'The pressure is on but I'm thinking about training on the Flat'
The top trainer answers your questions as we build up to the festival
Is preparing a horse for the Cheltenham festival any different to preparing it for a big race in December? Stephen Power
It shouldn't be but it is. You find that everyone else in the stable gets a bit jumpy, they all talk a lot more and even the work riders tend to go a bit faster. There's pressure for everybody and it shows, but our aim is to keep it the same as usual. We've done quite well all year round and we shouldn't be doing anything different - but that's easier said than done.
Do any of your headline horses this year have quirks or routines that need to be followed for them to run to the best of their ability? Aimee Gregg
Thistlecrack always went on the walker for an hour before we rode him because he had a history of back problems when he was younger, but the rest are very straightforward and enjoy their work.
Do you think the Ryanair would have been Cue Card's best chance of success at the festival rather than the Gold Cup? Chris Day
I don't think there's much in it. All I'd say is - no disrespect to the others in the race - that he looked to me as though he was going to win last year's Gold Cup when he fell and he's in the same form this year. I don't think he could be better than he was that day but he's very good at the moment, so I think he has an excellent chance.
How difficult is it to keep your best horses apart if the owners want to run them in the same race? Andrew Birkle
It's quite difficult. I think it's only right that the owners have a lot of input into where the horses they've paid for run, so they run in the races the owners want to run in and if they win I congratulate them and have a drink with them, and if they lose I say I would have run in that race anyway! That's my plan these days, but sometimes I feel I have less and less control over where they run. The owners seem to sort it out among themselves a lot of the time, but it's not for me to tell them what to do. If it's a little novice hurdle you might be able to keep them apart, but when you get to a race like the Gold Cup and you have horses like Thistlecrack, Cue Card and Native River all capable of running well in it, and owners who all have a dream of winning it, then I wouldn't try and stand in their way.
How is Alary and how do you rate his chances in the Ryanair? Carl Holden
It amazes me that he was a three-and-a-half-miler when he was in France, because that's not how he looks to us. When he came here, he was obviously out of sorts when we ran him at Haydock. He was slightly better next time at Exeter, and at two miles he looked as though he was going to win by a mile. Then they got past him and he fell. He's working very well at the moment and although it's hard to say how he'll go in the Ryanair, I'd just say that in France he was a good horse and he'll be a good horse again, whether it's this run, the next run or next season. Everybody who rides him or schools him says he's a good horse and it's just a matter of getting him to do things the English way, then we'll be alright.
What is the secret to your recent success? Dave Fade
We haven't done much differently, but we've got more horses, more to run, and much of it is down to the ones we had last year maturing. It's certainly paid off moving them to our new purpose-built barn over the hill, because it's very light and airy and they seem to have stayed fit and healthy since they've been there. That was a big move for us, to prove to people we were ready to make the step from dairy farmers who trained some horses to racehorse trainers with plenty of ambition for the future. What's happened has changed the way a lot of people look at us, I think, and the results have spoken for themselves.
Any news on Robinsfirth and what do you think of his chances at the festival? Ben Morgan
I'm afraid he has a slight hip strain and is finished for the season. We'll aim to bring him back for the autumn and get him ready for the new Ladbrokes Gold Cup at Newbury.
You've had some very good novice hurdlers over the years, such as Cue Card - how does Finian's Oscar compare with the best of them? Michael Scott
He'd have to very nearly win at Cheltenham to be better than Cue Card at the same stage of their careers. Cue Card finished fourth in the Supreme behind Al Ferof, Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre, so he's a tough act to follow, but this one is a lovely horse and we won't find out how good he is until we've really tested him. The Tolworth form is falling apart a little bit but he can only beat what's in front of him and we'll find out how he compares with our best ones when he runs in the Neptune.
You have the Gold Cup favourite in your yard, yet your son and assistant Joe is napping Sizing Codelco everywhere. Is he the yard's best chance of a winner? Alex Bellew
I don't think Joe had a nap until I told him to say Sizing Codelco! He was a 20-1 shot when he finished just over a length behind Top Notch (now rated 152) when giving him 1lb in a graduation chase at Ascot and we're still rated 140. We were giving 8lb to the 142-rated Hammersly Lake that day and beat him a nose into third, so the form stacks up well and we have to be hopeful of a big run. He looks and works a lot better than he ever has since we've had him and we purposely haven't run him since New Year's Day - when he faded up the hill at Cheltenham over 3m 2f - with a view to the festival. That's why Joe's saying what he’s saying.
If you could choose any of your horses to run well in a festival handicap next week, which would it be? Malcolm Reeve
Sizing Codelco in the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase over 2m 5f on Thursday, for all the reasons mentioned above.
Of all the horses you have trained, which was the most expensive, and which is the most expensive one you've failed to win with? Simon Prout
We've got an Irish point-to-point winner called Flemenshill here at the moment - by Flemensfirth out of Southern Skies - who was knocked down for £480,000 to Tom Malone and Joe at Cheltenham, which is far and away the most expensive we've ever had. He won his point well at Oldtown in February and he's an exciting horse to have in the yard, but I don't think he'll run until the autumn. The one we've got at the moment that cost a lot of money and hasn't won is Alary, of course, but we've got a lot of faith in him and he's got plenty of time to set the record straight.
What achievement are you most proud of? Lucy Richards
Being where we are at the moment, I'd say. I'm sat at the top of our all-weather gallop with our deep sand gallop on my left and I can just about see our new purpose-built stable block. Looking at all that means I've survived as a trainer and built something for the future of my family. Anyone who's ever had a horse thinks they can be a trainer and I've strived to get there for about 20 years. It's been my ambition for all that time and I'm very proud to have got this far.
Will Thistlecrack's half-brother West Approach run in the Stayers' Hurdle? Steve Allen
John and Heather Snook are very keen on it, so it's very likely. All they worry about is the favourite Unowhatimeanharry - the rest of the field they feel he's shown enough form to beat, so it looks a perfectly sensible choice. For me it's a sentimental thing, with Thistlecrack having won it last year, and that's they way we're leaning at the moment, but it could change tomorrow if something happens to a couple of the top horses for the Albert Bartlett. He could still switch but the Stayers' is the most likely option.
And have you made a final decision about where Finian's Oscar will go? Clive Buckenham
Will Grand Vision head for the Foxhunter, and if so how do you rate his chances? Ruth Cornthwaite
He's been placed at two festivals, finishing third in the 2012 Albert Bartlett and fourth in the 2015 Kim Muir, so he's got plenty of stamina and the course obviously poses no problems for him. He had three quick runs in hunter chases to get him qualified after having a year off, but he'll have had about five weeks' break before the festival and he's a thorough stayer who'll have a good chance.
How pivotal has Joe's input been in attracting strength in depth to the yard since he retired from the saddle? Andrew Pelis
Joe's been very good in bringing our yard higher up the PR scale. New owners half the time will ring him now rather than me and he's very good with sponsorship, which is an important aspect of the operation. These things are a big part of training these days, so I can still enjoy being with the horses all day long and Joe can do all the rest. He's very fortunate that when he takes over from me he'll be starting halfway up the ladder and won't have to build it up from scratch, but he's been a big part of the yard getting where it is, both as jockey and assistant trainer.
If you were given the opportunity to train some decent Flat horses, would you take it? Marten Whittaker
Yes, I would. It’s crossed my mind a lot. I've got an 11-year-old grandson who's now pony racing and he fancies going on the Flat when he's old enough, so I need to get organised for when he's 16. It's another part of the family project.
Who is your dark horse to keep an eye on at the festival? Conor Doak
Sizing Tennessee could be coming in slightly under the radar for the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase on the opening day. He's run some nice races at Cheltenham already this year and he definitely lugs left-handed, which was why Kempton last time wasn't so good, but he's in fine form, all the jockeys like him and he'd have a decent chance. We'll probably put the blinkers on him.
If Cue Card and Native River jump the last neck and neck in the Gold Cup, who wins? Mark Jolly
I wouldn't have a clue but I'd definitely be having a look to see what's in third and how far behind they are! Cue Card's a bumper winner and hurdler whose best form is at Cheltenham, and Native River flew up the hill in the four-miler last year, so they both have their different qualities and it would be lovely to see them upsides at the last - it's the kind of thing the festival is all about, finding how good the best horses are. I don't think being 11 years old makes any difference to Cue Card at all - a lot of my horses hold their form beyond that age and I think he's as good as he's ever been, while the other one is an up-and-coming seven-year-old and clearly very good, with not much between them on ratings.
Thistlecrack's absence from the Gold Cup must have been a huge disappointment to you and your team, but with this season having been a learning curve for you and the horse, do you feel he will be in a much stronger position to win the race next year? Marten Whittaker
I wouldn't say stronger, no. I think he'd have taken all the beating this year. The small tear in his tendon was enough to keep him out of the race, but he's been a brilliant horse for two years and I think he has two or three more years left in him to do what we think he can do. He'd have had a very good chance this year and he'll hopefully have a very good chance next year.
What's the biggest mistake you've ever made? John Owen
It's hard to say because I've made thousands. I'm just trying to make my mind up which one's the biggest, but I'm probably still waiting for it.