By Tom Lee

Chatting to Paul Robinson: His long range fancy for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival

By Tom Lee
The former goalkeeper fancies Goshen to learn from his mistake at last year's Cheltenham Festival
The former goalkeeper fancies Goshen to learn from his mistake at last year's Cheltenham Festival

Tom Lee chats to former England international goalkeeper Paul Robinson about his love for the races, and who he’s fancying for next year’s Cheltenham Festival

It’s been a strange year for all of us and, as someone who spends a lot of time mixing with people on racecourses, it has been a particularly unusual and quiet time for me.  

Still, at least the racing and football has carried on behind closed doors giving us something to focus our minds and wallets on and, like many people during lockdown, I've learnt to properly use Zoom!

Earlier this week I fired up the laptop and gave an old friend a Zoom call. As well as being a horse racing fan, he is a former England, Tottenham and Leeds goalkeeper and more recently a respected football pundit on beIN Sports.   

It is of course Paul Robinson. A man I've been fortunate to go racing with before but someone who explains that the real draw for him is being able to enjoy the experience with his family - adding that he is lucky to have plenty of courses on his doorstep at his home in North Yorkshire. 

He said: “We’re very blessed where we live here. We live just outside of Harrogate so we have Ripon, Thirsk and Wetherby racecourses just to name a few.

“York is in close proximity and my parents also live in Beverley, so we really are in the heart of racing country. There’s quite a lot of horses and trainers who live around here so we are blessed with a number of good tracks.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

“We love going up to Ripon on an evening midweek in the summer. It’s fantastic and it’s a real family course.

“It’s known as the Garden Course from recollection and it’s one that you can just drive too, park outside, pop in with your wife and kids and watch a couple of races. 

“I’m not the type of person who goes to the big meets. I’ve been to Cheltenham once but I’m not a fan of the intensity of the big meets, I much prefer the low key events such as the ones at Ripon and Thirsk.” 

Robinson may not like the intensity of the bigger meetings, but he certainly enjoys watching the Cheltenham Festival on television, and he’s got his eye on a runner for next year’s Champion Hurdle;

“My tip would be the 10/1 each-way in the Champion Hurdle, Goshen,” he said.

Champion Hurdle
Goshen silk

Goshen

Goshen made headlines for all of the wrong reasons at last year’s Festival, dramatically departing at the final flight in the Triumph Hurdle, but he’s undoubtedly full of talent, and Robinson feels there’s plenty more to come from him yet.

“He’s still only a four-year-old, and in last year’s Triumph Hurdle he was winning at an absolute canter and was one of the most unluckiest losers that you’ll see - falling at the final fence. 

“He was just unlucky clipping his heels together like that, it wasn’t a rider error but more of a freak incident.

“This year I will certainly be having a couple of pounds on him myself.” 

As a former goalkeeper, Paul knows all about the intensity of major sporting occasions. Let's see if Goshen can navigate Prestbury Park error-free on Saturday and again on that sweetest of Tuesdays in March.

Cheltenham Festival Races

Paul Robinson on Football

Leeds have made an excellent start to life in the Premier League under Marcelo Bielsa

“I think the way they’ve played in the top flight so far has been fantastic, but you can take it back to when he first came in and turned a team who were 13th or 14th in the league into a Premier League team.

“Bielsa has evolved the players and has turned average players into very good players. Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips in particular were not necessarily two players who were the first names on the team sheet and were not starters at the time when Bielsa first came in and now he’s turned Phillips into an England international. 

“16 years is a long time out of the top flight and I played in their last game before their relegation which just shows you how long ago it was. 

“I don’t think fans who hate Leeds United the most even expected them to be in the doldrums for 16 years, nevermind them playing in the third tier of English football. 

“The term ‘Sleeping Giant’ is very overused for football clubs, but I think it’s very fitting and very apt for Leeds United. 

“I love the way that they’re playing in the Premier League. Bielsa has one way of playing, it’s Plan A and if Plan A doesn’t work then you try and do Plan A a bit better, they’re great to watch. 

“I think the best compliment you can pay them is that they’re fastly becoming everybody’s second team because of the way that they play, but I doubt that diehard Chelsea and Manchester United fans will admit to that. 

“They play attacking football, they press high up the pitch and they’re very easy on the eye. However, they leave themselves open defensively at the back and they’re going to lose games this season and they’re going to concede goals.

“They are going to be vulnerable to defeats as we saw against Crystal Palace and Leicester City, two 4-1 defeats, but then a few weeks later they go to Merseyside and beat Everton 1-0.

“I think they are going to be a Premier League side for the foreseeable future. The manager’s been absolutely exceptional since he’s come in but I think they just need a timeline of progression beyond Marcelo Bielsa.

“He’s stayed at Leeds longer than any club he has been at for a long time and the progression line is very important for them.

“I have no doubt they will do well. They’re exceeding expectations already and I’ve previously said that they will finish tenth at the beginning of the season and I think they can achieve that, but sat here right now, like many of the Leeds fans, I’d be happy if they finished 17th.”

Cheltenham Gold Cup

One man who's proving his doubters wrong is Patrick Bamford, but I'm not sure he's ready for an England call-up just yet

“His goals conversion ratio is not as it should be even though he’s had a fantastic season so far and I have to give him a lot of credit.

“He was criticised for not scoring goals last year, but this season he has hit the ground running and he’s scoring a lot of goals.He now has to do it on a consistent basis and do it more regularly.

“When you talk about international call-ups, you look at the likes of Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling, there’s your front three. Jadon Sancho also comes into that, so you think there’s only one more place in the Euro 2020 squad available in terms of forwards.

“At the moment it’s between Tammy Abraham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Is Bamford ahead of Calvert-Lewin or Abraham at the moment? I don’t think he is. 

“The final place in that squad will be reserved for which of those two players are scoring the most goals at the time and unfortunately for Patrick Bamford I think there are better strikers that will get in the squad ahead of him at the moment.”

Leeds could still be represented in England's Euro 2020 squad, however... 

“I personally think Kalvin Phillips has got a really good chance of making the squad.  

“I think they have a really strong midfield quartet in the England squad with Gareth Southgate’s first choice holding midfielders being Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice. 

“They have an abundance of talent in midfield, but the problem Southgate has is balancing the side, because if he’s going to play the front three of Kane, Rashford and Sterling up top and then at the back have three centre-backs and two wing-backs, then you’re limiting yourself to two midfielders. 

“I think Kalvin Phillips is versatile enough and I think he’s done enough to warrant everybody talking about him having a potential place in the squad without a doubt.

“If Southgate decides to play a back three defenders with two wing-backs and then three forwards, then that limits you to just two central-midfielders. In that case, how do you put Mason Mount in there? How do you put Jack Grealish in there? How do you put Phil Foden in there? When realistically Gareth wants to play with two defensive midfielders.

“It’s a juggling exercise and that’s why Gareth gets paid the big bucks to get the formation, system and personnel right. 

“At the moment Jack Grealish is putting his hand up and whether Gareth changes his formation to accommodate him then I don’t see who he gets in ahead of in that front three. He doesn’t get in ahead of Rashford, Sterling or Kane. 

“In that case you have to decide whether you change the midfield to accommodate him and if Gareth does, then does Kalvin Phillips fit into that anywhere?

“I do think Kalvin Phillips is worthy of a place in the squad if his form continues like it has been this season.”

Grand National

One team who have impressed me so far is Tottenham

"They’re serious title contenders this year.

“You look at the squad that Jose Mourinho has amassed and you’ve got to give Daniel Levy a lot of credit for the way he backed the manager in the summer

“He brought Gareth Bale in, which obviously demanded a huge loan fee and big wages.

“I think Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is possibly the most underrated player in the Premier League and he’s been absolutely fantastic since he’s come in.

“Jose doesn’t only have a good first eleven, but he now also has a really balanced squad. He had an injury to Toby Alderweireld recently for a couple of weeks and was able to bring Joe Rodon in and Davinson Sanchez has come back into the squad. 

“You look now and Jose has the strength in-depth because Tottenham have always had a strong first eleven and they’re playing in a way where they don’t look like they’re going to be beat.

“With former Spurs sides you’d always think that they had a soft spine and they’re going to concede, but now they go 2-0 up and can close the game out. 

“Jose has got to be given a lot of credit. He came in, he’s had two transfer windows now and this is the season you can judge him. He’s been given the budget to bring his own players in and they’re playing the way he wants them to play.

“It’s a really exciting time to be a Tottenham fan and I believe they have a genuine chance of winning the league this season."

Mourinho deserves plenty of praise for the job he's done at the club

“He’s a manager that I would have loved to have played for. 

“There’s two sides to Jose Mourinho. You look at Mourinho in his first spell with Chelsea when he was winning trophies and he had a great rapport with all his players and there was a clear man-management there and all the players loved and respected him.

“Then there’s the other Jose Mourinho that Manchester United got and it didn’t suit the same type of person. 

“He was living in a hotel, he didn’t seem happy, he seemed disgruntled and there were numerous stories coming out all the time.

“When he came to Tottenham I was thinking ‘Fantastic, born winner, top manager but which Mourinho are we going to get’ and you can see now that he’s got that spark back in his eye. 

“He’s now messing around on social media and instagram and you never thought you would see that from him. 

“He knows he’s sat on a little pot of gold there with the squad that he’s got and that there’s a real opportunity to win something this season. I just think that his man-management skills, and the way that he’s managing those players is there for all to see. 

“He’s quite clever as we know with the media. The week before they were trying to qualify for the Europa League group stage they also had a midweek Carabao Cup clash with Chelsea and he downplayed it saying that european competition was their main focus this season. Lo and behold, he plays a strong team and beats Chelsea, qualifies for Europe and now they’re competing on all fronts. 

“Mourinho knows full well that he has a chance of making history, maybe not winning the league, but a trophy this season with Spurs.

“I’m confident they will get some sort of silverware this season.”

Meanwhile, we need to continue to show patience when it comes to Gareth Bale

“He’s not been given the opportunity to deliver. I think a lot of the media have got this Gareth Bale situation wrong at the moment.

“You’re looking at a player who hasn’t played constantly for two and a half seasons and hasn’t had gametime.

“If they go and throw Gareth Bale into the first five games and play him for 90 minutes then he could breakdown and they could lose him for the rest of the season.

“I think Tottenham are being very meticulous with his preparation. They are giving him gametime as and when they can and when needed. 

“At the moment, the starting eleven in the Premier League are winning week-in and week-out, but I do think that Tottenham have been very clever with Gareth Bale. They need to manage him off the field, he’s not as young as he used to be, they’ve got to keep him right.

“If Tottenham are going to pay his wages for a season then they will want Gareth Bale both fit and available for every single game. 

“From the start they’ve eased him in gradually, they’ve eased him in to the way that they play, they’ve integrated him into the squad and you can see that he’s getting more minutes and he played in europe for 90 minutes the other week. 

“You’re getting him to a point where he’s knocking on the door going ‘I’m ready to start now’, but at the moment there are players who are already playing week-in, week-out. It’s a conundrum for Mourinho and one that he will definitely like to have.”

Grand National Odds

Last but not least, it's difficult not to be frustrated when it comes to refereeing decisions around goalkeepers

“First of all, I hate VAR. Let’s just get rid of it as it’s ruining the game we used to know and love and it’s taking refereeing decisions out of the game. 

“Players, supporters, pundits, everyone, nobody likes it. Unfortunately it’s here to stay and I don’t think they will get rid of it, but they have to get it right and it has to be finetuned. 

“Line decisions regarding whether the ball was over the line or not, then that’s fine as they should use technology for that, but for refereeing decisions such as red cards, then that’s somebody’s opinion. 

“The referee on the field has an opinion. The referee on the monitor then has an opinion to tell the referee on the pitch that he should take a look at it again, putting doubt in the referee’s mind, so all that’s opinion. I’d just love to get rid of VAR as I hate it.

“From a goalkeeping point of view, it’s almost impossible to throw yourself sideways without going slightly forward. It puts the keeper at a disadvantage and I just hate what VAR is taking away from the game. 

“You saw David Marshall when Scotland beat Serbia on penalties, he made a fantastic save which should have resulted in major jubilation for him, but instead he stopped and looked at the referee to make sure it was all okay. He didn’t want to celebrate because he wanted to find out that he came slightly off his line.

“I think the line decision for goalkeepers is awful as you’re going to see keepers starting behind the line when they’re attempting to save a penalty, because you can’t propel yourself as much as you’d like to sideways without coming slightly forwards.

“It gives the penalty taker a huge advantage. The way you can work around it as a keeper is by starting half a yard behind the line, so when you make your first movement then your foot is actually on the line then you can spring sideways.”

Grand National Tips
Longshot Ted's antepost tips for the Festival
All 28 Cheltenham Festival Races with access to the latest odds
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Check out the Champion Hurdle prices
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Latest betting for the Stayers' Hurdle

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