OUR TRIP to Cheltenham was quite an experience. We travelled down in an auspicious mood, the wagon packed full for our overnight stay at one of the top jump meetings of the National Hunt season.
My runner Rollo was gleaming, ready for a schooling session that afternoon with his new lead horse - the 2008 Gold Cup winner Denman. It had been arranged by my friend Beanie, who decided he would probably be a preferable alternative to her on a naughty coloured cob.
The prospect of working with Denman had slightly overshadowed everything else. When we arrived the ground staff were as excited as us with their cameras at the ready.
Charlotte, who looks after him in his retirement, was waiting for us. He looked every bit the champion, standing tall and proud, nothing like the average 15-year-old. Rollo was almost small by comparison.
As the horses warmed up we saw why Denman’s nickname was ‘the Tank’. His enthusiasm knew no bounds, his mouth no instruction. Charlotte regularly takes him team chasing and follows the Beaufort hunt. She told me he can be a handful.
Our boys popped the banks, then the big ditches and drops, finishing with the huge rails. Rollo was confident and careful, giving them plenty of height whilst Denman flew at everything. He knew where he was, had the wind under his tail and was back at the track he loved. It was fabulous to see him as he tried to gallop off up the Cheltenham hill after sailing every fence.
Rollo didn’t disappoint, aware he was in the presence of stardom he jumped everything with his ears pricked. Afterwards we washed the horses and said our goodbyes to the Tank and Charlotte. They’d loved it, up until then it’d been the only track at Cheltenham Denman hadn’t jumped before.
Next day the course was a hive of activity. The underlying hum of excitement was infectious. To have a runner at this meeting was my owner’s dream and here we were.
As we waited for the horses to emerge from the stables I wondered where Beanie was. She’d promised to help tack up. A moment later she rang. She’d crashed her car into the back of a new BMW and was fine but the car wasn’t - she wasn’t going to make it.
The ground on the cross country course was good to firm. Rollo is a soft ground horse. Just to get round would be a result. The top Irish horses were making it a full field. Our jockey Harry Bannister was determined to complete, having fallen in his only other attempt.
They set off to an almighty roar, crowds had gathered around the spectacle fences for the four-mile extravaganza. The runners surged the first and second hedges at top speed. Our lad was in the thick of it. They charged towards the first bank. A jockey came down in front of us but Rollo galloped on. Another sharp bend saw horses slip over as the field surged towards the big rails. Rollo flew them.
He kept up until the last circuit when his soft ground action wasn’t enough. He finished a respectable 10th place and jumped perfectly. Returning from the course Harry was beaming. The owners were delighted to have completed and after the previous week I was glad to have my boy back safe and sound. It had been quite a weekend.