March 2020 £4
Official preview magazine
Rachael Blackmore The woman of the moment interviewed by her friend and rival Patrick Mullins
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Welcome to The Festival
T HE wait is over, The Festival TM presented by Magners is with us again and what an extraordinary four days we have to look forward to when we open the doors on Tuesday March 10 at 10.30am. Our front-page feature is on the leading Irish jockey and double Festival winner Rachael Blackmore, who chats to her friend and fellow jockey Patrick Mullins about her career, her recent successes and about how much she is looking forward to this year’s Festival. The 2019 Festival had many highlights, including Willie Mullins gaining his first victory in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup courtesy of Al Boum Photo and Paul Townend. But how could we forget the ‘Golden Hour’ on Day Three of The Festival with Bryony Frost’s victory on Frodon in the Ryanair Chase closely followed by Paisley Park being roared home by the crowd in the Stayers’ Hurdle. We hear from Bryony, the first rider to be sponsored by The Jockey Club, who relives that moment with Frodon, and from Andrew Gemmell, owner of Paisley Park, who really relishes his love of racing. His enjoyment is infectious. We reflect on Ruby Walsh’s glorious Festival moments and the new trophy named in his honour that will be presented to the leading jockey at The Festival and we look back at some fantastic anniversary tales from past Festivals. As well as some fascinating interviews we have a handy day-by-day guide to The Festival, including timings of all the entertainment on offer so you don’t miss any of the fun. And you can pick up tips from some of the leading trainers in Britain and Ireland. Unveiled for 2020 is a new area called The Park, situated within the Club and Tattersalls enclosure. The Park will be a hive of fun and style and is the perfect spot for racegoers looking to combine action on the track with the fun of a day at the races. I very much hope you enjoy this year’s Festival, with four extraordinary days of racing and top-class entertainment to suit everyone. Ian Renton
RACHAEL BLACKMORE The rider who is ripping up the rule book
BRYONY FROST A star of The 2019 Festival’s Golden Hour . . .
ANDREW GEMMELL . . . along with Paisley Park’s remarkable owner
PUNTING POINTERS James Pyman shares his Festival strategy
FERDY MURPHY Farewell to a giant of the training profession
RUBY, RUBY, RUBY, RUBY! Celebrating the legendary jockey’s Festival years
JOHN McCRIRICK The broadcaster is much missed at Cheltenham
FIND YOURWAY AROUND Racecourse map with all the main attractions
ROBERT ALNER Heroic life of the Gold Cup-winning trainer
REMEMBERWHEN Great Festival moments from the last 30 years
THROUGH A LENS Captured images from last year’s Festival
TIGER’S FEATS It’s not just at Aintree that Tiger Roll excels
TRAINERS MARK YOUR CARD The search for Festival winners starts here
COMING UP All the latest from Jockey Club Racecourses
An official Cheltenham Racecourse publication Copyright 2020. Except as permitted by the current legislation, no part of the magazine may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior permission. All information correct at time of going to press. Cheltenham Racecourse Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 4SH A RACING POST production for Cheltenham Racecourse Executive editor Sarah-Jane Muirie Art director Paul Crabtree Commissioning editor John Cobb Design Paul Fielder Photographs Edward Whitaker, Patrick McCann, Mark Cranham, John Grossick, Getty Images, Dan Abraham Print PCP
Jockey Club Racecourses
March 2020 The Festival 3
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Four Days Of Extraordinary
DAY ONE Tuesday March 10
DAY TWO Wednesday March 11
12.30 Retraining of Racehorses Parade in the Paddock including stars such as Cue Card, Zarkandar and Smad Place. 10.30 Gates open to the Home of Jump Racing for four extraordinary days of racing. Be sure to arrive in plenty of time to visit the Shopping Village in the Club/Tattersalls enclosure for a spot of Festival shopping. 10.00 Tune into Cheltenham Radio on 87.7FM, online or via Sound Dec earpieces which are available to buy at the Information Point on the racecourse. The perfect way to get all the latest news, stories and updates live from the racecourse, brought to you by a top team of reporters and pundits. 12.15 Head to the Parade Ring to hear a few tips for the day as we run through the card.
10.30 Gates open for day two of The Festival TM presented by Magners. Be sure to arrive in plenty of time to visit the Shopping Village in the Club/Tattersalls enclosure for a spot of Festival shopping. 10.00 Tune into Cheltenham Radio on 87.7FM, online or via Sound Dec earpieces which are available to buy at the Information Point on the racecourse. The perfect way to get all the latest news, stories and updates live from the racecourse. 12.15 Make sure you head to The Orchard in the Club enclosure to take a look at what our luxury brands have on offer or upgrade your day and head to our brand new area, The Park.
12.30 Time to get your Tote Placepot on ahead of racing.
1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle £125,000
1.30 Time for the roar! Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle £125,000
2.10 RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase £175,000
2.50 Coral Cup (Handicap Hurdle) £100,000
2.10 Racing Post Arkle Chase £175,000
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase £110,000
3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle £450,000 2m An iconic race that gets the week’s championship races off to a flyer. Will JP McManus land the race for an incredible fourth consecutive year?
3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase £400,000 2m Prior to the race, dual winner Sprinter Sacre will parade. Cheltenham favourite and chasing superstar Altior looks set to go for three consecutive wins in this race for trainer Nicky Henderson.
4.10 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle £120,000
4.50 Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase £70,000 2m4f
4.10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase £65,000
4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle £80,000
5.30 National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup £125,000
5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper £75,000
5.40 The Centaur will keep the celebrations going with live music from The Wickermen for racegoers with Club or Tattersalls tickets. Live music will continue from BBC Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw in The Park for those with a wristband to this new area for 2020.
5.40 The Centaur will keep the celebrations going with live music from Tommy & The Fuse for racegoers with Club or Tattersalls tickets. Live music will continue in The Park from Laura Whitmore for those with a wristband to this new area for 2020.
Look out for the Augmented Reality logo throughout the magazine which indicates where you can activate the AR functionality and bring the images to life. To activate the AR logo, download our app ‘The Horse’s Mouth’ via the App Store for free.
March 2020 The Festival 5
DAY THREE Thursday March 12
DAY FOUR Friday March 13
10.30 Gates open for day three of The Festival TM presented by Magners. Be sure to arrive in plenty of time to visit the Shopping Village in the Club/Tattersalls enclosure for a spot of Festival shopping. 10.00 Tune into Cheltenham Radio on 87.7FM, online or via Sound Dec earpieces which are available to buy at the Information Point on the racecourse. The perfect way to get all the latest news, stories and updates live from the racecourse.
10.30 Gates open for day four of The Festival TM presented by Magners, featuring the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Be sure to arrive in plenty of time to visit the Shopping Village in the Club/Tattersalls enclosure for a spot of Festival shopping. 10.00 Tune into Cheltenham Radio on 87.7FM, online or via Sound Dec earpieces which are available to buy at the Information Point on the racecourse. The perfect way to get all the latest news, stories and updates live from the racecourse. 12.15 Head to the Parade Ring to hear a few tips for the day as we run through the card.
12.15 Head to the Parade Ring to hear a few tips for the day as we run through the card.
12.30 Time to get your Tote Placepot on ahead of racing.
1.30 Marsh Novices’ Chase £150,000
2.10 Pertemps Network Final (Handicap Hurdle) £100,000
1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle £125,000
2.50 Ryanair Chase £350,000
2.10 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle £100,000
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle £125,000
3.30 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase £625,000 3m2f 2019 saw Irish trainer Willie Mullins finally get his hands on the most prestigious prize in jump racing. Can he make it back-to-back Magners Cheltenham Gold Cups or will the trophy stay on home soil?
3.30 Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle £325,000 3m Part of last year’s incredible ‘Golden Hour’, Paisley Park brought the house down as he landed the race for jockey Aidan Coleman, trainer Emma Lavelle and owner Andrew Gemmell. Read more about it on page 23.
4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (Handicap Chase) £110,000
4.10 St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase £45,000
4.50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase £111,000 2m
4.50 Daylesford Mares Novices’ Hurdle £90,000
5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase £70,000 3m2f
5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle £70,000 2m4f
5.40 The Centaur will keep the celebrations going with live music from Irish band All Folk’d Up for racegoers with Club or Tattersalls tickets. Live music will continue in The Park with a DJ set from Capital FM’s Roman Kemp for those with a wristband to this new area for 2020.
5.40 The Centaur will keep the celebrations going with live music from The Wickermen for racegoers with Club or Tattersalls tickets. Music will continue in The Park from Capital FM’s Marvin Humes for those with a wristband to this new area for 2020.
6 The Festival March 2020
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Rachael Blackmore gets a grilling from her riding rival, friend and housemate Patrick Mullins R ACHAEL BLACKMORE has ripped up conventional wisdom: at 9st she was too light to be a jump jockey; at the age of 26 she was too old for turning professional; her record of 11 point-to-point and seven track winners in eight years said she wasn’t good enough either; she completed school and has a college degree, which isn’t how it’s done. Too light, too old, too bad, too educated and too feminine. People thought she would be a kite flying in a hurricane. They were wrong. She is the enigma that has exploded doubt. In 2019, the champion conditional of 2016-17 rode
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‘It’s sunk in now and what I’ve realised is that Festival winners last, they’re different’
was one of those races that unfold perfectly. Everything just happened as I planned and when I gave him a squeeze after the last he accelerated in a way I thought I’d never feel going up that hill.” What was the feeling crossing the line? She pauses, clasps her hands together and puts them to her mouth. “Relief.” Pause. A loud smile. “Joy too, obviously!” she adds with a flash, radiating happiness the way a fire radiates heat. Was it everything you thought it would be? “Yes and no. The walk back in was fun. I saw a guy who brought me to his debs, shouting well done, Ruby and [wife] Gillian were further on too. A Plus Tard was the favourite so we got an unbelievable reception walking back in.” So what about the ‘no’ then? “It’s the Tuesday of The Festival so we celebrated by going back to the house – my boyfriend Brian Hayes, Kate Harrington, Richie Deegan, Sara Rose, Paul Byrne and you – and ordering some pizza around the kitchen table and then off to bed pretty early. And it was lovely.” Pause. There are lots of these. “But the next day, it was up and at it again. Obviously I was happy but I was thinking about my rides to come, the previous day was done with. But it’s sunk in now and what I’ve realised is that Festival winners last, they’re different.” The Wednesday and Thursday were largely disappointing – good rides running well without winning. By the Friday of The Festival, Tuesday can seem like a long time ago. Time only flies when you’re having fun – and Minella Indo sped up the clock. “I’d been in front sooner than I wanted in a race the day before so Henry was instilling in me to take my time. I was keen, jumping well and in front a mile out, not the plan! I remember coming down the hill thinking, Please. Don’t. Stop.” Was it much different to your first winner? “Yes, I remember thinking ‘This is a Grade 1, my first’. That was important. Even Jack
her first winner at The Festival TM presented by Magners, then followed her first Festival Grade 1, her first Irish Grade 1, a maiden Aintree win and a Punchestown Grade 1. She finished second in the jockeys’ championship ahead of Davy Russell, Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and all, won a Kerry National, a Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, as well as two other Grade 1s at Leopardstown over Christmas. So Rachael, tell me about it.“I haven’t a lot to say now.” I roll my eyes and take a deep breath. Writing this could be hard work, the equivalent of McCoy on Wichita Lineman. A FTER those Festival successes – aboard A Plus Tard in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase and 50-1 shot Minella Indo in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – it’s easy to forget she lost her best chance even before the tapes went up when Honeysuckle was unable to take her place as favourite for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. On top of that, I don’t think any jockey has had such a potential distraction beside their place of work as Paddy Power’s statue of Blackmore outside Cheltenham with the inscription: “Some jockeys have big balls. Others are just great jockeys.” It could easily have thrown her off balance before the biggest week in the calendar. But Blackmore didn’t blink, not even after her first ride of The Festival, Ornua, fired her into the dirt in the Racing Post Arkle. But then she hit the bullseye with a 16-length demolition job in what was the 20-runner Close Brothers Handicap Chase, giving A Plus Tard a typically clinical Blackmore ride: kept handy, settled and jumping slickly. “We fancied him,” she recounts. “I remember seeing Ruby beforehand. He was in his suit so I felt okay to ask him for some advice on how to ride the race. Henry [de Bromhead, trainer] was relaxed and left the tactics to me. It
Rachael Blackmore savours a first Festival Grade 1 victory on Minella Indo
Kennedy, a man of few words, seemed excited for me! “The reception was different too. A Plus Tard was favourite and got roared back in, while Minella Indo was clapped in.” Did you celebrate this winner better, seeing as The Festival was finished? “No!” she exclaims, cringing and chuckling at the same time. “I was gone before the last race. I was riding in Down Royal the next day so I was out the gap quickly.” She frowns slightly. “I’m not sure I’d do that again though.” Speaking as the man who gave up his seat in an early morning taxi to one Paul Townend, after eventually finding him and pulling him and his Magners Gold Cup out of bed before sunrise that Saturday morning I think she should have stayed. Townend rode a winner in Down Royal, Blackmore didn’t. It’s a strange game at times. She was chasing the championship at the time. Did she enjoy that? She purses her lips. “Yes and no. I enjoyed leading it, that was a kick. But I never really believed I could win it. The coverage was overblown, particularly in July! But I do realise why.” Her total of 90 winners would have taken the title in 2014-15 and was higher than four of the last five second-place totals. It was an impressive haul, and not just because she wears a bra and knickers instead of boxers. H ONEYSUCKLE was back for the mares’ novice Grade 1 in Fairyhouse. “Strangely, I felt more pressure riding her that day than any race all season. She was expected to win, it was a Grade 1, she was after missing The Festival. And I wasn’t sure down the back straight how well she was going. But once I gave her a squeeze to the second-last she picked up and flew. My parents were there too, which was great.” Aintree was next on the list of achievements with Moon Over Germany blitzing his rivals around the Mildmay course. Russell was unable to do the weight so Blackmore was given the call. Bullseye again. Midas would have been envious of her golden touch last spring. Last on the merry-go-round of festivals was Punchestown. Her title challenge had run aground by this stage but Minella Indo crossed the line with only daylight in front once again. A third Grade 1 for Blackmore and the honour of being the last jockey to defeat Ruby Walsh in competitive action. What was it like seeing Ruby retire? “It was happy and sad at the same time. Sad to see him go because he’s always been there, in my memory, but happy to see him go out as he did.” Did you enjoy the season? She pauses again, scrunches her face, tilts her head, swings her
‘Racing doesn’t allow you to enjoy the moment. The next day is constantly on your mind. It’s just how it is’
ponytail and looks off over my right shoulder for a short while. “Yes and no.” Pause. I’m beginning to notice a recurring theme to these answers. She is much the same ordering food. “When you’re doing these things you don’t enjoy them as much as you’d think,” she says slowly, leaning her elbows on her knees. “It’s always about the next day. Racing doesn’t allow you to enjoy the moment because it’s constant. There’s no final to play and then the off-season. The weekend after The Festival we have racing. After the Grand National we have racing. After the season finishes in Punchestown, two days later you’re racing again, it’s a new season and we’re back to zero. “The initial moment is always satisfying but you’re never really content with it. The Recognition after an incredible year with the National Hunt trophy at the 2019 HRI Awards
12 The Festival March 2020
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Physically, the fact she isn’t a teenager or in her early twenties means she can take falls better, despite looking like a candidate for a ballet troupe. Looks can be deceiving can’t they? Ruby always says he’ll judge how good a jockey will be after they have had a few bad falls and broken some bones. See what their bottle is like, how hard they are. This is a hard game after all. Does it affect their riding into and over a jump? Blackmore has had some pearlers of falls throughout the season, as every busy jockey will. She had 613 rides in 2018-19 – only one other jockey in Ireland had more than 500 – and of course she took some heavy falls, but she bounced up every time and went back unnerved. T HIS winter her avalanche of momentum has thundered ever onward. Honeysuckle was dominant in the Hatton’s Grace and two more Grade 1s were annexed at Leopardstown over Christmas on Notebook and A Plus Tard, while she was second in two others over the four days. These Christmas successes leave her in an enviable position for the spring festivals. Honeysuckle has the options of the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle or even the Unibet Champion Hurdle, this year’s Annie Power/ Apple’s Jade conundrum. A Plus Tard is among the candidates for the Ryanair Chase or the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, Monalee heads to the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup after his narrow defeat in the Savills
Chase, while Notebook has the Racing Post Arkle locked in his sights. Few jockeys have the sort of potential ammunition at their disposal as Blackmore. The 2020 Festival promises so much. No woman has had such powerful allies since Joan of Arc. De Bromhead and Gigginstown House Stud provide her with the sort of firepower all jockeys dream of, while she is on the team sheet for Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliot. It wasn’t always so. She laughs now when she tells the story of ringing up a Festival Grade 1-winning trainer for a ride on a four-year-old filly in a bumper before she turned professional. “Hi, this is Rachael Blackmore, I was just wondering if you were sorted for the bumper on Sunday?” “I’m not, Rachael, who have you got?” “Ah . . . it’s for me actually.” “Oh sorry! I didn’t realise it was a ladies’ race.” “Ah . . . it’s not, but I just saw she had a light weight.” “Okay, I’ll come back to you.” Nowadays it’s Rachael Blackmore who has Festival Grade 1 winners to her name. She might not think she has a lot to say, but what she’s done says more than enough. This is an updated article from Irish Racing Yearbook 2020, available to order at irishracingyearbook.com Face in the crowd: Rachael Blackmore in the throng after winning the Irish Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle at Leopardstown in February
next day is constantly on your mind. It’s just how it is, and it’s how we’ve seen those before us do it. Russell rode in Tramore after Tiger Roll and I don’t recall Ruby taking a day off after Cheltenham.” The summer of 2019 wasn’t as straightforward as the spring. Stood down for a week after being concussed in Punchestown, she then spent a month on the sidelines after a second concussion in Clonmel. How frustrating was that? Another frown. Another pause. “It was annoying.” Pause. “I missed five winners in the 48 hours after my second concussion.” Pause. “But I told myself wouldn’t it have been worse had it happened around Cheltenham, Fairyhouse, Aintree or Punchestown? These things happen and you deal with them.” A shrug of her shoulders. Her maturity is a huge asset. Blackmore is unusual in that she has come on to the stage relatively late. She was champion conditional at 28 and had been given leading roles with Henry de Bromhead and Gigginstown at 29. This has been to her advantage. She has been well equipped to handle the trappings of success and has a maturity about her riding and her demeanour that stands her in good stead. Pressure seems to drip off her, her intense focus shielding her. She doesn’t drink but can still be found knee-deep in the Bacardi tent at (music festival) Electric Picnic, although recently she did try to persuade me about the advantages of taking seated tickets over standing ones at a Gerry Cinnamon concert. I suppose we all get older eventually.
14 The Festival March 2020
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THE FESTIVAL’S GOLDEN HOUR
Bryony Frost talks to Lewis Porteous about her beloved Frodon’s part in a special Thursday double act that sent Festival racegoers into raptures world came back, there was just me and him’ ‘For a second, before the
Y OU only have to say his name once to get a sense of what Frodon means to his partner in crime Bryony Frost. Utter his name in her presence and the lights come on, her eyes widen and lips curve into the warmest of smiles. When he is in her mind the world is a better place and not without good reason. The duo have become synonymous with one another and, thanks to three consecutive wins at the Cotswold course last season, with Cheltenham. Their magical victory in last season’s Ryanair Chase being the one that defines their partnership. Almost 12 months may have passed since that tear-jerking win last March but it could have been yesterday the way Frost vividly remembers the minutest details from what was not only a landmark
occasion for horse and rider but also for The Festival TM presented by Magners itself. Frost and Frodon flying high in the Ryanair, followed in the very next race by Paisley Park and his convivial owner Andrew Gemmell hitting the perfect note in the Stayers’ Hurdle, left an indelible grin on thousands of faces during what has become affectionately branded as Cheltenham’s Golden Hour. The game-changing day started like any other Thursday for the rider, who was well aware it had the potential to be seismic but was determined to treat it as mundane. “I have to have my routine,” she says. “I’d done my homework on the race, he’d done his last piece of work and there was nothing else that could be done so I just wanted a good night’s sleep and not to overthink about it. “You’re bubbling for months
March 2020 The Festival 17
‘I actually giggled and, at that moment, we weren’t in a race – we were just having fun together’
Hurdle-winning father Jimmy could talk tactics. “I had my whole family there, which just doesn’t happen,” says the jockey. “My brothers Hadden, who flew over from America, and Daniel were there, as was my mum Nikki. “I got out on track with Dad and it was just about walking the line and finding the strides – knowing what part of the fence I wanted to jump. Thinking about plan A, B, C and D in case something goes wrong. I’m very lucky to have Dad to lean back on.” T HE weighing room at Cheltenham is akin to a pressure cooker and only those who can deal with the intense heat perform at their optimum, but Frost was determined to use the atmosphere to her advantage. “The Festival is like the Olympics to us, so it’s intense. The atmosphere in the changing room is different,” says the 24-year-old. “I always say nerves are a disguise for excitement. They mean you’re alive and focused. When nerves start to freeze you and make you scared, that’s when they become negative.” It was soon time to slip the blue and white silks of Frodon’s owner Paul Vogt over her shoulders before the call to leave the weighing room arrived. There was no going back now. “I actually bumped into Frodon as he was parading and I was walking out and I smiled at him and said, ‘All right lad’. He was bouncing around and he knew it was a big day. “Paul gave me a quick brief but he never makes it complicated – he just reminds you of a few of the facts and then you’re getting legged up and away you go. “It’s quite a tight bend down to the
before but you’ve got to try to get yourself out of the buzz. Go to bed, go to sleep, get up, go and ride out, do your normal thing, into the car and go racing.” Frost first rode Frodon in competitive action in December 2017 but it was at the start of last season the pair really started to gel. They won the Old Roan Chase first time out at Aintree and then finished runners-up in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November. They then went one better back here for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup but it was their win on Trials day, giving weight away in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase, that really established them as genuine Festival contenders. The only question then was whether trainer Paul Nicholls would target him at the Ryanair or the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup? Frost says: “Paul is a master at having them in the right races and giving them the best chance, and we were always of the opinion of running him in the race he’s most likely to win. That’s why he went for the Ryanair.” With the decision made, she could really start to focus on the job in hand. “To be in a yard with horses who are going to The Festival with a live chance is mega,” says the rider. “You’re not just going there to make the numbers, you’re going there with one of the most talked-about horses. To be a partnership with Frodon is unbelievable and just to say you’re his jockey is pretty epic.” Sticking to her regular regime, Frost remembers arriving at Cheltenham hours before the masses poured in, setting out her kit with precision in the weighing room and sipping her cup of hot sugary tea as usual. Then it was out to the track, where she and her 1991 Champion
Bryony Frost and Frodon (right) on their way to victory in the Ryanair Chase from Aso (left) and Road To Respect
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gear, revving it up and going back up to sixth. That’s what he wants you to do and you just wait for that moment. I looked across and Aso was still there and if anything he’s getting the better of us. At two out he’s almost half a length in front and at that moment my determination was slipping.” She may have felt her dream drifting away but her stubborn sidekick had other ideas and all was not lost. Frost says: “I remember landing two out and him leaning down into the bridle as if to tell me, ‘Get a hold of yourself, what are you doing? You might be wanting to give up but I’m not’. “The battle was on coming into the last and we found the stride and went over it and it was just quiet in that moment. Then he landed and it was like a bomb had gone off. He hit the ground so hard and pushed himself away from the last. It was at that moment Aso’s face disappeared and all I can see is
Frodon’s ears flat back. He’s going for all his worth up that hill and I’m right with him. “It was just a blur of green and I can’t tell you where the finish line was. There was no noise – I couldn’t hear the crowd or other horses, it was just him, and he’d gone and done it, which was just a mega moment.” While she was oblivious to it, Cheltenham had gone into pandemonium, with seemingly all 60,000 people at the course behind Frodon and Frost, who had become the first female rider to score in Grade 1 company over fences at The Festival. “For a second, before the world came back, there was just me and him,” she recalls. “Then down the chute, with people leaning over and giving us high-fives, was just unreal. They’ve found common ground with me and him and were buzzed just as much as we were. “I really took a moment to look up and see how many people had come down to clap him back into the winner’s enclosure. When people get behind you and your horse you really appreciate it.” The magic continued when the winning rider dismounted and started to let the rest of the world in on what she had just experienced. Hearing that torrent of joy was the closest most of us will get to riding a finish at The Festival. “I’m just saying what I lived and that’s it. People say, ‘How do you talk straight away?’ But I’m literally telling you what I’ve just seen and what I’ve just felt. I haven’t made any of it up, I’m saying it exactly how it made my heart beat out there. When you feel that connection with your horse I love being able to let people in.” Frost, who is the first jockey to be sponsored by Jockey Club Racecourses, remembers a relay of interviews and still answering questions when the second fairytale of the day came true. “It was epic when Paisley Park then won,” she recalls. “To hear that happen was mega and you’re back on cloud nine. It’s not something that happens every year – this was extraordinary.” It is hard to argue with those sentiments. No wonder they call it the Golden Hour.
two-and-a-half-mile start and ‘Frode’ goes around it like a whippet. I nearly went out the side door and that would have been a disaster but we got to the start together, which was the first mission completed.” Easing to a halt, the pair had a moment to contemplate, Frost telling her partner that the biggest battle of their lives was upon them and it was time to dig deeper than ever before. Then they were racing. “I got a great start, jumped out over the first two and found a rhythm straight away,” she relives with precision. “He knew what he was doing but the Irish had a plan to annoy us up front. They knew what they had to do and, fair play, they’ve got to try to beat us. “We came up past the post for the first time and that’s usually where I find a breather and bring it down a gear, but they wouldn’t allow that to happen. “I thought, ‘Right bud, you’re just going to have to keep pushing through the wall for a minute and we’re going to have to go a mile and a half before we can take back’. “Then at the ditch down the back he came out of my hands and was completely showing off. I actually giggled and, at that moment, we weren’t in a race – we were just having fun together. He was showing off his scope and having a complete laugh at me.” A T THE highest part of the track, between five out and the tricky fourth-last, Sub Lieutenant, who had been hassling Frodon for the lead from the off, started to beat a hasty retreat, with Frost sensing the perfect opportunity to allow Frodon the chance to catch his breath. However, as they started to relax, a new challenger appeared on the outside and the chance to regroup was gone. “At the top of the hill I thought, ‘This is going to be tough now’,” says Frost. “We met that tricky fence short but clean and then Aso took us on going down the hill. “When you come around the home bend Frodon always switches to his inside leg – it’s like dropping a car down to fifth
March 2020 The Festival 21
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Lewis Porteous hears from Paisley Park’s owner Andrew Gemmell about the pure theatre of act two A NDREW GEMMELL is no stranger to The Festival TM presented by Magners. He can recall with pleasure the first time he visited with his parents in 1971 and, while there have been one or two omissions since, he can certainly be counted among the regulars at the biggest four days of jump racing in the calendar. Yet last year’s Festival was an altogether different proposition for the 67-year-old from north London, who realised a lifetime’s ambition as the owner of Stayers’
THE FESTIVAL’S GOLDEN HOUR
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Aidan Coleman’s celebrates Stayers’ Hurdle success on Andrew Gemmell’s Paisley Park
Hurdle hero Paisley Park. Following Frodon and Bryony Frost’s heroics in the previous race, Cheltenham was already abuzz and after Paisley Park delivered a second feelgood result in the space of an hour, everyone wanted a slice of the winning owner. He recalls: “It was something I’ve dreamt of all my life and for it to have happened was phenomenal. Everyone wanted to talk from the press to members of the crowd. “I do think about it a lot and relive it many times in my head because it was phenomenal. It’s amazing too how many people have come up to me since to say how much it meant to them to be there when something special like Frodon and Paisley Park happened.” Gemmell was certainly in a minority at the start of Festival week as the owner of a market leader for one of the championship races and, while excited to find out if Paisley Park was the ‘banker’ most were predicting, it came with a considerable amount of pressure. “The day itself from start to finish was a rollercoaster and a completely different experience,” he says. “To win a first Grade 1 in the Long Walk was great but it really caught fire after the Cleeve and the build-up, with all the interviews and press attention, was enormous. “As the days went by and it became closer, the tension mounted – I’ve never felt anything quite like that before. It’s definitely a different feeling when you’ve got your own horse running, but on this occasion it was heightened even more because there was a sense of expectancy.” L IKE the majority of regulars, Gemmell knows what he likes when it comes to the second week in March and, as has been the routine in recent years, he made his base for the week with friends around 30 miles east of the racecourse in the historic market town of Witney. “For the last couple of years three or four of us have been staying in Witney and travelling back and forwards every day,” he says. “I remember not sleeping very well the night before and was basically forced by my mates to have breakfast, because I didn’t want anything.” His perception that Stayers’ Hurdle day was going to be like nothing he had previously experienced on a racecourse was only heightened when he arrived at the track, with well-wishers keen to chat along with TV and radio stations. “We got to the course a bit earlier than usual because we wanted to take it all in a bit,” remembers Gemmell, who used to work in local government at Westminster Council. “You could tell in all the coverage beforehand that everyone was rooting for us and you could
March 2020 The Festival 25
Trainer Emma Lavelle and Andrew Gemmell savour a longed-for Festival success; (below) Gemmell, in West Ham United scarf, holds aloft the trophy
definitely sense that on the day. “I was quite lucky in a way because I had an interest in Flemcara, who was running in the Pertemps on the same day and that took my mind off it briefly, but obviously it was all about Paisley Park. “I think I had one or two drinks to relax me too, but after race two I went and did an interview with John Inverdale, which I enjoyed – he really put me at ease and I started to feel great then.” A sports enthusiast and avid West Ham United fan, Gemmell has travelled far and wide to enjoy major events from tennis Grand Slams to the biggest Test matches cricket can offer, but for him The Festival has an aura like no other. “It’s as good as anything and the atmosphere is brilliant,” he says. “It’s one of the sporting events of the year and has built up more and more over the years. It’s absolutely unique and the pinnacle of jump racing.” Hooked on racing since the 1960s, it was not until three decades later that he sampled ownership for the first time with the Million In Mind syndicate. He has held shares in many horses since, while the first he owned in his own right was Seymar Lad, who carried his claret and blue colours to a maiden success at Southwell in 2008. Ascot Gold Cup winner Trip To Paris took Gemmell to his beloved Australia for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in 2015 but his greatest journey of all has been with Paisley Park. “We almost lost him after his debut with grass sickness and it took him the whole of the following season to fully recover,” says his doting owner. “He ran in the Albert Bartlett
‘It’s amazing how many people have said to me since how much it
and was virtually last, but he was still a bit of a shell after what he’d been through the previous year.” Last season the boy certainly became a man, with an unbeaten run of four, including a breakthrough at the highest level, taking him to The Festival as the season’s leading staying hurdler. “He won at Aintree and then landed what was the fixed brush hurdle at Haydock and gradually he blossomed. Everyone always thought he was a really nice horse but no-one could have imagined the heights he scaled last season.” B LIND since birth, Gemmell likes to “lock in” to the commentary when taking in a race and, having found the same spot from where he had enjoyed Paisley Park’s easy Festival warm-up win in the Cleeve Hurdle in Cheltenham’s parade ring, he was ready for the most important race of his and the horse’s life to begin. Returning to the heart of Stayers’ Hurdle day, he says: “It was all a bit of a blur with all the tension in the parade ring. We talked through the race a little bit but the die was cast by then really and I’d almost reached the stage where I thought ‘what will be will be now’. “I’d be the first to admit I’m not great company when they’re about to go off. People have been known to try to give me a description of what is happening when the race is on and I’m not particularly pleased when they do that. I don’t like it. “I lock in on the commentary and I think that makes you go into your own bubble as well.” Whether listening intently to the racecourse commentary by Ian Bartlett or watching the big screen in the paddock, as Gemmell’s close friends were, it was not a particularly comfortable conveyance that day, as Paisley Park appeared to hit his customary flat spot
meant to be there’
26 The Festival March 2020
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Andrew Gemmell at home in north London
times since – I’ve heard Richard Hoiles, John Hunt and Ian Bartlett, so three different versions, and it still sounds great now. “I was carried away by the excitement and adrenaline at first and don’t think it really hit home for a little while. I think it was kind of the next day that it really kicked in that we’d won the Stayers’ Hurdle.” H E ADDS: “I didn’t go on Gold Cup day but on ITV all the experts who were picking their highlights of the week were saying it was the ‘Golden Hour’. People still mention it now and I’m amazed that even at the various Test matches I’ve been to since, people come up and ask how Paisley Park is.” On the day itself, Gemmell remembers escaping the throngs of Paisley Park fans after racing and heading back to Witney with his friends, where the celebrations went on long into the night. “There was lots of drinking and we took the trophy into the pub and drank champagne out
of it, so it was great fun,” he says. “You’ll never be able to repeat the spontaneity of what went on that day.” Perhaps not, but with Paisley Park and Frodon again well fancied to retain their Thursday crowns, there is at least a chance that history could repeat itself on the third day of this year’s Festival. One thing’s for sure, having looked so impressive in retaining his Cleeve Hurdle crown, Paisley Park is again heading there as ‘Britain’s banker’. “He’s a special horse,” concludes Gemmell. “There’s something this season that has changed – he hasn’t hit a flat spot so far, which is a great thing, and he’s matured. I remember all the great staying hurdlers with great affection and I love that we are even being talked about in those terms. “The big thing now is to be there present, correct and in good form on the 12th of March.” If last year is anything to go by, it will be an occasion not to be missed.
earlier than is normally the case. “That was a strange one,” relives the owner. “Having been through all his other races I was used to his flat spot and we’d talked about it, so I was ready for it. “But it did come slightly early at Cheltenham and I was concerned at that point, but between the second-last and the last he came storming through, which was glorious. “Down to the last, and with the commentary saying ‘He’s taken it up’, I thought, ‘Here we go’. And then came that mistake – the people around me were going ‘Oh no!’ and I thought ‘Christ!’ but luckily he was okay.” It might not have been pretty but Paisley Park found his feet at the landing side of the last hurdle and off he galloped to complete the dream result for Gemmell, trainer Emma Lavelle and rider Aidan Coleman, not to mention the thousands of supporters who made their voices heard. “It was going mental,” he says. “I could hardly hear when they came over the last but I still knew. I’ve heard the commentary so many
28 The Festival March 2020
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Five keys to a profitable Festival
James Pyman with the essential advice for punters
Tiger could be rolled over The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase has been monopolised by the Irish, with 13 of the 15 winners since its introduction in 2005, and Gordon Elliott’s Tiger Roll is likely to be a warm order in search of a hat-trick.
However, there are lots of opportunities for top cross-country chasers in France, where trainers are showing a growing interest in these unique races at Cheltenham. Emmanuel Clayeaux’s Urgent De Gregaine was second in the Festival Cross Country in 2018 and third last year, while David Cottin saddled a December meeting one-two with Easysland ( left ) – a recent purchase by JP McManus – and Amazing Comedy.
Blackmore and De Bromhead set for more success Rachael Blackmore’s profile is sky-rocketing and with the backing of Henry de Bromhead ( below ), who has a realistic chance of being the meeting’s top trainer, more big-race success is expected. With a book of potential mounts including last year’s Festival winners Minella Indo and A Plus Tard as well as Honeysuckle and Notebook, it’s conceivable Blackmore could finish as leading rider. From last year’s Festival onwards, Blackmore’s record for De Bromhead ( below ) in Grade 1s is eight wins from 26 rides for a £1 level-stakes profit of £52.38.
Graded form key to Northern Trust Company Chase The Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase is at the mercy of a horse with potential to be better than a handicapper, highlighted last season by A Plus Tard, who showed himself to be considerably better than his mark of 144. Raising the ratings ceiling by 5lb to 145 two seasons ago has helped classier prospects get in – A Plus Tard would have been ineligible before this change. Before winning he had run well in a Grade 3 chase and concentrating on unexposed chasers with Graded form could be key. Alan King’s Deyrann De Carjac ( below ) has the right profile.
Top amateur Codd can net more winners Information overload is a challenge for punters and if you needed proof that sometimes it’s best to keep things simple just take a look at Jamie Codd’s record. The top amateur jockey’s Festival stats are simply phenomenal – nine winners from 33 rides (27 per cent strike-rate) for a £1 level-stakes profit of £43.83. He’s
Champion Bumper form working out Following runners with Festival form on their CVs is a sound punting strategy often and the Weatherbys Champion Bumper has a fine record over the years of producing future winners at the meeting. Florida Pearl, Cue Card and Champagne Fever are examples of Champion Bumper winners that went on to score at the highest level at future Festivals, and the form of last year’s running won by Envoi Allen and Jamie Codd ( left ), is working out exceptionally well. Envoi Allen, third Thyme Hill and fourth Abacadabras are all Grade 1 winners over hurdles this season, while fifth The Glancing Queen landed a competitive Aintree bumper next time out and 12th Master Debonair has won a Grade 2 hurdle.
ridden two winners at three of the last five Festivals including two of the last three winners of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper for Gordon Elliott, who has been the jockey’s main source of Festival rides. Five of his 14 mounts for the trainer have hit the target (+£16.50). To catch a Codd winner at a bigger price, take note of any bookings for British stables. Four of his 13 such
rides rewarded backers at SPs including 16-1, 14-1 and 9-1.
30 The Festival March 2020
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