They say “all roads lead to Cheltenham” and for The Giant Bolster and I this year it amazingly did, as we took part in the Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) parade. Much of my time prior to the parade has been readying for the day. Sammy has continued in his training and has massively progressed — he is now working really consistently and those trot-canter transitions are now nailed.
I took Sammy over for another training session with Jo Bates, which was really productive. Jo is extremely excited about him — he is a ball of energy, a true athlete and she says he will have the most amazing medium trot, so loads to look forward to. It is very rewarding to be trained by someone with such enthusiasm, who gets the best out of both Sammy and I. Before I left, Jo kindly pulled his tail so he looked super smart for the parade — she is so much better at it than me, so I left it to the pro. His tail did not go unnoticed on the day and Alice Fox-Pitt said how amazing he looked and loved his dressage bling. Thanks, Alice!
I had a phone call from the RoR asking to take publicity shots for the media to promote the parade. The shoot was delayed due to Hurricane Doris, but when the photographer, Gavin James, came the next day he captured some lovely shots (pictured, below). Sammy is so photogenic and charismatic, he would be the perfect supermodel. The ROR is a fantastic charitable organisation, the staff are very helpful and knowledgeable, plus they are always happy to give advice on the phone — they also have an excellent website. They do so much for ex-racehorses, so I am always willing to help promote their cause.
When the day of the parade arrived, Sammy spent the early hours in the field while I rode out — no, I didn’t get the day off! As soon as he came in, we bathed him and loaded him straight up to arrive early at Cheltenham before the traffic. Once there, Sammy was put in an allocated stable and we left him to settle before I plaited him. It was lovely to meet the other riders and members of the RoR staff in person — having only communicated on Facebook and email — especially the two fabulous ladies, Rebecca Court (riding the winner of the RoR series Beware Chalk Pit) and Rachel Kempster (on the stunning Champion Hurdle winner Punjabi). The line-up of horses this year was amazing — superstars of National Hunt racing — and we were very proud to be included. It really goes to show how flexible and retrainable thoroughbreds are.
I had also been asked to do an interview for Radio 5 Live, so had to leave earlier than the others (except Balthazar King, ridden by Lizzi Beckett who came with us for company). Sammy knew exactly where he was as soon as he caught sight of the track. As we made our way up the walkway to the parade ring, my heart swelled — I cannot convey how much this little horse did for us during his racing days and the moments of complete exhilaration we experienced at this track. It was definitely a ‘lump in the throat’ time.
I was accompanied by Gary, who always went with Sammy when he was racing and was fantastic, reassuring him at all the right times. There was a packed crowd watching the parade and the atmosphere was electric — all the horses were magnificent, each turned out for the specific discipline they have been retrained for.
I would like to thank everyone for all their wonderful, positive comments and support. To have people cheer and say “Sammy, we love you” means so much — he really does have an awesome following at Cheltenham. Sammy’s owner, Simon Hunt, was also interviewed during the parade and his wife, Liz, shed a tear as we walked into the parade ring. I am indebted to them both for allowing me to ride him.
After the parade, we loaded him straight up and headed home. Sammy had coped amazingly and I am sure he loved all the attention he received. As soon as we got home it was plaits out, in the field and back covered in mud — the boy was relaxed again. I have made our first ‘competitive’ entry, so hopefully lots more to tell you next time.