Ruby Walsh has admitted he never paid any attention to the famous ‘Cheltenham Roar’ that traditionally accompanies the opening race of the festival.
A crescendo of noise from watching punters has always signalled the flag dropping at the beginning of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but our resident jockey-turned-pundit reveals that he barely noticed the cacophony ahead of the curtain-raiser.
Speaking on the first episode of a special From The Horse’s Mouth ‘Countdown to Cheltenham’ series, Ruby explained the emotions jockeys experience at the start of the legendary meeting and why – unlike fans – many riders will not be thinking about Cheltenham for several weeks yet.
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I can’t say that I ever did hear the ‘Cheltenham Roar’ at the start of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Last year was obviously the first year that I was at the Festival working for ITV, so I was behind the grandstand in the parade ring and I didn’t think there was anything untoward about the ‘Cheltenham Roar’ from that side of the stand.
Maybe if you’re on the front side you might hear and feel it way more, but when you’re at the bottom of the home straight at Cheltenham – at the 2m start – it’s just a distant din in the background.
The helicopters are louder on the other side of the start, more so than the ‘Cheltenham Roar’.
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For the start of the Supreme Novices Hurdle, all the jockeys are excited and revved up. People are very keen to try and get in the right position.
The pace of the opening race is not necessarily strong, but everyone wants to get a good start and no-one wants to get on the back foot with their boss or trainer by making a mistake.
Everyone is anxious to get out and get going so often it can be frantic to the first flight, but then steady up as not many are intent on making the running. They’re all going to want to be behind the pace and that could leave somebody in front, doing things the way they want to do it.
Eyes on the prize
It’s way too far away for jockeys to be thinking about Cheltenham 2021 just yet. You’ve got the Dublin Racing Festival, the Betfair Hurdle meeting, Trials Day in January, Thyestes Chase, the Red Mills card at Gowran Park all coming up first… there’s way too much between now and Cheltenham for any jockey to be thinking about March.
You’re not thinking about the Festival until maybe a week or 10 days out, when your focus then turns to Cheltenham. There is just too much action, too much to concentrate on and too many horses you have to ride between now and then, to even be contemplating what’s going to happen in eight weeks time.
The reality as a jockey is that you realise a) you might not even get there and b) there are going to be some high-profile horses going missing between now and then so there is no point making plans that aren’t going to be solid. Jockeys are just tipping along, thinking about tomorrow and the next weekend.
Thinking about what is going to happen on March 16 is pretty irrelevant to them.
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