (11.30). Willie Mullins’ Monkfish is my pick. He beat Latest Exhibition in a tight finish at Cheltenham last year in his first run over fences and should be very hard to beat in this race.
Ballyadam deserves to be favourite in the 1st Grade 1 on Sunday, the BARONERACING.COM Royal Bond Novice Hurdle (1:05pm). He looked very good winning his maiden in Down Royal, his jumping was very slick. For a horse going in with only one run, he is going to be a short enough price. However, sometimes experience can be beat talent. Concertisita, trained by Willie Mullins, has a lot of experience and bolted in to win a Grade 2 around Cheltenham. If she turns up, she might give Ballyadam a run for his money. However, she is also entered in the Mares race on Saturday, so, might target that. Another horse of Mullins’, Shewearsitwell is also worth keeping an eye on.
Envoi Allen must be on everybody’s Ten To Follow list and everybody’s favourite for the Novice Chase (1:35pm). And rightly so. What he did in Down Royal was exceptional. For a very big horse he is very nimble and has taken to fences like a duck to water. Gordon Elliott, Jack Kennedy and everyone involved with him will really be up going into this race. I also like Andy Dufresne and I would hope to see him there at the second last with Envoi Allen. He’s got experience having won recently over two miles at Wexford and the step up to 2m4f should be ideal. It is hard to see anything beating Envoi Allen, but Andy Dufresne should be the one that gets closest to him.
In the Hatton’s Grace (2.35) Honeysuckle looks unbeatable. She’s getting 7lb off them and you’d have to think if she was even three-quarters fit, she’d still win. Even without the weight off, I think she is just a different animal in comparison to the opposition. She hasn’t run in a while but that wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, Henry de Bromhead will have her very well prepared. I can’t see past her for the race.
I will also be keeping an eye on my Ten To Follow horse Flinteur Sacre at Newbury on Friday (12:15pm). If he’s a shadow of this brother Sprinter Sacre, he’ll be very good. He was very good winning his bumper and looks like a lovely, easy going jumping type. Hopefully, he can do the business and go on to bigger things.