Alastair Down and the Cheltenham Festival are natural bedfellows. They are each to be treasured by those who love National Hunt racing. When Alastair offers his opinion on the meeting I sit up and listen.
So what does he think of Many Clouds? The winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup last November proved many punters wrong when holding off the two greys, Dynaste and Smad Place, to win the Grade 2 Chase at Cheltenham.
Trainer Oliver Sherwood is in no doubt that his Many Clouds offers him a solid opportunity to win the Gold Cup in March.
And Alastair Down agrees.
He says: “I’ve backed two. Djakadam and Many Clouds. Djakadam is a very serious contender and Many Clouds has improved to be right at the centre of the picture.
“Many Clouds is impressive jumping, he’s good and quickly away from his fences. If he can jump like that off a stronger pace in the Gold Cup he’ll be saving ground and energy at every fence. As the tap turns on and the race begins to simmer away he’d still be full of energy because his jumping had kept him there.
“Jumping for him is not an issue at all. When the Gold Cup comes to a boil they often start making mistakes. Many Clouds doesn’t look as though he will. Many Clouds is emerging as the complete, rounded, staying chaser and I want to be with him.”
Alastair is confident when it comes to selecting the winner of the Arkle. He says: “Un De Sceaux is a shoe-in for the Arkle and he’ll go off odds on. I am a big fan of the horse. He jumps impeccably.”
And finally, Alastair Down on the prospect of what could be a thrilling Champion Hurdle: “I think people rule Jezki out at their peril. He’s a very unsung Champion Hurdler. I think the market has probably got it right with Faugheen and The New One. I wouldn’t rule out the The New One. I think he has that turn of foot which is essential in a Champion Hurdle. I doubt I will have a bet in this race, but if I did I’d probably go for The New One rather than Faugheen.”
It’s a shame Alastair Down is no longer presenting for Channel 4 at the Cheltenham Festival. But I know he’ll enjoy himself all the more for not having to.