Bygones: The day Mister McGoldrick upset all the odds at the Cheltenham Festival

Mister McGoldrick and Dominic Elsworth clear the last in the Racing Post Plate at Cheltenham in March 2008.
Mister McGoldrick and Dominic Elsworth clear the last in the Racing Post Plate at Cheltenham in March 2008.
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THE relief was etched across jump jockey Dominic Elsworth’s face as Mister McGoldrick safely negotiated Cheltenham’s famous final fence.

Victory at jump racing’s championship meeting beckoned. Rain-soaked trainer Sue Smith could not stop grinning as she watched the big screen.

Mister McGoldrick returns to the Cheltenham winner's enclosure. To the rear are Harvey Smith and owner Richard Longley.

Mister McGoldrick returns to the Cheltenham winner's enclosure. To the rear are Harvey Smith and owner Richard Longley.

This was their rags-to-riches horse – a 66-1 outsider – coming home in splendid isolation to win the prestigious Racing Post Plate.

Smith’s redoubtable husband Harvey, the famous showjumper, was seen wiping away a tear of pride as he greeted his champion.

Owner Richard Longley, who named the horse after his heart surgeon, was just relieved to be there – he nearly missed the race.

Meanwhile, the bookmakers near Leeds General Infirmary, where Longley was treated by Joe McGoldrick, were counting the losses.

Sue Smith with Mister McGoldrick in December 2008.

Sue Smith with Mister McGoldrick in December 2008.

Ten years later, winning connections are even more appreciative of this success because subsequent Festival glory has been elusive.

It is why there is palpable pride as they recall the day when their Cheltenham dreams came true.

As snow plays havoc with this year’s Festival preparations, they are the first to acknowledge the weather’s fickleness.

Wednesday’s racing that year was abandoned because of high winds – and then the heavens opened.

Mister McGildrick on the gallops at Sue Smith's stables - former jockey Andrew Kinirons is in the saddle.

Mister McGildrick on the gallops at Sue Smith's stables - former jockey Andrew Kinirons is in the saddle.

Smith was relieved. She knew the rain-softened ground would dent the speed of the veteran 11-year-old horse’s younger rivals.

“We knew the horse was very capable – we were worried about the going, but Richard was keen to go,” she told The Yorkshire Post.

“When the heavens opened, it rained all day. It absolutely played into his hands. We were pleased to see the rain.”

Elsworth, 38, concurs. “I remember it being a cold, old wet day and thinking it couldn’t work out better,” said the Guiseley-born rider.

“I knew he could cope with soft ground better than other horses in the race.”

By now Longley had made it to Cheltenham after initially volunteering to take his daughter to work when her car broke down. His wife told him not to be so stupid.

Not only did he place £10 each-way with the Tote at odds of 146-1, but he witnessed one of Cheltenham’s most uplifting victories.

It needs to be seen in the context of Mister McGoldrick’s humble origins – and lack of expectations.

Having undergone bypass and cardiac surgery in 1996, former pub owner Longley, who lives in Leeds, decided to buy a horse to help his recuperation.

He visited his friend Arthur Key, a butcher in Knaresborough, who knew the racing game – and expected a field of horses from which to choose.

There was only one foal in the field – there was no plan B – so Longley struck a deal and the horse was sent to James Given’s yard where he enjoyed very moderate success on the Flat before a fateful phone call.

“The phone rang one night and it was Richard who said he had got a horse and did I want to train him,” said Smith.

Expectations were low. The hope, she recalls, was just to win a little race and take it from there.

She did not foresee Mister McGoldrick winning by 15 lengths at Doncaster less than a fortnight later. “He won again, but it was only when he went chasing that we realised we just had a fantastic jumper and proper racehorse,” she said.

Smith attributes this to three factors – the horse loving the fresh air on Baildon Moor, being trained at a slower pace than on the Flat and the special bond with the aforementioned Elsworth who was at the outset of his career.

“Dominic absolutely adored him – and that makes a lot of difference, a horse who has someone who loves them,” she explained. “Dominic believed in the horse and the horse believed in Dominic.”

Though Smith says Mister McGoldrick was not the best-looking horse, the gelding’s confirmation meant he was a sound horse.

This became self-evident when he started winning at his beloved Wetherby, where he triumphed in eight races in total.

His zest for racing, combined with heart-stopping jumps when he took off from outside the wings of fences, saw Mister McGoldrick build a sizeable following.

Fortunate not to suffer a fatal tendon injury when falling at Aintree in 2005, he was good enough to finish third in Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase the following year when future Gold Cup winner Kauto Star came to grief.

Yet, after a long losing run, Longley switched the horse to trainer Carl Llewellyn’s yard for a season. He hoped a change of scenery would freshen up his horse.

It did not. Mister McGoldrick returned to Craiglands Farm and promptly won at Wetherby after being reunited with Elsworth, rekindling the Cheltenham dream.

Then came the rain.

The scene was set and the perfect race unfolded as Mister McGoldrick began to relish the testing conditions and made up ground at each fence with his accurate jumping.

Now in the lead, Elsworth was worried about the fourth last – a massive open ditch – if the horse chose to put in one of his more flamboyant jumps. “When the petrol gauge goes into the red he still thinks he is Pegasus,” he said. “He met it perfectly and winged it.”

Down the hill, over the third last with a lengthening lead and then the penultimate fence where AP McCoy came to grief on future Grand National winner Don’t Push It.

By then it was a one-horse race – and Elsworth had never been more focused approaching the last.

“He had made a couple of mistakes here in the Champion Chase and unseated me in the 2004 Arkle,” he recalled. “I made sure I got a safe jump, no risks.”

As Smith urged her horse on from the paddock – “I was like a drowned rat with a silly grin on my face” – the jockey had time to take in the occasion.

“It was a nice feeling, winning a race with ease rather than getting into a battle,” he added.

He was greeted by Smith’s emotional husband and, for once, the former showjumper had no words of complaint.

As they headed back to the winner’s enclosure Longley was still in shock – he was convinced the horse’s luck would run out and be caught on the line.

It did not and he was not.

Mister McGoldrick won a final race at Huntingdon in November, 2010 and time was called on his career the following year.

From 91 starts, he amassed 15 wins, over £370,000 and spends his retirement with the New Beginnings Charity that rehomes and retrains former racehorses. “To look at the horse, he was quite ugly,” reflected the now retired Elsworth. “Nothing special, but he had such a big heart.”

Smith concurred. Ten years on she still harbours Cheltenham hopes and dreams.

“It would be wonderful to win a Gold Cup before we hang up our boots, not that we are thinking of doing so,” she said. “And it would be nice to have another Mister McGoldrick.”

Dominic Elsworth interview, CLICK HERE