Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Attending the 2017 Cheltenham Preview Night in the Woodlands Hotel were Butch Moore, Daithi and Jason Power from Waterford City with top Irish NH jockey Davy Russell. Photo: Sean Byrne//Deise Media. 

I don’t know if it’s just me but it seems as if February just disappeared this year. I thought January
went on forever but it’s successor absolutely flew, meaning that this coming Thursday is the first of March and that means two things.
Firstly it’s the night of this year’s Woodlands Hotel Ladbrokes Cheltenham Preview night and secondly it’s the first day of the greatest month of the year, March, the month that gives us with the wonderful gift that is the Cheltenham Festival each year.
You can have Christmas, Easter, Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day, which also falls in March….for us National Hunt racing fans the month that we look forward to most in the year is March and those four glorious days in the Cotswolds as Prestbury Park in Cheltenham becomes the centre of our universe and amazingly it all kicks off two weeks today on Tuesday, March 13.
As the excitement and the anticipation begins to build and build, there really is no better way to get yourself ‘match fit’ and ‘prepared’ for the Cheltenham Festival than by attending a Cheltenham Preview Night. It’s part of the tradition and the good thing is that you nearly always pick up a few bits of information or opinion that can sway you towards backing a winner or two.
In that regard we are very lucky here in Waterford in that we have one of the very best, if not the best, Cheltenham Preview night of them all, and that’s including all the ones in Ireland and the UK.
Since it began in 2007, the Woodlands Cheltenham Preview Night has gone from strength to strength and each year the hall is packed from early on to listen to the best panel anywhere and this year is no exception.
Once again Sean Carey, Brian Gleeson and all involved in organising this great event have assembled a star studded panel and it even has a few notable newcomers to the Woodlands’ stage. Two ever presents at this event return on Thursday night, in the shape of John Francome and Jim McGrath. Francome is a seven time British Champion National Hunt jockey who rode ten Cheltenham Festival winners in his career and was the leading jockey at the 1981 Festival. Jim McGrath is a brilliant student of the formbook through his work with Timeform and as a long time Channel 4 racing pundit. John and Jim are hugely popular return visitors to the Woodlands.
Another man who is a firm favourite at this event year after year is current former Irish champion jockey and looking good to regain that title this season, Youghal’s Davy Russell, who is never short of an opinion on racing and never shy about sharing it.
Another Cheltenham Festival winning jockey returning to the panel this year is Waterford native and now assistant trainer to Willie Mullins, David Casey.
Kerry native, Bryan Cooper, won the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Don Cossack, returns to the Woodlands for a second visit as does trainer, former amateur champion, TV pundit and father of Cheltenham Festival winning jockeys Ted and Katie, the one and only, Ted Walsh, who is always a brilliant panelist.
This year’s panel also has three newcomers to the Woodlands. Tony Mullins as a jockey was associated with such greats as Dawn Run and he trained Pedrobob to win at the Cheltenham Festival in 2007 and is a great character of Irish racing. Dan Skelton is one of the real rising stars of British training and to-date this season he has trained 140 winners, 31 more than his nearest rival, Nicky Henderson and he has a strong team assembled for this year’s Festival. Last but by no means least is Nicola McGready who is representing the sponsors Ladbrokes.
As always the genial MC on the night will be RTE and ITV racing guru, Brian Gleeson.
Tickets are €20 and are available from the Woodlands Hotel. All proceeds from the event go to the St. Sceclan’s Conference of St. Vincent de Paul and Waterford Hospice.
If you’ve any interest in National Hunt racing then take my advice and don’t miss a great night.

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