Horse Racing: Steve Smith Eccles exclusive interview

Written by Andrew Southwick.


By Gary McDaniel

Former national hunt jockey, Steve Smith Eccles, has admitted he would be shocked to see Denman recover from his blunder at Newbury, last weekend, and go on and win the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Smith Eccles would be even more surprised if the horse nicknamed "The Tank" didn't injure himself after crashing through the third last in Aon Chase last Saturday, to the shock of millions of punters.  The former hat-trick winning Champion Hurdle jockey also doesn't lay any blame with AP McCoy for the ride the champion jockey gave Paul Nicholl's charge.

Smith Eccles said: "The truth is I would not back Denman with someone else's money! Looking at the race last weekend again and again it seems clear to me all was not right with the horse as he went from cruising to struggling in a matter of moments. A P McCoy could be seen sending out distress signals after his first mistake. Although nothing has been found physically as yet I would not be surprised if he injured himself but as he would have to be at his very best to compete with Kauto Star regardless, and with no evidence that he is. I cannot consider backing him.

"There was nothing wrong with the ride given by McCoy despite what others are saying, and there was no way he could have stayed on due to the way the horse landed leaving AP nowhere to go and no horse directly underneath him to land on. If he had stayed on it was crystal clear he would have been beaten anyway and it was, in my eyes, a problem with the horse, not with the pilot," he added.

Denman has seen three different jockeys pilot him over the past two seasons in various races now.  Smith Eccles believes that has no bearings on the display shown by the Hennessey winner last weekend. 

He said: "Denman is a pretty simple ride at his best as he gallops and jumps and is not a hold up horse, far better to just let him go at his own pace, and let him see his fences he is pretty straight forward. As Ruby Walsh said in the past, if you sit on him and he takes a tug you are going too slow, if he comes off the bridle you are going too quick, so just sit on him and let him bowl along, its as obvious as that. All you need to do is be able to read the horse."

Stable mate Kauto Star is now clear favourite for the big race on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival in a couple of week's time.  Smith Eccles admits that even if the 2008 Champion is 100% he will be of no match to a fully fit Kauto star. The former Nicky Henderson stable jockey has also a fancy for Taranis each-way for the Gold Cup.

"Kauto Star is one of the classiest chasers we have seen in many a year, he clearly wasn't right when beaten by Denman a couple of years ago. He has improved his jumping over the years, and has the speed as well as stamina so he can be placed in the race as it pans out accordingly. There would have to be something seriously wrong with Kauto Star for him not to win. Denman could finish second, if back to his very best, but cannot be trusted and seems to run in and out these days. The rest look to be playing for third place between them, with Taranis the one with place chances, at a decent price, if he turns up on the day," he said.

Smith Eccles has fond memories of the festival, winning the Champion Hurdle in three consecutive years in the 80's on the great See You Then.  But there are a few other rides that brought great satisfaction to the former jockey.

He said: "Obviously those Champion Hurdle wins are high up the list, but I did enjoy the two winning rides in the Triumph Hurdle on board First Bout in 1985 and Alone Success in 1987. Both hard fought battles which gave me plenty of satisfaction from the saddle.  I will never forget my first winning festival ride though on Sweet Joe back in the late 70's, was it really that long ago......"

His former boss, trainer Nicky Henderson, seemed to have a strong hand for this year's renewal of the Champion Hurdle. Recent events though have poured a shadow over Henderson's chances with the withdrawal of Binocular and the defeat of long time ante post favourite Zaynar at Kelso recently.

Smith Eccles said: "My old bosses challenge seems to be getting weaker by the moment with Binocular taken out of the race and Zaynar beaten at Kelso. I still haven't given up hope on Punjabi who may be underestimated by the average punter despite winning the race last year. Overall the Irish now hold all the aces with Solwhit and Go Native looking to be the ones to beat with a £1,000,000 bonus for the last named if he completes the treble of Fighting Fifth, Christmas Hurdle, and Champion Hurdle with two out of the three already in the bag."

The former jump jockey, who rode over 800 winners during his career, now has his own tipping website where he gives the inside track on the form book for upcoming races.  So what better chance to pick his brain and ask what his tips are for the upcoming festival.

"Apart from the glaringly obvious (Kauto Star, Master Minded, Big Bucks, Dunguib) it is too early to consider the handicaps but if he turns up then Song of Songs will be a massive price and could be each way value. I schooled this lad at the beginning and he started off over fences brightly enough but a fall at Aintree seems to have knocked his confidence and after three runs this season, he is only just beginning to get back to his best. There is every possibility he could run a massive race at an equally massive price so do keep an eye out for whichever race connections decide to target him at," Smith Eccles said.

You can sign up to Steve's website and get all his tips and views by visiting

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