PAT HEALY: Cheltenham Week has arrived – Pat’s latest views ahead of Tuesday’s opening race. Not content with trying to find some winners this week though he already has his eyes on Cheltenham 2024! ….

Back in the winners’ enclosure after 35 years

The highlight of the weekend was the last race at Limerick on Sunday, where 66-year-old Liam Burke won the bumper.

What an achievement. It’s just a shame that it happened on the eve of Cheltenham, as can you imagine if it had been on an ordinary weekend in racing – I’ve no doubt he would have broken the internet!

Despite that, it was great to see Liam on the front page of Monday’s Irish Daily Mirror and the story was well covered in the likes of the Examiner newspaper.

It’s brilliant for racing. He’s a lovely man and it was great to be there to witness it. I actually photographed the last winner he rode in 1988 at Killarney races. To have your last racecourse success 35 years ago and come back for more, just shows you the type of man he is. Hopefully he’ll back it up in a couple of weeks with the same horse [Teuchters Glory] as he’s obviously a decent animal.

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One for Cheltenham 2024

Ferns Lock won the Hunters’ Chase on the card at Gowran Park on Saturday. On the eve of the Cheltenham Festival, I’m telling you now to put Ferns Lock in your notebook for the Festival next year.

This is a racehorse. He’ll probably turn up in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham next year all being well. He’s only a six-year-old so there’s plenty of time for him, but what he’s done on his last couple of runs has been awfully impressive.

Barry O’Neill couldn’t pull him up after he crossed the line on Saturday, and he went round right into the back straight again. It was a huge performance with the ground being so heavy.

I’ve no doubt he’ll be one of the Cheltenham favourites next year.

Preparing for Cheltenham

We’re heading over to Cheltenham today [Monday]. I’m travelling with my nephew Sean, bookmaker Berkie Browne and Spike Murphy.

We rent a house nearby for a few days and of course we’re all looking forward to it.

There’s a great buzz, with many people travelling over and everyone’s excited and that’s the way it should be. Already this morning we met Brian Gleeson and his son John, who will be riding favourite A Dream To Share in the Champion Bumper.

In the racing calendar, it’s a unique race meeting. What has happened with Cheltenham over the last 15 years is phenomenal, it’s now a commercial juggernaut.

My first trip to Cheltenham was in 1991 and the Irish challenge at the Festival was not even a relation to what it is now. Back then if the Irish had two or three winners over the three days, it was a great Festival. Trainers only brought five or so horses over, that was all.

Then of course Willie [Mullins] arrived in 1995 and had his first Cheltenham winner with Tourist Attraction. Since then, he’s only raised the bar and he’s now on the cusp of 100 Festival winners. If he doesn’t break the 100 mark this year, he will do it in 2024.

Ireland’s dominance in the racing industry, from breeding to training to riding, and even now to having the biggest owners wanting to have horses in Ireland, has really contributed to the whole meeting.

When you think that this year Willie [Mullins] will probably have about 80 runners and Gordon [Elliott] probably about 70, if you were told those figures 15 years ago, you would have laughed. That’s where Irish racing is.

Irish dominance

I think it’s going to be tough to beat 23 winners from two years ago, but I would expect to be coming back with 18 to 20 Irish winners.

I just want to wish everyone, all the stable staff, owners, trainers and jockeys all the best. Please God all the jockeys and horses come back safe.

Champion Hurdle

This is the clash. It’s Ireland against England, it’s Willie Mullins against Nicky Henderson. The English have the favourite and the Irish are coming over to challenge, this is what Cheltenham is all about.

If what we’ve seen and what everyone says is correct, then Constitution Hill (pictured below) will be tough to beat. I’m hoping that State Man can make a race of it. For me, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock if State Man won.

I’m an Irishman and I also love the game, so if Constitution Hill puts in a performance and wins by six lengths, I’m going to enjoy it and I’m going to applaud him, because at the end of the day I just want to see fantastic horses.

Champion Chase

Energumene and Edwardstone are at the top of the market, and it looks set to be a great rematch after they faced each other in Cheltenham last time. I’m hoping for an Irish winner!

Stayers’ Hurdle

I’m hoping Blazing Khal (pictured below) wins. It would be a fantastic success for Charles Byrnes with his son Philip riding. If Charles has him 100 percent fit, I think he’ll win.

Gold Cup

Ireland have a strong hand with Galopin Des Champs and Conflated. Listening to everyone, if Galopin stays the trip then he’ll win. He was very impressive at Leopardstown, and Paul [Townend] struggled to pull him up afterwards, which would make you feel he’ll stay the trip.

But again, if A Plus Tard comes back to his best and puts in the same performance as 12 months ago, you’d have to say he’s going to be hard to beat.

I think there’ll be an Irish winner and for me Conflated has an each-way chance.

Until next week.

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