52 AND COUNTING
(INCLUDING THE ONE I STILL WATCH EVERY WEEK WHEN THE FAMILY’S IN BED...)
1,7&38:Bumper:Alexander Banquet (1998), Missed That (2005) & Briar Hill (2013)
Alexander Banquet and Missed That were well fancied, and duly obliged, and Alexander Banquet being my first winner at the festival is a memory I’ll always cherish. But Briar Hill was an almostunconsidered 25-1 chance when he stormed up the Cheltenham Hill, and we could have a repeat this year. Willie’s obvious candidate is Carter McKay, but we could also be represented by an outsider, Next Destination, and I wouldn’t put anybody off having something each-way on him.
2 : Mildmay of Flete: Blowing Wind (2002)
We got up in the shadows of the post to deny AP McCoy on Lady Cricket. AP and I have had some close finishes at this meeting over the years, notably Champagne Fever beating My Tent Or Yours in the Supreme, and Final Approach getting up on the line to Get Me Out Of Here in the County Hurdle.
Blowing Wind was a late outside ride in this race, and I’ll probably need another of those again because I don’t see an obvious ride for me in this year’s renewal. Also, Willie’s record in handicap chases in Englandisprobablyasgoodas mine in the last five or six years — not very inspiring — so I can’t see a second win in this race.
3, 43 & 46: Arkle: Azertyuiop (2003), Un De Sceaux (2015) & Douvan (2015)
Three wonderful horses, and I think the Arkle will be won by another superstar this year: Altior. Un De Sceaux and Douvan are currently favourites for their respective races this week and, with a little luck, could enhance their and my record at the meeting.
4, 15 & 19: Champion Chase: Azertyuiop (2004), Master Minded (2008 & 2009)
Master Minded was a special horse, but Azertyuiop gave me my first championship race victory at the festival, and so will always be special to me. But Master Minded probably put up the singlebestperformanceofany horse I’ve ever ridden, when he won it as a five-year-old. He came back and won it in 2009, but all he did was win it — he wasn’t near as good a horse. But this year I ride a superstar, in Douvan, and I think all he needs is not to have bad luck. He’d be a wonderful horse to give me a fourth victory in this great race.
5: Grand Annual Chase: St Pirran (2004)
He was a real hold-up horse, that I enjoyed riding. It’s a competitive handicap which, for my money, suits a hold-up novice. St Pirran’s victory put me level at the top of the standings for leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival, which I would go on to win for the first time by also winning the following race. It isn’t a race I’ve had a whole pile of luck in since, but my abiding memory of the race will always be Paul Carberry’s ride on Bellvano — that was one of the greatest rides of all time. I fell at the fourth-last, from Free World, and Paul was just in front of me at that point. A brilliant ride.
6,11,23&32:CountyHurdle: Sporazene (2004), Desert Quest (2006), American Trilogy (2009) & Final Approach (2011)
This has been a lucky race for me. Sporazene was thrown-in when he won the race and, in victory, ensured I was leading rider at the meeting for the first time. Desert Quest was a bit of a monkey, but had a lot up his sleeve, and arrived at the last to challenge and go on and win.
I gave American Trilogy a moderate ride on his final start before Cheltenham, but when I came in off him I told Paul (Nicholls) I thought he’d win the County Hurdle. He duly bolted in, at a massive price,whereasmymostrecent winner, Final Approach, got up on the line to beat AP a short head. Willie has a couple of possible runners, but we might be up against it this year.
8, 13 & 51: Ryanair Chase: Thisthatandtother (2005), Taranis (2007) & Vautour (2016)
Thisthatandtother rallied strongly to beat Fondmort half a length, while Taranis was a bit idle, but a brilliant jumper, who battled well to beat Our Vic. And then there was the spectacular Vautour. It’s just a pity I haven’t got him this year. But I think I have a great deputy in Un De Sceaux. I think the ground was too dry in last year’s Champion Chase, and it prob- ably proved what we always thought: That he wanted further than two miles. I think the trip in the Ryanair will suit him down to the ground, and he has a massive chance. And I think he is way overpriced at 7-2.
9, 28, 35, 39 & 42: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Noland (2006), Al Ferof (2011), Champagne Fever (2013), Vautour (2014) & Douvan (2015)
Noland, owned by John Hales, came from the clouds to give me my first win in a race I’ve been very lucky in. Al Ferof, who carried the same colours, then beat a lot of good horses,notablySprinterSacre and Cue Card. Then I had the front-running performances of Champagne Fever, who battled tenaciously to beat My Tent Or Yours in 2013, and the awesome Vautour in 2014, and the magnificent Douvan in 2015. Last year, Min went close to giving me four in a row, but he ran into an aeroplane, in Altior. Who knows what this year’s race will bring, but I really think Willie
Mullins will win the race, as he has four strong contenders: Melon, Bunk Off Early, Cilaos Emery and Crack Mome.
10: William Hill Trophy: Dun Doire (2006)
I’d say he was some price in running and, even though he won well in the end, probably got a bit lucky. His jumping was quite ponderous but the old second-last fence, at the bottom of the hill, was omitted, and that allowed him to make up an awful lot of ground. Had that fence still been in, I’m not so sure he’d have got there. It’s a race I haven’t ridden in in recent years, and probably won’t have a ride this year. It’s the third race on day one these years, but I always preferred when it was the fourth race, as you started bang, bang, bang, with the Supreme, the Arkle and the Champion Hurdle. What a way to start a Festival!
12 & 22: RSA Chase: Denman (2007), Cooldine (2009)
They both won in a canter but their careers went two different ways: Denman went on to be a Gold Cup and dual Hen- nessy winner, but Cooldine nevermanagedtowinanother race. This year’s race looks a very open renewal, and I think Acapella Bourgeois has to be given serious consideration, whatever way you look at it. I thought he was spectacular in Navan. Unless Bellshill runs, I will probably be watching from the stands.
14 & 24: Cheltenham Gold Cup: Kauto Star (2007 & 2009)
One of the most amazing horses I’ve been lucky enough to ride. To win a Gold Cup was always my dream. I have won two, and been second on five occasions — on Commanche Court, Hedgehunter, Kauto Star,andtwiceonDjakadam.I hope Djakadam will trump The Fellow (twice runner-up, and won it at the fourth attempt) by winning it at the third time of asking. He’s in really good order, and I think a repeat of last year’s run would nearly be good enough. He got beaten by a very good horse, in Don Cossack, and at eight years of age and with his preparation having gone well, I’m delighted with him. Like any fella riding a fancied horse in any race, I’m going to trot out the same bullshit line we all do: I wouldn’t swap him. We all fancy our own horse — jockeys are great judges, aren’t they?
16, 21, 41 & 49: Neptune Novices’ Hurdle: Fiveforthree (2008), Mikael D’Haguenet (2009), Faugheen (2014) & Yorkhill (2016)
Fiveforthree beat a horse of Mouse Morris’ called Venalmar, and I won it the following year on Mikael D’Haguenet, who I thought was a ‘good thing’ — and he duly won like it. Faugheen didn’t need to be magnificent to win it, and Yorkhill was impressive last year. It has been a lucky race for me and Willie, and, while I think Neon Wolf is the one we all have to beat, we have a couple of bullets to fire at it this year, with Bacardys, Kemboy and possibly even Invitation Only. But I have huge respect for Neon Wolf, and the smile on Noel Fehily’s face after winning on him at Haydock says it all.
17:TriumphHurdle:Celestial Halo (2008)
I got beaten on him at Doncaster before the Triumph, and Franchoek looked all the rage for this race. But I sent Celestial Halo to the front early, and he kept jumping and galloping, and outstayed Franchoek to win. We will have a couple of runners in this year’s race, but they’ll all have to go somewhat to beat Defi Du Seuil. On soft ground, Gordon Elliott’s horse, Mega Fortune, would make a race of it, and, on drier ground,Bapaumewouldmake a race of it, but Defi Du Seuil is the one to beat. And I’ll forgive Charli Parcs his last run. I don’t recall Nicky Henderson getting it too far wrong, and he holds this horse in the highest regard.
18, 25, 30, 34, 37, 40 & 48: Mares’ Hurdle: Quevega (2009-2014) & Vroum Vroum Mag (2016)
I’ve been lucky enough to win it seven times, but it’s fairly safe to say I should have won eight, Annie Power having fallen at the last with the race at her mercy, in 2015. Quevega, what a standing dish she was! She was some banker to have in your artillery going there, and, having Big Buck’s for four of those years, was some bonus. Whatever didn’t work out for you, you had two aces before you started. To go back six times and win each time, I think it was magical stuff from Willie Mullins. To me, it will always be history. For any horse to win the same Festival race six times — or to win six different races, even — I think it will never be done. I was delighted to be part of it. And, I loved riding her. You never knew what you were going to get with her, other than the fact she was brilliant. She could be keen, or you could get to the start and she might be reluctant to jump off. And we had luck, too. She put her foot in a hole at the top of the hill one year, and I nearly went out over her ears. She grabbed at the last hurdle another year, and, in her last year, she looked dead and buried but pulled it out of the bag to win. She was super, and her second win was particularly special as I equalled Pat Taaffe’s record of festival winners.
When she retired, Annie Power came along, and that was a race I’ll never forget. And then we had Vroum Vroum Mag last year. She and Limini could run here. They’re two high-class mares, who won at last year’s festival, and if I have to choose, I couldn’t guarantee I’ll be on the right one.
20, 27, 31 & 33: Stayers’ Hurdle: Big Buck’s (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
When I look back, he was some price the first year. He was a cracking horse, and I loved riding him. And I always made it look that he was going worse than he ever was. He was only an okay jumper, but was never going to fall over hurdles. I remember Andrew Lynch was brilliant on Voler La Vedette one year. He appeared on my outside, then switched over to the other side, trying to give him a race, but Big Buck’s found enough. Jockeys tried everything to beat him, but I had to ride him handier in latter years as nobody would give him a lead.
26: Fred Winter: Sanctuaire (2010)
I remember him well because I beat Pat Taaffe’s record for Cheltenham Festival wins, on him. It was a funny one, as I had ridden him once, in a hurdle race at Taunton, and he was very keen, but he beat Grands Crus. Paul Nicholls really fancied him for the Fred Winter, but he was an awkward horse, a real boyo. Harry and Dan Skelton did a lot of the work with him, and Dan couldn’t see him getting beaten. I’d say he probably paid for Dan Skelton’s wedding. I was possibly a bit unlucky in this race last year, when Voix Du Reve fell at the last, but Barry (Geraghty) probably thinks he was unlucky too, as Campeador also fell there. This year, we don’t have anything in it, but Paul’s horse, Dreamcatching, is strongly fancied, and he has a wonderful record in the race. As well as winning it a couple of times, he has had a lot of horses placed in it, as well.
29, 36, 44 & 47: Champion Hurdle:HurricaneFly(2011& 2013), Faugheen (2015) & Annie Power (2016)
It’s funny, but if you asked me what were the best horses I have ridden, I’d give you KautoStarandHurricaneFly, and yet both only managed to win twice at the festival. But they were the two horses of my lifetime. They shaped my career, my life, and my memories as a jockey. The first one, on Hurricane Fly, was high pressure. I had been out all year, and hadn’t ridden him in a long time. But he beat Donald McCain’s horse, Peddlers Cross. He went back and regained it by beating Rock On Ruby, which was sweet. He was a horse I loved riding. You could ride him at hurdles like they weren’t there. As brave as you wanted to be, bordering on a bit reckless, he would answer the call for you.
Faugheen has proven a hard horse to train but, by God, he has some engine. But, to be a great horse you have to have longevity, so I hope we get him back.
Annie Power … that was sweet! A huge highlight in my life. After getting beaten in a Stayers’ Hurdle, falling in a Mares’ Hurdle, then supplementing her into a Champion Hurdle, for which a lot of people thinking we were mad.
I had to go quick enough that the speed horses wouldn’t do her for toe, and yet not so fast that I emptied her. It was a ride I enjoyed, and a victory, if I’m being brutally honest I watch once a week. Obviously, I have to wait until there’s noone in the house, or my wife would think I’m absolutely insane. I probably watch that more than people realise.
Looking to this year’s race, Wicklow Brave is an Irish Legerwinnerbutmuststepup on his hurdling form, while Footpad is only a five-yearold, and it’s difficult for horses of that age. Vroum Vroum Mag is a high-class mare, but is she good enough to win a Champion Hurdle? If she runs and I’m riding her, Willie must think so.
45 & 50: JLT Novices’ Chase: Vautour (2015) & Black Hercules (2016)
Two very different winners. Vautour’s win probably stands alongside Master Minded’s performance in the Champion Chase, but, to give Master Minded his credit, that was a championship race. Thiswasthebestperformance by a novice that I rode in Cheltenham. It was breathtaking. He reminded me of what Kauto Star did the first year he won in Haydock. It had everything: The power of his jumping, the pace, the acceleration. That was a pleasure. When we pulled up at the end of the race, Paul Carberry, who rode runner-up Apache Stronghold, couldn’t get over it, either.
Black Hercules was very different, but it was brilliant as it gave me my 50th winner at the meeting. He was badly hampered jumping the second-last, but changed his legs in mid-air, and made the room for himself to land. Horses are survivors, and he was class. He was tough from there home, and it brought up a great, round figure: 50. I never thought I’d reach that number.
When I started, I just wanted to ride one winner here. Then when I got that, I wanted five, and then 10.
I’d be a fair daydreamer, but never, in my lifetime, did I think 50 would be something I would achieve. It’s something I’m immensely proud of, and grateful to achieve.
The JLT is a relatively new race, and took me a while to win it, but I’m getting the hang of it now and don’t plan on giving it back. Hopefully, Yorkhill can complete the hattrick.
52 : Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle: Limini (2016):
I thought she was a certainty to win this race last year, and anyone who read the
in the run-up to and during the festival surely backed her. We didn’t hide our admiration for her.
We have good mares this year, and it’s a tougher choice for me, as to which one to ride, but I will be surprised if Willie doesn’t win this race. I don’t know how you do the tri-cast, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the three — Airlie Beach, Asthuria and Let’s Dance — were the first three home.
Zero: Albert Bartlett, Coral Cup & Pertemps Hurdle
Obviously, I cannot win the races restricted to amateur or conditional riders, and won’t be winning the Cross-Country Chase because I no longer participate in it. Of the others I haven’t won, the Coral Cup is a hugely competitive race and, while Willie has a good record at the festival, we’re not a handicap outfit, and it could prove elusive once more. I’ll probably be riding Isleofhopendreams in the Pertemps Hurdle, but he has gone up quite a bit in the handicap, and there are likely betterhandicapped horses.
I don’t ride Death Duty, who looks the one to beat in the Albert Bartlett, but Augusta Kate or Penhill could make the shake-up.
SWEET MOMENT: Ruby Walsh punches the air after winning last year’s Champion Hurdle on Annie Power.
RUBY WALSH is the most successful jockey in Cheltenham Festival history, and has been crowned leading rider no fewer than 10 times. Here, our star columnist reflects on his 52 wins, and discusses his chances of adding to a record tally this...
FOUR-MIDABLE: Ruby Walsh celebrates after steering Big Buck’s to a fourth successive Stayers’ Hurdle win.