Ride of my life: Polly Gundry

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  • Polly Gundry recalls her ride around Aintree aboard Torduff Express in the 2002 Foxhunters’ Chase

    During the pre-race chat at Aintree, everyone came to the conclusion that it was as hot a race as there had been for several years, which depressed me!

    Fellow jockey Richard Burton was as white as a sheet. This surprised me, because he’s usually so relaxed, but he was concerned about his mount’s jumping ability. This made me feel better, because Duffer jumps well. I had been thinking so hard about the trip, 2m 6f, that I’d almost forgotten the fences.

    ‘Chocolate’ Thornton, who rode Duffer in the National in 2000, came over to offer encouragement: “Torduff loved it until we went long once too often and turned over. He’ll be fine,” he said and, despite the reference to falling, this gave me confidence.

    The atmosphere at the start was, amazingly, normal, considering the occasion, and it was nice to have so many girls in the race. We were all chatting, but no one believed anyone who said they were going to go steady.

    Duffer hunched up at the start, almost as though he didn’t want to go forward, but when it came down to it he was as quick to the first fence as mostcould be. I was relieved to meet the first three just about right.

    We’d been going quite fast, so I needed to settle down. I went from the middle to the inner, with just a few horses for company, and kept in a nice hunting rhythm.

    At one point, around the eighth, Duffer went a bit long, but he was just having fun playing with my nerves! We went over Bechers, which didn’t feel too big at all, and I realised that we had actually cleared it when I saw the smaller Foinavon fence coming up.

    Suddenly it hit me – we must have gone at least halfway and Paul [Nicholls] had drummed it into me that all Duffer did was stay, so I thought I’d better kick on a bit.

    We went steady over the Canal Turn, so as not to lose ground and energy when turning. You’d think he was trained in gymkhana, the way he cornered.

    As we set sail for home, a loose horse crossed us. Over the Melling Road, we lost the loose horse, but I could feel and hear the presence of something a few lengths off us. I nearly looked round, then thought, no, I’d rather not know who it was or if it had a jockey, so I just kept the pedal to the floor.

    The penultimate fence felt wonderful, so fluent, and the last was more okay than I could have hoped for.

    Duffer doesn’t like being hit so I concentrated on hands and heels, but then I gave him a smack or two just to make sure, because I didn’t want him getting bored in front. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to mind and kept uphis gallop to the line.

    He knew he had won. I was the one who couldn’t believe it. It was better than any dream I’ve ever had – a perfect ride on a perfect jumping machine.

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