Ask a professional jockey what race they want to win and most will say the Gold Cup or the Grand National. Ask an amateur jockey the same question and they will say the Foxhunters. Cheltenham or Aintree, I would be happy with either.
March and April — and in fact the months leading up to them — are dominated by the two festivals. For amateurs, the opportunity to be involved is limited. There are three designated races at Cheltenham – the National Hunt Chase, the Kim Muir, and the Foxhunter Chase – and a single designated race at Aintree, the Fox Hunters’. The last of those listed happens to be today (Thursday, 6 April).
The Aintree Fox Hunters’ Chase is a unique challenge for both horse and rider. Big field, big fences, big atmosphere. I have been fortunate to have had plenty of rides at the Festivals over the years but my Aintree record is unenviable – fences one, me nil. However, today, I hope to even the score.
To help me I am entrusting Poole Master, a big, imposing, 12-year-old chestnut. For a horse that has been in training for eight straight years, you could forgive him for beginning to feel his age, but his enthusiasm to gallop and desire to jump is unrelenting. A winner over the course and distance before, he showed his wellbeing by winning last time out and Aintree has been his ultimate objective all season.
For every maiden horse stepping off the lorry for the first time at a point-to-point, the hope is that one day it will reach one of the Festivals. For a rider, the aim is no different.
Today, the dream will come true for someone. I am hoping it will be me.
Ref Horse & Hound; 7 April 2017