Gavin Sheehan – Cheltenham Festival Preview

THE next four days are the best four days a year if you are a jump jockey, a trainer, an owner or just a fan of racing. It’s the Cheltenham Festival and it’s as good as jump racing gets.

It’s often said, but it really is the Olympics of our sports – there’s no better way to describe it. When it comes to jump racing it’s the be all and end all really and what happens there matters more than anywhere else.

As a young kid interested in horses and racing it’s all you want to be involved with, so it’s a dream to ride there and that continues through to when you’re working in the game.

As a jockey you think about it most days and that’s not an exaggeration. You’re thinking ‘Is this my Cheltenham horse?’ or ‘Can I get a horse for Cheltenham this year?’. It’s a very important place to be as a jockey as everybody watches Cheltenham all over the world, so by being involved and riding winners there is the best shop window you’ll ever get.

To be honest you never stop thinking about Cheltenham – you start thinking about next year’s Cheltenham Festival the day after the Cheltenham Gold Cup! Straight away you’re hoping and thinking you might be able to find that one to take you back to the meeting the following year with a big chance in one of the big races. There’s just nothing like the place.

It’s so hard to find a good one – even if you’re Ruby Walsh or Barry Geraghty – and that’s why it’s the best when you win there because you know how hard it’s been to get that horse and to get that winner there. You can get horses there to compete, but to have those ones with a really strong chance of winning, of getting you in that amazing winner’s enclosure, they’re ones that are like gold dust.

I’ve been fortunate to ride a winner at the festival when winning the 2015 Stayers’ Hurdle on Cole Harden for trainer Warren Greatrex. I probably didn’t realise at the time quite what had happened and what to do. About two weeks after the race I think I finally properly realised how big a deal it was.

COLE HARDEN Ridden by Gavin Sheehan wins the World Hurdle for Trainer  Warren Greatrex
COLE HARDEN Ridden by Gavin Sheehan wins the World Hurdle for Trainer Warren Greatrex at Cheltenham 12/3/15 Photograph by GROSSICK RACING 07710461723

What was even more amazing about it was that it was one of the big races of the week at Cheltenham. The four biggest races of the week are the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup. I never expected to win one of the championship races so early so when Cole Harden came home in front it was an incredible feeling.

It was maybe a more open year than most as Big Buck’s was not around any more when we won it, but it meant everything to me because of the belief I had in the horse. It was at such a key point in my career too as I was just after losing my claim and needed to keep the momentum up going into being a full blown professional. He was a wonderful horse.

I’ll be excited and nervous on Tuesday morning before it all starts. The only reason I say nervous is you get a few butterflies on the way to the course but once you’re in the weighing room everything is good and I’m comfortable. Then, you just want it to start. I can’t wait.

I’m looking forward to bringing you my thoughts on my rides, and the Cheltenham Festival as a whole, over the next few days. Hopefully we can have a winner or two amongst it all.



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