If I could have just one bet on the whole Cheltenham Festival it would be Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle. I was at the Paddy Power Cheltenham Preview Night in London and one of the main reasons I went was to hear owner Rich Ricci talk about Faugheen. His comments sealed the deal, nothing will get near the machine.
I got into racing as a youngster courtesy of my Grandad. I was brought up in Lambourn – the home of top trainer, Nicky Henderson’s yard – and my Grandad was a keen racing fan. He’d regularly bring me racing as a teenager and got me into the sport. Whenever I was there at the track, I’d wonder about how good it would be to one day own a racehorse, and the buzz you’d get being in the paddock. Fortunately down the line, that dream became reality with last year with a horse called Miss Sophierose.
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Miss Sophierose was heading to Worcester for her first race on Wednesday October 29. On the Monday beforehand, QPR played Aston Villa at home and I scored both goals in a 2-0 win. The feeling I had at Worcester two days later when Miss Sophierose won her first race was on par with scoring that brace against Villa. Coming round the final bend she had a great chance and it was incredible to see her come across the line in front. It was exactly the thrill I had imagined as a kid. It’s impossible to describe the feeling of scoring a goal in front of 18,000 at Loftus Road, but you can’t explain the feeling of seeing your horse win a race either.
To cap the week off I scored against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and ended up going on a run of 11 goals in nine games – including a match winning hat-trick to come from 2-0 down to beat West Brom 3-2. It was a week I’ll never forget.
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Miss Sophierose’s win on Boxing Day was probably even more exciting though. We were in the team hotel waiting to travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal and I was watching the race from Fontwell on my phone. Gradually as the race went on I started cheering a little bit more. A few of the lads kept looking over at me, wondering what was going on as I didn’t tell anyone she was running. She stumbled two hurdles out and I thought that was it, she’s beat. But she jumped the final up alongside Meetmeatthemoon and it was neck and neck across the line. I couldn’t believe it when the photo finish came back and she’d done it. It set me up nicely then as I scored a penalty against Arsenal – although it was a shame we lost 2-1.
We were in the parade ring after watching Miss Sophierose at Worcester and there were quite a few other syndicates in there, but they all looked quite old. The youngest people there were still probably 15-20 years older than us. As we were leaving we discussed how there must be a load of younger racing fans who’d like to get into the game if the opportunity was there and the price was more reasonable, and that’s how Excel Racing was born. We wanted to give young people that opportunity so we ended up buying a couple of horses and arranging a few trainers and now we have six exciting runners in our stable.
The lads at QPR have all had a bit of a break and we’ve come back stronger as a group ready for Arsenal tonight. Our home form has been our strength this year, and we’ve turned Loftus Road into a fortress. If you ask any team fighting for survival in the Premier League, they’ll tell you how important home form is, and we have it.
This week the squad is fully focused on two huge games in four days – Arsenal and Tottenham – but next week I’ll be hoping to catch some of the racing. Like everyone I’m looking forward to the Festival and it’s an incredible chance to see the best jump horses in the business battling it out. Trainer Willie Mullins is set to have a cracking opening day on Tuesday with four red-hot favourites, and punters are getting on side. I can’t wait to hear the roar.
Keep your eyes peeled on the Paddy Power Blog for more exclusive columns from Charlie Austin and his tips for the Cheltenham Festival over the next few days.
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