The National Hunt jockey is having his best season to date and rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner aboard Lisnagar Oscar in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday, 12 March. Here he shares his thoughts on that ride...
It’s very hard to win at the Cheltenham Festival. Trainer Evan Williams and I had picked up a Grade One with Esprit Du Large at Sandown Park in December, so we were hopeful of a chance of winning. If he hadn’t fallen at the second-last in the Arkle this year, we’d have kept galloping to get fourth probably.
It’s the same with Silver Streak. He had been placed every time this year and was second to Epatante at Christmas, but in the Champion Hurdle there were another four horses between us – that’s how hard it is. The big trainers have a lot of big owners putting money into the sport and it’s getting more and more competitive but, then again, it always has been competitive.
I felt that if Lisnagar Oscar repeated his form from the Cleeve Hurdle, when he finished third to Paisley Park in January, he could nick a place and run well in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but I never expected him to do what he did and win. His trainer Rebecca Curtis said he couldn’t have been better at home and she was right – she got him there in top condition, which is testament to the job she can do.
They went very hard in the race and I was always on the limit over the first mile, but he got in a lovely rhythm turning down the back and, especially down the hill for the last time, he just came alive underneath me.
It’s not often you get to that point and feel the horse grow – usually it’s a time where you have to hold your position rather than think, “I can actually fill his lungs up a bit here.” I started to think that as long as he kept galloping, he could have a big chance of being thereabouts.
When I hit the front, I was just praying he’d keep going and he was like a little lion up the hill. Lisnagar Oscar’s a lovely character, he’s very soft and loves the attention at home.
He’s not big, but he’s got a heart of gold.
“I’ve watched the replay every night”
I didn’t quite let myself believe it until the finish line was under us because I thought something would come up upsides and take it away. There’s just no feeling like it. I think the first year I worked in racing, I went to the Festival with a couple of lads and you feel the atmosphere. I’ve watched the replay back every night since. I still can’t quite believe it, but it happened.
I’d been at Cheltenham the past few years, but this year I had the most rides I’ve ever had, a couple each day, and it’s the busiest I’ve been. The people I’m riding for are supporting me and getting nice horses, so it’s all progressing well. To get a winner is the cherry on what has been a great season.
The few days beforehand, when we didn’t know what was going to happen to the meeting with coronavirus, was strange. You didn’t know if it would go ahead or be behind closed doors, and not knowing was more worrying than anything else. But once it was all on, you’ve got a job to do and you just have to focus on it.
Ref Horse & Hound; 19 March 2020