For Gregory Hughes it’s easy to remember the first year he stood on rails at Cheltenham Festival meeting, 1999 when his daughter Hilary was born.
Thus, taking into account that there was a year the meeting was a casualty to the Foot and Mouth disease, the Warrenpoint-based bookie is off today for the green fields of Gloucestershire to take on the punters for a sixteenth time in the annual battle of the betting wits.
“I love the week. It’s a very special time for racing and all in the business intrigued by trying to pick the winners of the many and varied races - steeplechase, hurdles, flat and even cross-country” stated the man who runs a couple of the outlets in Coalisland as well as his main two in Dungannon.
Every year Hughes gives his nap for the benefit of our readers and usually he gets it in the nail. But not last year, when he forecast a Champion Hurdle victory for The New One. But he reckons that he can make amends by tipping them two winners - Faugheen for the Champion Hurdle and Sire de Grugey in the World Hurdle.
That said, he’d probably be ecstatic if the Irish hotshot is beaten, because he’s one of four favourites on day one of the festival trained by Willie Mullins and he says it will be disastrous for him and every other bookmaker throughout the British Isles if the quartet should come up trumps,
“It would be unbelievable, an incredible achievement if the top trainer in Ireland should land all four. But, if anybody can do the near-impossible, Mullins is just the man for the job. But, I don’t think he will and I’m offering a special bet of 25-1 against the quartet all passing the post first.”
“I stand to lose somewhere around £250,000 if the quad comes up” said Hughes, who thinks Annie Power is the one which may let the bet down
“Faugheen is obviously the big gamble on day one and, it’s hard to see it beaten, not least because there’s only eight runners, four of them with no chance. So he’ll be able to keep out of trouble. The New One is England’s only hope and doesn’t seem to have the extra gear needed, while Jezski always looks like he’s struggling and Hurricane Fly has far too many miles on the clock.
“On Wednesday, there’s a small field as well in the Champion Chase and Sire De Grugy will take all the beating, most of the other races being difficult handicaps. Spinter Sacre will not win at Cheltenham. French horses deteriorate rapidly as they get on in years.
“Thursday has the World Hurdle as the main attraction, former Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby with a really good chance of coming top in World and good value at 6-1.
“Triumph Hurdle is a tough one, Nicky Henderson’s Peace and Co heading the market, but I’ll be laying it. Many Clouds, an improving young horse, could win the Gold Cup. Silviniaco Conti a horse who likes flat tracks” added a happy Hughes.