On my second trip to Cheltenham Festival in 1997, I went over to England on the horse plane on the Monday with Commanche Court, Istabraq, Theatreworld and Finnegan’s Hollow.
Commanche was in the Triumph Hurdle – I was 17 and my dad was training him.
We went through Dublin Airport into cargo, and the horsebox drives straight onto the runway.
Obviously everyone has to go through security so you have to unload all the luggage and the horse tack, feed etc. That all goes through security, out onto the runway and it’s all loaded onto the plane.
It was a small plane, so one horse went in the front. The horse plane could take eight but there was only four on it so they were all in single stalls, one behind the other.
They could have had a companion in beside them but it was just one to a cart. We were picked up by a horsebox at Birmingham Airport and driven down to Cheltenham.
Out of the four horses that travelled on the plane: Istabraq won, Finnegan’s Hollow fell, Theatreworld was second in the Champion Hurdle and Commanche won.
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It was a 50 per cent strike rate on the aeroplane down to my companionship, whispering in their ears!
It was a brilliant experience and a brilliant result for a small yard.
It was an old-fashioned Triumph then – 30 horses in a huge field, and you needed a lot of luck, but Commanche was a wonderful little horse and it was a great occasion.
That was a year after my first trip to Cheltenham, aged 16 as a spectator. Ireland had four winners the first year I was there and it was freezing cold.
I didn’t realise until this year when I went back just how big a centrepiece the Gold Cup is. I remember as a 16-year-old, as big a crowd as there was at Cheltenham, there seemed to be a bigger crowd when the Gold Cup came on, and that was the same again this year.
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People just seemed to appear out of nowhere. I remember clearly watching all the races but when the Gold Cup came on I wasn’t able to find a place in the stand to watch Imperial Call win.
I had to climb up on the back of a temporary stand to actually watch the race.
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