- March 5, 2018
05th March 2018
Hear the roar at the Olympics of Jump racing
The Cheltenham Festival is the Olympics of the racing. You can’t get any better and everyone wants to achieve at Cheltenham. The atmosphere is incredible. People come to hear the roar when the tapes go up and to cheer when they have a winner. People go to Cheltenham who might not come racing any other time of the year.
It’s the big flag bearer for our racing world and to be involved in it, and to be there, is an incredible feeling.
My first real memory of the Festival is when my brother Hadden won the Pertemps Final on Buena Vista for David Pipe in 2010. I’d always admired Cheltenham and watching all those impressive horses showcasing themselves, but that’s my nearest memory to my younger world, when Hadden won. I was about 14 and in my art class at school I folded in half a king-sized bed sheet, and made a picture of Hadden on Buena Vista jumping the last with ‘Well Done Hadden Welcome Home’ and a big cup, first rosette and finishing post on it. It was quite cool and I remember it like it was yesterday.
Hadden came on down to Devon and we watched the replay over and over again. I can’t remember what we had for dinner that night, probably a couple of pizzas, and we all sat down by the fire and watched it countless times, just to make sure he won it.
I’ve had two rides at the Festival. The first one was on Current Event, trained by Rose Luxton, in 2015 in the St James Place Foxhunters. He was a special horse as he was my first winner under rules. At Cheltenham it wasn’t ideal as I got caught up at the start and we finished down the field in 12th, but I learned a lot, and when I was given the ride on Pacha Du Polder in the same race last year, I was determined I wasn’t going to give away ground at the start again. That horse is a legend in himself and I’m glad he was the first of Paul Nicholls horses home in the race and not the second – Wonderful Charm. Pacha stuck his neck out that day - it’s a good job he’s got long whiskers!
Before the race, Hadden, Dad and Mum met me at Cheltenham and we walked the course. I remember Dad telling me that at the top of the hill, if I’m in fourth of fifth, and feel like I am still in contention, I’ve got a chance. Dad saying that went through my head when I was in that position and I said, ‘Come on Pacha, we can do this now.’
That feeling at the top of the hill, when you have the horse power underneath you, and you give them a click and a squeeze, and you feel them coming up underneath you, its like when you are in a car and you touch the accelerator, and you feel the power and the kick.
You’ve been with him for the last two miles, and it’s the last leg. You ask of him and you see what he’s got left and what he can give you, and he answers yes, let’s go. What a feeling! I asked him to come up through the gears, and he kept responding.
And then you are at the last fence, and you have to get it right and not mess it up, and be as quick and as efficient as possible. But sitting on a horse like Pacha - he knows his job. You just make sure you don’t impede his rhythm. And then all you are doing is heading to the line for all your worth. I remember seeing the cheek pieces of Wonderful Charm and recognising them and thinking ‘Oh my god, don’t beat us now.’
The feeling of winning at the Festival will never fade away and whenever I think of that moment, when I crossed that line with Pacha, it’s incredible, no matter where I am, or what mood I am in. It’s what we live for and it will never leave me, ever.
Hadden had said to me before the race to make sure I take in the atmosphere, because you never know when you’ll be there again. He told me to look up at the crowd, the grandstand, hear the roar and to absorb it all because there might never be another chance to experience it.
And it’s the same from a spectator’s point of view. Take the time to take it all in. When the tapes go up for the first race, listen to the roar and join in with it; try and get down to the chute and listen to the horses coming out and the jockeys talking to each other; try and get a thumbs up from one of the jockeys; go and explore the place and what’s on offer; interact with people and have an amazing time because it’s an atmosphere like no other. The noise is impressive on the TV but if you are in the stand among the crowd, you cannot help but smile. Get down on the rail, go and see one of the big horses like Might Bite or Buveur D’Air come by. Or come and give me and Blackie a shout! If we get there in one piece, we’ll be there on Tuesday. And then when you come home have a think about the best part of your day, and remember that part.
Next week I will look at some of the runners, but at the moment my top tip is to put on the thermals for sure!