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WATCH: Upping The Ante – Festival reflections from Johnny and DJ

With the Cheltenham Festival having been and gone for another year, the final episode of Upping The Ante has crept around again.

It's fair to suggest this campaign has been a good one, with the addition of Johnny Dineen proving a major hit as the foil for David Jennings on the Cheltenham Festival preview show.

On their final show of the season, the lads discuss their takeaways from the Cheltenham Festival, analyse their punting performances and are even ready with a couple of early picks for the 2024 Cheltenham Festival.

Watch the final episode of Upping The Ante in association with bet365 via the link above or read below for some of the best bits from this week's show.

Lessons learned from Cheltenham 2023

Johnny Dineen was footing 'Questions from the Crowd' for the final time in his first season on Upping The Ante and, not surprisingly, one of those centred on lessons learned from Cheltenham 2023.

DJ conceded he's going to be more open minded in the future.

"You form an opinion on horses and, because of this show, you have an opinion months in advance" said the Racing Post Ireland's deputy editor.

"Just say, Ashdale Bob in the Stayers' Hurdle. I'd put him up at a big price, thinking at Christmas he was second behind Home By The Lee and it could be a weak Stayers' Hurdle.

"Come the day, the horse had no chance. It was a really strong Stayers' in the end, even though Sire Du Berlais won it.

"If you form an opinion [early in the season], its ok to change your mind on the day. You almost feel guilty if you've tipped a horse on a preview night or on Upping The Ante. I'd say that to viewers, don't be afraid to change your mind if the complexion of the race changes – don't be so loyal!"

After admitting to regrets over siding with Blood Destiny in the Triumph Hurdle, Johnny outlined what he would be taking away from the meeting this year, as a punter.

"The trainers that have proved they can do the business are the one not to be writing off," he began.

"The likes of Paul Nicholls coming back with two winners. That was a big achievement in my eyes with [the team] he had going there. His horses were knocking on the door all week.

"He didn't have a big squad and he didn't have a strong squad, but he managed to pull two winners."

With Blood Destiny still very much on his mind, Johnny's second Festival takeaway is one many punters may be adhering to in the future.

"If you have a horse coming to this meeting that has got soft leads, and they are not guaranteed to get them here – and you're virtually guaranteed not to get a soft lead in any race here – they've no chance.

"The likes of Hermes Allen, Editeur Du Gite was another one that got pestered this time, and Blood Destiny was a classic example of it. If horses have form with soft leads, they are not going to perform [here]."

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Star performance divides the team

Johnny's Performance of the Week was of course centred on what unfolded in the Cotswolds.

He had Gold Cup hero Galopin Des Champs, now 6/4 to retain that crown in 2024, at number three.

"He didn't jump as well as he did in other races. Even getting into the race [late on] he was banging fences. The first time I thought he'd win was turning in – it was all over when he came back on bridle.

"Bravemansgame was clearly the second-best horse in it but I'd say it's doubtful he'll ever win a Gold Cup – even if Galopin Des Champs wasn't in it."

Though he was willing to take on the great mare before her farewell win, Johnny bowed to Honeysuckle in second spot, crediting her with a 'fierce effort' in signing off her career with a satisfying win.

Top spot across the four days went to Impaire Et Passe in the Ballymore, with Johnny remonstrating that everyone was 'expecting' what Constitution Hill delivered in the Champion Hurdle: "It was nothing out of the ordinary for Constitution Hill, that's all I'm saying. He's a brilliant horse, the best to run at the meeting I'd say."

DJ countered that he had 'never seen anything come up the hill quite like Constitution Hill'.

"He was still quickening, even when [Nico de Boinville] wasn't even asking him to quicken. I thought it was extraordinary."

Johnny, however, made the case for the Ballymore winner as one for the future with the Willie Mullins inmate now 6/1 to win the Champion Hurdle in 2024.

"Impaire Et Passe is arriving as a top, top horse," he said. "I think it was a fantastic effort and you could see him coming back for a Champion Hurdle if Constitution Hill wasn't there.

"I don't think any horse next year can beat Constitution Hill. Every horse next season will be deciding their targets based on whether he goes chasing or stays over hurdles."

Festival hopefuls for 2024

Their portfolios for 2023 may not have lived up to expectations but, as has become tradition on Upping The Ante, the two pundits completed the series by putting forward an early selection for next March.

Johnny Dineen provided some value in his 'two-for-one' offering.

"I'll give you two quick ones. I'm going to go Jonbon for the Ryanair. He stayed well [in the Arkle] and he looks to me as though two-miles is too short for him now. The Ryanair is wide open for a new kid on the block.

"I think he should have won this race this year and I think it's a division that there's not a lot in it. He's only seven next season and I think he's a bit of value in there."

Jonbon is 8/1 for the Ryanair in 2024 and Johnny's second pick was 12/1 Teahupoo in the 2024 Stayers' Hurdle.

DJ meanwhile puts forward 16/1 Ballyburn for next year's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.

He said: "I think he's Willie Mullins' best bumper horse and I love the fact they've minded him [with an eye] on next season. We'll probably see him at Punchestown.

"Look back at his point-to-point performance, it was brilliant to do what he did after being impeded at the second last."

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