By Darren Norris
Itâ€™s hard to believe three years have already flown by since AP McCoy powered Uxizandre to an emotional victory in the Ryanair Chase in his final Cheltenham Festival as a jockey.
Since calling time on his remarkable career, the 20-times champion jockey has kept himself busy, doing some work for former boss JP McManus and as an analyst for ITV Racing, for whom he will again be in action for this week.
In the build-up to this yearâ€™s extravaganza, McCoy was a star attraction on the Cheltenham preview night scene, offering his thoughts on what lies in store this week and reflecting on Festivals past.
Buveur Dâ€™Air provided McManus with a 50th Festival triumph when winning the 2017 Champion Hurdle and McCoy expects the Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old to follow up in todayâ€™s feature.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t look a Champion Hurdle that has loads of strength in depth,â€� McCoy told his audience at The Castle, Riverstown, Co Cork. â€œEvery horse is beatable but Buveur Dâ€™Airâ€™s been very impressive this season, He hasnâ€™t beaten anything at Newcastle, Kempton, or Sandown but heâ€™s a very slick jumper.
Does he have to perform any better than last year to win it again? Probably not. Is he capable of doing that? Definitely. He looks a better, slicker horse than he did this time last year. Heâ€™s a very straight-forward horse and he deserves to be a very short price.
Irelandâ€™s leading Champion Hurdle contender is 2015 hero Faugheen but the Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old will arrive at Prestbury under a cloud having been pulled up following a listless effort at Leopardstown at Christmas before being outgunned by leading Stayersâ€™ Hurdle contender Supasundae in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month.
â€œFaugheen obviously ran a lot better in Leopardstown last time than he ran at Christmas â€” that wouldnâ€™t have been hard â€” but heâ€™s still a million miles away from the Faugheen that won the 2015 Champion Hurdle,â€� McCoy says. â€œHe needs to perform a lot better (to win) but youâ€™d be surprised if heâ€™s not capable of finishing in the first three.
At Leopardstown the last day, Faugheen never got Supasundae, a three-miler, out of his comfort zone. When he was at his best, Supasundae wouldnâ€™t have been able to be in contention. When he was at his best, he got everything out of their comfort zone.
If McCoy is right, today could be a tough one for Willie Mullins as McCoy thinks Supreme Novicesâ€™ Hurdle favourite Getabird will get turned over by Kalashnikov and reckons Petit Mouchoir can turn the tables on hotpot Footpad in the Arkle Trophy.
â€œKalashnikov has the experience of winning a big handicap at Newbury. Heâ€™s definitely improved from when Summerville Boy beat him in the Tolworth at Sandown. I cannot see him being out of the first three.â€�
Last time out, at the Dublin Racing Festival, Footpad beat Petit Mouchoir by five lengths but McCoy doesnâ€™t expect that form to be confirmed.
â€œThereâ€™s no doubt Footpad looks much more efficient jumping fences than hurdles but I do think Petit Mouchoir has a good chance of beating him,â€� he says. â€œHe was very unexposed at Leopardstown last time, he looked a little fresh, he hadnâ€™t run for a while. If he jumps a little better I think he has a big chance of beating Footpad.
â€œFootpad has been very impressive but I do think thereâ€™s more to come from Petit Mouchoir. At the prices Iâ€™d be inclined to go with Petit Mouchoir.â€�