Eamonn Leigh has been working at the Co. Kildare yard of Irish trainer Jessica Harrington for over 40 years. Among his charges at this year’s Festival is the reigning Champion Hurdler Jezki. AP McCoy looks set to take the ride in a bid to win the big race in his final Festival before he retires. Eamonn tells us what a trip to Cheltenham for the big race involves.
After building up his work at home, Jezki has an easy week before he travels and he’ll have a few electrolytes before he goes. He’s fairly routine in the stable — he’s no quirks or qualms — and he likes to go out in the field after his exercise.
He doesn’t eat his breakfast early in the morning — he has a bit of exercise, comes back and eats up afterwards when he knows his day’s work is done. He goes out every day but if it’s raining or frosty he’s led out for a pick of grass instead.
The week or 10 days before Cheltenham he won’t be let out just in case anything happens so he’ll be led out in the afternoons and that helps him to get in to the routine of Cheltenham. I’m sure he nearly thinks in his own mind that something’s going to happen. He does pick up on it.
Saturday, 8 March — The journey over
We head to Cheltenham on Saturday to get him settled over there. Jezki has been three times now so he’s hardened up to the travelling. Ferries, lorries and roads are so good nowadays — we’re over there in 11hours so arrive late Saturday/early Sunday morning. So it’s not that big a deal. He’ll be settled as soon as he gets out.
Sunday, 9 March — Some down time for all!
We take him out for a pick of grass on Sunday, then after we’ve got him bedded down and hayed up in the evening, we’ll go for a few pints — get that out the way anyway!
Monday, 10 March — The calm before the storm
You’re maybe a bit beery on the Monday morning! But we’ll get a few bits of pieces done, have a good kip and then you’re ready to rock on Tuesday, no problem. Jezki goes out for a bit of exercise. It’s a routine, most of the work is done here anyway. But it’s good that he runs early in the week.
He’s lighter in condition than since his last run and just seems to get fitter at this time of year, when the days get a bit longer and he’s able to get out in the field for a bit longer and feel the sun on his back. He’s an easier horse to train then.
Tuesday, 10 March – Champion Hurdle day
Winning it for the first time last year was magical and it would be great to win again — but that was extra special. We’re quietly confident this year. Having AP on board adds to the excitement.
It would be great to see him win the Champion Hurdle for us in his final year. He knows him well and looked after him last time [at Leopardstown in January] when he made a mistake — he did that with a view to Cheltenham. We’re happy to have him riding.
When I first started going to Cheltenham it was a very different game. Everything’s improved and they look after us very well. The whole buzz of the place and the Irish make it. To keep the Irish flag flying, that’s the main thing! Then with a bit of luck in the race, it’s back to the 21 Club for a few more drinks.
Wednesday, 11 March — the morning after the night before
It’s back home on Wednesday, job done and dusted!