A former rider, Luke Harvey is more noted for being a popular broadcaster to those within the racing world in the current day.
Having landed a success at the Cheltenham Festival, it’s not hard to see why the four-day period is the most exciting event for media representatives.
The build-up, the hype, the big questions – and now, not long until we get the answers.
Harvey is a familiar face to viewers of both ITV and Sky Sports, trekking wide and far seven days a week to bring the best insight from those within the sport. Never needed more so than during a global pandemic when sport continues to be hosted without hordes of crowds, the racing media has done a sterling job in providing entertainment while the nation remains in lockdown.
Luke and his colleagues are a credit to the game and the eyes of the world will be on the cast from this Tuesday onwards when the annual Cheltenham Festival takes place.
No crowd, of course, but no lack of excitement and buzz for Harvey either.
He spoke to Cheltenham.co.uk about what the Festival means to him, which horse he is most excited to see and a certain incident with Barney Curley…
As an ex jockey, If you could choose one horse to ride at the Cheltenham Festival, who would it be and why?
If I could ride one horse at the Cheltenham Festival, it would definitely be Monkfish – he’s just looked superb. He was very good last year over hurdles, but he’s looked a different kettle of fish over fences, meeting obstacles spot on. He has a massive cruising speed and he’s as exciting a horse as I’ve seen. A proper staying Denman type, he goes back to all of those horses that Jenny Pitman used to train and then further back to Fred Winter. I think he’s very, very special.
In recent years, Irish based trainers have dominated the Festival, why do you think this is the case?
In days gone by, we used to buy a lot of the best Irish horses when they came up for sale, but of course nowadays, a lot of them are kept at home and I think they have a better programme for horses. It’s easier when there’s more opportunities and that’s the reason, but let’s hope they don’t have too good a year.
Does the idea of a Cheltenham Festival without crowds taint its prestige slightly or do you still feel the excitement for it that you would any other season?
Even though it will be different without a crowd, I am still buzzing. I’m lucky that I went to Cheltenham on Saturday as a warm-up, and I’ll be working for ITV down at the start for the Tuesday and Friday and on the podium on the Wednesday and Thursday. You’re still seeing good horses and you’ll see notice the smiles on the faces of the lads and lasses leading them up, and for me, that’s what it’s all about. I love seeing the best horses and best jockeys, and I cannot wait.
What race are you most looking forward to watching at this year’s Festival and why?
I don’t think the Supreme is quite as good as it has been in the past, but I think Shishkin is something out of the ordinary in the Arkle. You’ve also got the Champion Hurdle with the two mares, Honeysuckle and Epatante, and these are the two big races for me. I’m a Cheltenham Festival nut so you look forward to them all, but these contests in particular standout and I think it will be a Shishkin and Honeysuckle double.
The ITV Racing team always look like they’re having fun on set, who’s the biggest joker when the camera stops rolling?
Working on ITV is always good fun. You’re with professional people and it seems to fit my ad hoc style! You wouldn’t believe it because he can be quite po-faced, but Ed Chamberlain can be quite quick on his feet. He’s an intelligent man and has a real bright side to him. My old mate Jason Weaver has a very dry sense of humour when we work together during the Flat season and what he says off mic is sometimes not recordable, I’m afraid! The old Weaver shark for me.
The Barney Curley interview had its 16th anniversary a few weeks ago, what do you remember about that day?
I barely ever go racing without anyone mentioning the Barney Curley interview. It was a memorable day for lots of different reasons and was very early in my broadcasting career. I remember the producer saying in my ear “Look out behind you”, and I turned round to see a red-faced Barney coming at me. It was like a drunk coming at you in a pub thinking you might get headbutted! He berated John McCririck and myself, and I was very nervous for about thirty seconds, but then realised I was part of television gold. I look back on it as a very fond memory.
Give us a horse, jockey and trainer to follow for the Festival?
I really like Mister Fisher in the Ryanair, but there’s another Nicky Henderson horse called Monte Cristo who bolted up at Kempton last time and he runs in the Coral Cup. He could very special, while I’d love to see Rachael Blackmore have another good Festival. Hopefully, she’ll win the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle – she brings something a bit different. Mr Henderson has had a quiet season by all accounts, but as we all know, he bounces back at Cheltenham.
How would you describe the Cheltenham Festival to someone that’s never been?
In my opinion, Cheltenham is the greatest sporting venue in this country. Even though there won’t be people there this year, it has a totally unique atmosphere. The backdrop of Cleeve Hill with the natural amphitheatre that it is, it’s just the most wonderful place and just watching those horses coming round those tight bends and up and down hill. It’s absolutely fantastic – Cheltenham is a place like no other.
Can Al Boum Photo join Golden Miller, Arkle, Best Mate, and Cottage Rake to become only the fifth horse to win the Gold Cup on three occasions and who’s your idea of the winner?
I’m not the sort of person that knocks champions and Al Boum Photo comes in looking for his third success in the race, and he obviously has every chance. Having said that, I do think he’s beatable and I like the chances of Champ. What he did over two miles at Newbury was jaw-dropping. For a stayer to win the novice race over three miles last year to run that well over a shorter trip was absolutely outstanding. He’s my selection. Every sporting event needs a champion and Al Boum Photo is that. I was there for all of Best Mate’s victories and I’ve never seen a crowd go more wild. It would be a shame if he won without a crowd, but for me, it’s Champ all the way.