Yorkshire Dales farmer Les Fell dreaming of Champion Hurdle glory at Cheltenham with Silver Streak

North Yorkshire beef farmer Les Fell will only have one regret when the Champion Hurdle field canter to the start on day one of next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

The grey Settle Streak will carry the colours of Settle farmer Les Fell in next week's Champion Hurdle.
The grey Settle Streak will carry the colours of Settle farmer Les Fell in next week's Champion Hurdle.

Covid restrictions means that the 78-year-old, and his family, will not be present to watch their horse Silver Streak contest this celebrated race.

He’s not alone. Even JP McManus, whose 2020 heroine Epatante is defending her crown, won’t be present as the National Hunt Festival goes ahead without crowds – or owners. “Looking forward to it, that’s certain,” Fell tells The Yorkshire Post. “You have to, don’t you? Just a shame we can’t go. That’s the problem.

“He’s (Silver Streak) a dream come true. What else is there to say? I can’t tell you how lucky we were to get him; it’s how it has worked out. He won’t be replaceable, will he?”

This was Silver Streak winning at Kempton last October under Champion Hurdle jockey Tom O'Brien.

Fell and his family have farmed at Settle in the Dales for more than 60 years and have a genuine Champion Hurdle contender thanks to racing’s fickle fates.

They went to Doncaster Sales in 2009 with the intention of buying a horse. They had a five-strong shortlist but came away empty-handed.

However Fell’s knowing eye, honed from decades as a livestock farmer, had been taken by a horse called Buck Mulligan who had been with 2000 Grand National-winning trainer Ted Walsh and ridden by his son Ruby.

And serendipity intervened when he picked up the phone the next morning.

Silver Streak and Tom O'Brien in winning action at Kempton last October.

“I rang Doncaster and asked who had bought Buck Mulligan,” he explained.

“They said Evan Williams, the trainer. I rang him and asked if he had anyone for the horse.

“No, he hadn’t, but we could buy him – provided that he would stay in training there.”

The deal was done with the likable Williams, who trains in Wales, and the Fell family enjoyed travelling the length of the country watching Buck Mulligan who became consistent at his level.

Silver Strek put down a Champion Hurdle marker when winning the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton under the now injury-sidelined Adam Wedge.

“Up to the last year, we never missed going anywhere where our horses were running,” said Fell. “As far south as Newton Abbot and as far north as Perth, we’ve just followed them.”

It was in December 2016 that Fell was back at Doncaster, this time with the trainer’s wife Catherine, to buy Silver Streak who had moderate Flat form for Constable Burton trainer Ann Duffield.

The fact that the grey was sired by Dark Angel, he says, was the selling point. What surprised him, however, was the manner of a winning hurdles debut at Taunton and Silver Streak’s subsequent progression.

Third in the 2019 Champion Hurdle when a 80-1 outsider, and then sixth last year just before the Covid lockdown, this season appears to have been the making of the horse.

He won at Kempton last October under Tom O’Brien who will again be in the saddle next week with regular rider Adam Wedge injured.

But it was Silver Streak’s breathtaking win in Kempton’s Grade One Christmas Hurdle, making all under Wedge to deny Epatante, that suggested the horse was entering his prime.

“We were able to go to Kempton in October, myself, my wife, daughter and son-in-law, and rang up for Christmas,” said Fell. “They said only two of us could go, that we’d only be allowed in 45 minutes before the race and go straight after. We didn’t go. Kempton’s five hours away, I wish we had gone.

“There was a lot of noise at home in front of the TV. In fact there was a hell of a lot of noise. You just have to make the best of these things. I asked if we could go to Cheltenham but the answer was a definite no.

“The last two years, we go down on the Monday night and come back home Wednesday or Thursday. We’re booked for next year. That’s wishful thinking...”

Joking aside, Fell is realistic about Silver Streak’s chances in a race where he has to concede 7lb to the aforementioned Epatante and Ireland’s top mare Honeysuckle.

“Hopeful is the word. If everything goes right, we have a chance, but at least 10 or a dozen think exactly the same. As long as nothing goes wrong. We have to give the top mares weight; that’s the one thing that bothers me about the job,” ventures the owner who also fears the resurgent Goshen for the Gary Moore team.

“But I think Silver Streak is a better horse this year. He has strengthened up. The better going, the better our chances.”

Tuesday will see Fell oversee his cattle who are managed by his grandson Thomas. “Watching hand, that’s what Thomas would say.” He’ll the check the TV picture. “It will be a bad day for it to break down, that’s for certain.” And then he’ll sit down with his wife Jean – ‘the boss’ – to, hopefully, watch the grey Silver Streak live up to his name.

Monday: Peter Easterby interview and Bygones special.

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