Charlie Austin, one of football’s famous racing fans, reveals how the Cheltenham Festival was always popular in dressing rooms, his fancies for this year’s racing, why a five-day Festival will be a good thing, and the importance of crowds returning.

Charlie Austin: Footballers love the Cheltenham Festival

“Every dressing room I have been in, all footballers love the Cheltenham Festival. Even if they are not horse racing fans throughout the rest of the year, I just think footballers buy into Cheltenham. It is so unique, it’s like The Masters in golf. “

“Even if you don’t like golf, you’re zoned into those four days because of what it is. There always seems to be messages flying around the dressing room in terms of ‘I’ve been told this’ and ‘I’ve been told that’. “

“I’m sure plenty of the QPR boys this year will be showing an interest, but I remember at Southampton a lot of the players there were really into it and Harry Redknapp was our manager so it was a great atmosphere. Cheltenham week really does transcend sport. Harry obviously loves his racing and he was an infectious person whose love of racing also had an effect on the dressing room.”

 

Charlie Austin: It will be great to see crowds back at this year’s Cheltenham Festival

“Sadly I won’t be able to go to the Cheltenham Festival this year. We play Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night and we won’t be back till 3am in the morning so it will be me and the wife [Bianca] watching at home.”

“It’s going to be a massive Cheltenham Festival this year. It has been a massive sporting event for years. Unfortunately, everybody watched from home last year, but I thought ITV and Racing TV did a brilliant job in terms of their coverage. It really gave you that insight, but to have the crowds back, I know as a sportsman myself, it will just bring that extra bit of buzz.”

 

Charlie Austin: I think there should be a five-day Cheltenham Festival

“I think it should become a five-day meeting. They will sell it out, they had all these questions regarding Royal Ascot becoming five days and people saying it would take away the prestige of the event. However, it didn’t and Royal Ascot sells out five days every year and that would be the same with Cheltenham. People just absolutely love it. Don’t get me wrong what races are they going to add and how many races would there be per day. These are all questions that need answering, but in the long run, it will inevitably happen. The thing with racing, some of those at the top of the sport never like change. I’ve seen it more than ever and you just have to go with the times – it’s as simple as that.”

“I think the Irish dominance at the Cheltenham Festival has been a worry in certain years, but I don’t think it will be a worry this year. There have been issues, be that the quality of horses over here, the race programme and indeed the way he handicap horses and it remains a worry going forward, but I think this year will be different.”

“My favourite memory of the Cheltenham Festival is Denman’s 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup victory. It was my first time going to the Gold Cup. “

 

Charlie Austin: My fancies for this year’s Cheltenham Festival

“My NAP of the Cheltenham Festival is Run Wild Fred in the National Hunt Chase and my Next Best is HMS Seahorse in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Jonbon is my selection in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. What has he done wrong? People are trying to find faults in his armour, because he cost so much money, is a brother to Douvan and was not that impressive at Haydock. I just think people are trying to find ways to criticise him. That win at Haydock came on testing ground and he still won. He has done nothing wrong and everything put in front of him so far, he has delivered. Constitution Hill is a push-button ride, but I can’t go against Jonbon.”

“I think Edwardstone will win the Arkle and I think Shishkin will win comfortably in the Champion Chase. It will be a different race to what it was at Ascot. That was a brilliant spectacle at Ascot that the trainers allowed to happen. I think going up the hill, Shishkin is the one. Chacun Pour Soi is the lay of the Cheltenham Festival for me.”

“Bravemansgame will win the Brown Advisory and I think Bob Olinger will beat Galopin Des Champs in the Turners Novices’ Chase. I backed Bob Olinger at the Cheltenham Festival last year and I just have an affiliation with the horse. His jumping needs to improve, but I still think he will take a hell of a lot of beating because he has so much natural ability.”

“It would be brilliant for Tiger Roll to record his sixth win at the Cheltenham Festival. It would be fantastic for the sport and would be a fabulous story. Of course everyone is gutted he won’t run in the Grand National this year, however he has everybody on his side and it would be an incredible atmosphere.”

“I backed Flooring Porter in the Stayers’ Hurdle last year and I think he looks sure to go close in attempting to defend his crown. I actually have a dog called Champ at home, so he would be a sentimental win! Weirdly, I actually had the opportunity to buy Thyme Hill as a store horse. However, we decided to pick something else so that is definitely a decision I regret. I’ve actually got no horses in training at the minute because I just haven’t had time to go as much given the football commitments, but hopefully in the future I might have a few more.”

“In the Gold Cup, I would like to see Galvin win the contest. I know Hal Robson-Kanu (Welsh striker) and he has married into Ronnie Bartlett (owner) family and I would like to see them win.”

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