IF the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase, Wetherby’s signature race of the year, was a popularity contest, the David Bridgwater-trained The Giant Bolster would probably be a runaway winner.
This is an admirable horse, one of seven top-class contenders, in today’s £100,000 showpiece who continues to represent the best of National Hunt racing because of his consistency.
Unlike the Flat where the top horses are invariably retired to stud after just two seasons, this wily warrior has featured at five successive Cheltenham Festivals – and been placed in the last three Gold Cups.
He is a horse of a lifetime to the enthusiastic Bridgwater, who was stable jockey to Martin Pipe in the 1990s before injury struck and he decided to pursue a second career as a trainer.
It is hard to think of a more passionate individual than Stow-on-the-Wold-based Bridgwater, who still harbours dreams of The Giant Bolster winning a Gold Cup next year – especially as there does not appear to be a standout horse in the three-mile chase division following a golden era headlined by the now retired stablemates Kauto Star and Denman.
Bridgwater’s wife, Lucy, rides the horse each day and the trainer told The Yorkshire Post in his characteristic no-nonsense style: “It is very easy for a small yard to abuse a good horse because they’re desperate for a win. We’re not like that.
“There’s a lot that don’t go back to Cheltenham year after year. That’s the aim for this fella, a fourth Gold Cup. That’s the plan, but it’s a long way off. What makes a good horse? Who knows? If we knew that, the job would be a lot easier.”
Bridgwater does not expect to win today’s race – he says the Paul Nicholls-trained Silviniaco Conti “should be a certainty” – but he hopes The Giant Bolster, the winner of nearly £350,000 prize money from 30 starts, will give the favourite a good run for his money.
His doubts are the track – gelding always saves his best for Cheltenham and Wetherby is a right-handed course – and the fact that regular Tom Scudamore is required to ride at Ascot for his boss, David Pipe.
However, Bridgwater says Jason Maguire, just back in the saddle following a life-threatening fall in March when part of his liver had to be cut away in emergency surgery, is a more than able deputy.
“Hopefully, if we’re back at Cheltenham, Tom will be there,” added Bridgwater. “We were only beaten by one of AP McCoy’s best-ever rides aboard Synchronised in the 2012 Gold Cup and I thought we were going to win it this year coming up the hill. We got knocked about a couple of times by rivals, but it happens. That’s racing.”
Form and fitness permitting, Silviniaco Conti and The Giant Bolster could be joined in next year’s Gold Cup by Taquin Du Seuil, who represents trainer Jonjo O’Neill and the aforementioned McCoy.
However, the winner of last season’s Grade One JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival was very disappointing on his comeback run at Newton Abbot and O’Neill says this race will determine whether his horse is a genuine Gold Cup contender.
The field is completed by the classy Menorah, Double Ross, Medermit and Hilary Parrott’s course specialist Wayward Prince, who won the 2011 Towton Novices’ Chase and has been placed in the last two renewals of the Charlie Hall.