The winning-most Cheltenham Festival jockey on Annie Power, Roy Keane and wanting to win the Gold Cup for Willie Mullins
Cheltenham. Tuesday. Back to the scene of the ‘crime’.
I still see it in my mind – I just don’t know why it happened. Annie Power went to the last hurdle clear of the field. I could hear the crowd roaring and I was just waiting to pop it, 3-2-1 jump – but the jump never came.
It only took a second but in mid-air I was already willing her to ‘just get a leg out’. But she didn’t. Her knees and neck were tucked under her (pictured below) and my thoughts soon switched to, ‘Jesus, don’t break your neck.’
All a blur
Thankfully, she didn’t and galloped away. I helped the lads to unsaddle Annie on the track before I made my way down the horse walk-way back to the weigh-room.
There were loads of spectators along the walk-way, but I was in my own world. Don’t ask me what anyone said, I wasn’t listening. There were probably commiserations and abuse in equal measure, but it was all a blur as I replayed what had happened over and over in my mind.
Annie Power was actually my last ride of the day and I stayed longer in the shower than I normally would after it, pondering what might have been.
There was my chance to ride a four-timer at the Cheltenham Festival – gone.
Father Ted’s view
Was I different later that night? I’m not sure. I would have spoken to my dad about it (RTE racing presenter, Ted) but my wife Gillian wouldn’t have left me wallow in any self-pity. I don’t remember having a bad night’s sleep on the Tuesday, that’s for sure.
People maybe don’t realise just how long Cheltenham is. It’s four long days and you’re always on the go. You’re out early in the morning exercising horses and there’s the added pressure of big-race riding.
It’s physically and emotionally draining. I can’t ever remember having trouble sleeping at night.
It’s funny. I sometimes think people forget I had ridden a treble and Willie Mullins trained four winners on what was an incredible day last year. We had the icing on the cake but Annie Power would have been the cherry on the top. For me, anyway.
Maybe I’ll get the chance to right the wrong this year in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle.
Cheltenham travel plans
I’ll travel over on Sunday night as usual as we’ve an army of horses going over again this year. They all need exercise and to be fed, watered and looked after ahead of their respective races.
I hire a car at Birmingham Airport and drive up myself. The lads there are good craic. They’ll give me a bit of stick over Annie Power no doubt. I don’t know if they’re huge racing fans – but they like their sport. They’re good guys.
I usually walk the course alone on Monday to gather my thoughts, but I’ll have company this year. There’s some people who won a prize at an AP McCoy testimonial dinner for the charity, Tiny Tickers.
Anyone for tickets?
That will take about an hour and will help me get a handle on the state of the track. After that I’ll get my ticket allocation for family and friends.
I read somewhere that Roy Keane thought one of the biggest hassles for him as Manchester United captain was sorting out FA Cup final tickets. Cup final tickets wouldn’t be a problem at United now – but I know what he means.
I like to get all that done early so my mind is free to concentrate on the job in hand for the rest of the week.
Monday is also the day I’ve got to get the presents bought. I can’t be away for the week and come home empty-handed. The kids don’t care how many winners I ride if there’s nothing for them on Saturday.
There’s talk again of the four-timer again this year. But I don’t think of winning, collectively.
I take each race as it comes. There’ll be Min, Douvan, Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag. They’ve all great chances of winning their individual races – but they have to do that, before the four-timer becomes a reality.
Douvan and Annie Power look to be the best horses in their races on ratings anyway but with Min and Vroum Vroum Mag – it’s all about potential.
Missing Faugheen through injury is like not having the ace in the pack. He was the reigning champion. While Annie Power and Nichols Canyon are fantastic replacements – they’re not champions. Yet.
Going for Gold
What I’d really like this year is for Willie Mullins to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday. It’ll be even better if I’m the one that wins it for him.
Don’t get me wrong. I won’t think that anyone else except me is going to win it until I’m tailed off, pulled up or my chance has gone.
Willie’s had a few horses placed in the race and Djakadam went agonisingly close when finishing second last year behind Coneygree.
We’re throwing all the darts at the board this year and they’re good darts. But despite our numerical advantage, Don Cossack or Cue Card could easily win it. It’s wide open.
All I can hope for now is that the bad luck we had with Faugheen, Arctic Fire and Killutagh Vic missing out through injury, will even itself out by some good luck on the day.
It’s like Willie Mullins says: good things will happen and bad things will happen. But whatever it is, you have to move on.