WETHERBY trainer Richard Guest has revealed how a chance telephone call led to him riding 50-1 outsider Beech Road to victory in the Champion Hurdle 30 years ago.
Trained by the late Toby Balding, the seven-year-old remains the joint biggest-priced winner in the history of Cheltenham’s two-mile championship race.
And while Guest did win the 2001 Grand National aboard the mudlark Red Marauder, he says victory in a Grade One race at the Cheltenham Festival remains the pinnacle.
Yet Beech Road’s participation in the Champion Hurdle only came about when he overheard a conversation between the aforementioned Balding and the horse’s owner Tony Geake.
He said: “I knew he was in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Sandown on the Saturday beforehand and he had never really run well there.
“This was at the time mobile phones were just coming in and Toby was on the phone to his owner in the car. I had said he is a much better horse at Cheltenham than lumping top weight around Sandown.
This was at the time mobile phones were just coming in and Toby was on the phone to his owner in the car. I had said he is a much better horse at Cheltenham than lumping top weight around Sandown.Richard Guest
“Toby said, ‘I’ve got Guesty jumping up and down in the back of the car saying go to Cheltenham’, as he knows he won’t ride him at Sandown as we would claim off him.
“I knew he would carry the weight much better at Cheltenham and it was soft ground and the favourite (Kribensis) was only a pony of a horse. In the end we agreed to go for the Champion Hurdle rather than Sandown.”
In what had been a season of ups and downs for Beech Road, it was a near-fatal experience at Chelteham on New Year’s Day, 1989, that proved to be a turning point.
“He fell at the last in a novice chase behind Waterloo Boy. He had that fall and he laid there and looked like he was dead, but for whatever reason after that he ate and drank better,” said Guest.
“Strange things happen in racing and he thrived there when he went back hurdling. We always knew he was a good horse and that he was Grade One material. Once we saw his colour was right and the way he was eating, drinking and training there was a sneaky suspicion he may just show us what he can do.
“I dropped him out the back in the Champion and wanted to keep him to the middle or outside of runners so we would be in control of our own destiny and not controlled by others.
“They quickened again down the back straight and I thought ‘my God’ how on earth are they going to keep this up. Everyone got swept along with it and I didn’t panic. I was cool, sat still and kept him in a rhythm. He jumped the last in front and went on up the run in. It was one of the best races I ever rode and he made me look very cool, which I’m appreciative of.”
Now 53, Guest added: “I’ve won a Grand National and everyone wants to win that, but there is no doubt winning a championship Grade One race at the Festival is what you want to be doing as a jockey.”
In Sports Monday: Jonjo O’Neill on Alverton’s Gold Cup win 40 years ago.