By Tom Lee

Chatting to Ian Rush: Check out his best bet for the Cheltenham Festival

By Tom Lee
The Liverpool legend talks with former top National Hunt jockey Barry Geraghty.
The Liverpool legend talks with former top National Hunt jockey Barry Geraghty.

Tom Lee talks to Liverpool’s all-time leading goalscorer Ian Rush about his early memories of Chester Racecourse, why he enjoys Galway and his tip for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the upcoming Cheltenham Festival

My dad introduced me to the sport of horse racing...

“My Dad loved horse racing and when I was 10 or 11 years old, I remember being unwell and my Dad was attending Chester races, so he took me with him. Ever since then Chester has always been my favourite racecourse. 

“That experience got me into the sport and I loved going there to not only watch the horses but to experience the atmosphere too. They were really special memories for me because all my earliest recollections from horse racing were experienced at Chester Racecourse. To this day, one of my dreams is to have a winner at Chester.”

As well as Chester there's a specific racecourse across the Irish Sea that I have fond memories of...

“My favourite racecourse in Ireland has to be Galway because we have such a great time there but I can only last two or three out of the seven days at the very most. I enjoy myself so much there. It’s not all about the winning, it’s about the atmosphere and the entertainment there too.

“Irish people are so friendly which makes the experience even more amazing so Galway has to be my favourite course in Ireland.”

The Cheltenham Festival 2021 is approaching and there’s a certain horse that I’ll be backing in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle...

“As everybody already knows, anybody can win at Cheltenham. I do follow the form and all those certain aspects and there is a horse that is running in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle on the Wednesday called Bob Olinger, trained by Henry De Bromhead, and I think there’s a lot in the value in the price there at 4/1.”

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Bob Olinger silk

Bob Olinger

Moving onto football, I still believe that Liverpool can win the Premier League this season...

“I’m not saying it’s not going to be very difficult but yes they can. This is the English Premier League, anyone can beat anyone and that’s why it’s the best league in the world. Anything can change with two or three wins. It’s a matter of Liverpool getting back into winning ways, and once they do that, anything can happen. This Premier League season is going to be one of the closest in a long time. Manchester City are rightly favourites, also given their win against Liverpool but I think it’s going to be one hell of a battle for the top four.”

Liverpool are also in the hunt for their seventh European Cup and they will be going all out to bring it back to Anfield...

“They’ll be looking at the Champions League and the chance that they can beat Leipzig, and they need to get that confidence going again. 

“Sometimes Liverpool are better playing in Europe than they are in the English Premier League. When teams come to Liverpool, because there’s no crowd there anymore, teams aren’t scared of Liverpool anymore.The crowd makes Liverpool. People talk about the crowd not being there but I think it affects Liverpool more than anyone. The fans have always been known as the twelfth man and I think that means now teams can go to Anfield after the last three home results, and think ‘Wow we can get a result here.’ But I think Liverpool might suit the European way.

“I think on their day they’re capable of beating anyone. I think they’ve had a few injuries and everything. It’s just a matter of getting people back from injury and if they do that I believe they can beat anyone.”

Everton come to Anfield this weekend and I have to give a special mention to both Carlo Ancelotti and their striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin...

“Everton are playing well. Ancelotti’s a great manager as well. I knew him from my time in Italy. He knows what to expect and he knows what to expect from the supporters. But again I think Everton will be looking at Liverpool’s last three home games and thinking ‘Why cannot Everton get a result there?’ And again I think that no fans there will help Everton so yeah they can get a result but it is going to be one hell of a game. I was actually at the game when they played Everton and they drew 2-2, Liverpool had a goal disallowed, and it was one hell of a game. And I think it could be exactly the same. 

“For me, with these derby games it’s about how you prepare for them. The players know that there’s going to be no crowd and the crowd winds players up. The team that mentally prepares for the game is the team that wins. The ones that keeps their nerves. But I think in a derby game, both teams know what it means for the fans so I think both sets of players will be playing for the fans and they have to get that in mentally in the week leading up to the game, not just the day of the game, it’s the week leading up, saying ‘You’re playing Everton’ and mentally prepare for that, and that’ll be the team that wins.

“Regarding Dominic Calvert-Lewin, I think he’s been sensational all season. And again I think that comes down to the manager, Ancelotti, who has told him what to do. Before Ancelotti came, yeah he was a good player, but he wasn’t getting inside the box and to me Ancelotti has said ‘Listen, you’re a striker you need to be inside the box’ and I think that’s made a massive difference. Even on his debut for England, he scored. 

“As he proved against Manchester United, you’ve got to keep your eye on him for the entire 90 minutes, because given the chance, he’s in that type of form. As a striker, when you’re in that type of form, you go out knowing you’re going to score. Not thinking, knowing. If you get a chance you’re going to score. I know what it’s like and I’m sure he’s exactly the same. It might be if Liverpool are going to stop him, simple, stop the service coming to him.He scored against Liverpool at Everton because they let him get the cross in and he’s very good in the air. They’ve got to stop that service if they’re going to stop him.”

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Despite speculation, I expect Mohammed Salah to stay at Anfield...

“I think Liverpool has a broad appeal. Teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid have the history, same as with Liverpool and Manchester United, and for him to be linked to any of those clubs means that he is one hell of a player but for me I think Mo Salah will stay at Liverpool. The fans love him, he loves the fans. 

“The Premier League is the hardest and the most demanding league in the world. When you look at Barcelona and Real Madrid, Juventus and Milan in Serie A, where else do you get a league where the bottom team beats the top, like Sheffield United beating Manchester United? That could only happen in the English Premier League.”

As he continues to adapt to the Premier League, I have no doubt that we will see the best of Thiago...

“He’s a world class player. Full stop. When he first came into the side, especially against Everton away, I thought he was fantastic. I think having a few injuries has not helped him. I think he’s coming back and slowly maybe taking a little bit of time to get used to the English Premier League. But for me, he’s a world class player and he will adapt for Liverpool. I’m pretty certain of that. It just maybe changes the dimension a bit in the midfield but I would have him in my team all day long.”

It’s great to see how brilliantly Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard is doing in the Rangers hotseat this season...

“I know Stevie really well and when he was at Liverpool’s academy he did really well there. It was a gamble for him to go to Rangers. It wasn’t an easy decision for him to go there in the first place but it turns out that it’s been a good decision for him, because he’s gone there with Gary McAllister and they’ve done really well together.

“It looks almost certain that they’re going to win the league this season and the fact that he’s going to stop Celtic winning ten titles in a row means that the Rangers fans really love Stevie. He’s done an incredible job there, but he’s still learning and the time and the place will come for everything. If you’re a Liverpool supporter, you will be dreaming that one day Steven Gerrard will return to manage the club and that will only come if he’s been successful at the clubs he’s been at.

“At the moment Stevie has done nothing wrong so far in management. Does he need a bit of time before he takes another job? Yes he probably does need a bit of time, but he’s on the right track. As a Liverpool supporter I would love to see Steven Gerrard do well for Rangers and when the time is right for him to come and manage Liverpool then that’s all dependent on the experience Stevie needs as a manager.

“He’s not only done well for Rangers in the league, but Europe too and that's a big thing as well. He’s coming along really nicely and if you’re a Liverpool fan like me, when Jurgen Klopp’s won everything again, then maybe we will see Stevie G.”

Cheltenham Gold Cup

From a Welsh perspective, it’s important for Gareth Bale to get playtime at Tottenham ahead of Euro 2020...

“Gareth Bale is a world-class player and I think he just needs a run in the side. It’s very difficult for a footballer when you’re playing one game and then not playing the next. Jose Mourinho is a great manager, so he must be seeing something different in training because when Gareth Bale is fully fit we’d all be expecting him to start games. 

‘From a Welsh point of view, I want to see Gareth Bale on that pitch because we have the Euros coming up and I want to see him fully match fit for Wales because he can still play a major part for his country, as I’m sure he can for Tottenham as well. I just believe that he needs a run of games to help him get over his injury problems and get himself match fit and I don’t know whether he will get that under Jose.”

Moving onto rumours that fellow countryman Aaron Ramsey may be heading back to the Premier League in the near future… 

“Well it all depends whether he is happy at Juventus. I’ve been watching him recently and he’s been scoring goals. He’s not been playing regularly for Juventus, but when he’s asked to come on from off the bench, he’s coming on and scoring goals. 

“First of all he has to ask himself ‘Do I want to be playing regularly for Juventus’, but if he’s happy off the pitch in Turin and he’s happy being in and out of the side, then he should stay. I don’t know if he’s unhappy at Juventus or not, but all I know is that he’s scoring goals for Juventus.

“I think he has another two or three years in him to do well and one thing Aaron Ramsey will always do is get you goals from midfield. He has qualities that a lot of other midfielders are missing.”

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