It looks on paper that I’ve a better book of rides than Hugh Hefner – but the reality at Cheltenham is that it’s damn hard to win races.
Everyone thinks it is agony or ecstasy but even with the quality of rides I have you can’t get carried away on hype – you have to be realistic too.
Even one winner on Tuesday is good, two would be great and three would be fabulous. And if there’s a fourth, well …
It’s certainly a relief when you do past the post in front because Cheltenham is so competitive, the expectation on you is so high.
Maybe that’s what makes it so special. The Festival has been a lucky place for me (41 winners) and I’ve been top jockey there for six of the last seven years.
I’m not superstitious. I gave that up I won the Aintree Grand National on Papillion in 2000 and he was number 13 on the race-card. You won’t get far as a jockey relying on superstition anyway – especially at Cheltenham.
Although, I really hope my luck is in this year!
Walk this way
I usually fly over with weigh-room colleague David Casey on the Sunday night. I’ve done that since I started working for Willie Mullins 17-odd years ago.
While it’s still quiet on Monday, I’ll maybe walk the track and if there was a big change in the going later in the week – I’d walk it again. Usually I’d stroll away myself. I don’t need any more opinions to complicate things for me.
The anticipation really starts to build on the Monday morning when you’re riding out. With all the horses Willie sends – probably more than 50 this year – a lot of the staff will travel over because our runners have all got to be exercised in the mornings.
In many ways Monday, is the best day. All your hopes are still dreams and there’s been no disappointments. Reality has usually kicked in by Tuesday evening.
Don’t look back
Cheltenham nerves don’t really bother me. I’m lucky enough that I always get a good night’s sleep.
I stay in the same house and have done for the past 10 or 12 years. It’s within walking distance of the course and it’s very handy for me.
We were robbed last year. I think they got about £30 off the table.
They can’t have been the smartest burglars if they thought they’d get money off me.
The houses are basic – no Sky+ boxes or anything and that suits me fine.
I don’t watch the highlights of the day’s action at night time. I’d watch the re-runs in the weigh-room but I’m more interested in looking forward to the next day’s action than looking back.
There’s a lot at steak
My wife Gillian usually comes over Tuesday morning so in the evening we go for dinner with friends. We try to go somewhere different every night – maybe on recommendations or somewhere we fancy ourselves a steakhouse, Italian or whatever.
There’s usually six or eight of us and racing usually dominates the conversation – what has happened, what’s coming up – no different than the majority who go for the four days.
I’m not big into music and I wouldn’t bring any movies with me to watch at night. I like to hit the hay about 10pm and I’ll be back on the track for 7am to put the horses through their paces. It’s usually just a walk or a trot, maybe a small canter – just to let them limber up.
There’s plenty to be done like loading horse boxes for the ones that are going home or any new arrivals. There’s time to kill in the early morning so it all helps to pass the time before the action starts.
I usually get in to the weigh-room about noon ahead of the 1.30 start on race days.
A Cheltenham victory definitely makes up for all the falls, cold wet mornings, hours in the car and work it’s takes to get there. The more winners you ride there the more you seem to crave but it’s not as simple as just turning up.
Is it a relief? Yeah it is. Your year is judged on Cheltenham and I’d always be worried about drawing a blank.
I’d be disappointed if I pick the wrong one in the Champion Hurdle – the feature race on Tuesday. I’d sooner be second to The New One (or whoever) than pick the wrong one between Faugheen or Hurricane Fly.
I won’t panic though – there will still be three more days to go after it. It’s Cheltenham – anything can happen.
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- Ruby Walsh: I’ll eat Christmas dinner alright but it’s not like I’ll have breakfast, then dinner and 27 turkey sandwiches in front of the TV later
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