Opinion

The Cheltenham Festival seems to get bigger and better every year. It’s always the most important four days for us in racing, but I think it’s really growing as a global sporting event too. There were some impressive performances throughout the week, especially Altior in the Champion Chase. But of course, the highlight for me was Friday. To win the Gold Cup — 18 years after I won it before — was amazing.

I thought Native River had a good chance going into the race, especially after his win in the Denman Chase at Newbury last month, but you can never be too confident. Happily, it all went to plan and everything seemed to click into place. We had a good start, which is vital, as your chances of winning decrease without that. We got into a good rhythm early on despite the ground being pretty testing.

Native River won the Welsh National, so we all know he’s not short of stamina, but you still don’t want to go too hard early on in a race. He’s such an easy horse to deal with — he’s straightforward and jumps smoothly. He’s so honest — when you need him to be brave and tough, he is.

I never really had a worry; the only slight concern was when Might Bite came to join us three out and I could see he was going well. However, I knew we’d keep going; it was just a case of whether Might Bite would or not. It turned out to be a good thing, though, as it gave us someone to race against and my horse stayed strong. He’s an amazing animal; he’s pretty much the perfect horse for a jockey as he just gets on with it and gives you 110% all the time.

‘I broke the rules’

I would like to think I rarely get into trouble with the stewards for stick use, so it was a shame to pick up a seven-day ban for overuse in the Gold Cup. The whip rule works really well and British racing has excellent rules for welfare, and it’s important they are in place as it makes jockeys ride better and use the stick sparingly.

Native River was responding at the time, going up the hill in tough ground, but unfortunately I broke the rules and will take the punishment. It’s disappointing and I don’t want it to take away from the horse and his performance. Horses are the most important part of doing what we do, and there’s no way I would ever wish harm on them.

‘I appreciate it more this time’

It seems a long time since I last won a Gold Cup — back in 2000 on Looks Like Trouble, who was trained by my wife Fiona’s father, Noel Chance. It was a wonderful day, of course, but I didn’t appreciate it as much at the time. I was young and presumed things like that happened all the time, which obviously they don’t as I’ve waited another 18 years to get the next one. I appreciate it more the second time round — now I’m married and have kids, it’s special that I can share it with them. They’re really excited, too — my boys took the cup to school with them to show their class. I told them to be careful with it!

No matter how hard you work, you need a bit of luck as well, and it’s been amazing to receive so many messages. We’re very grateful for everyone’s support.

Irish on form

The Irish had an amazing Festival. They ran us ragged the first three days, so it was nice to get our pride back on the final day, even if they did finish 17-11 up. British or Irish, though, it was the best of the best all
week.

Ref Horse & Hound; 22 March 2018