Friday 29th of May 2020

Racing: Vanessa Ryle on cranking up for Cheltenham

There is less than a week to go until the Cheltenham Festival and as I type this the countdown is really being cranked up a level, writes ATR’s Vanessa Ryle.

I spent an evening at Rich Richi’s BetBright Preview where the panel dug deep for Festival betting Gold, the handicap weights have been released and Davy Russell isn’t happy with the 11st10lbs Presenting Percy has been asked to carry in the Pertemps and the Tizzards haven’t yet decided if they want to run Fox Norton in the Champion Chase or the Ryanair…

On the gallops with Cheltenham a week away. Tense times!


I could go on but I won’t because as I write this for The Gaitpost I am well aware that not all the readers of this column will be as immersed in the racing bubble as I am. After all, some of you probably have a life away from watching horses run round in circles and so don’t actually care why Davy isn’t happy with Presenting Percy’s handicap mark.

So with that in mind, I thought I would preach to the semi converted, those of you who like racing but probably don’t follow it all the way to Wolverhampton on a Wednesday night.

Racing tends to have a reputation as a sport that can throw up some incredible stories but often we only hear about them in the write up of the race the following day but where is the fun in that?

Half the reason I find myself screaming at the TV during a race is because I know the background of a particular Runner, Jockey, Owner or Trainer and therefore feel more passionate about the outcome.
*(The other half of the time it’s because I’ve probably had a bet and would like to shop at Waitrose that week rather than Aldi.)

Anyway this Cheltenham Festival is no different and there are some potentially brilliant stories waiting to unfold in front us and below is my selection of the best little side notes that you will be able to follow throughout the week:


When Cue Card crashed out of the Cheltenham Gold Cup last year when in with a chance of winning racings Crown Jewel the moan from the crowd was chilling.

This is a horse who has a real following, and rightly so. Cue Card is now 11yrs old and has been winning races since 2010 as a 4yr old. Never sick or sorry, with an unconventional way of going and trained by the loveable Colin Tizzard he is a real National Hunt star.

There can’t have been many who would have begrudged Cue Card and his faithful Jockey Paddy Brennan crossing the line first in last years Gold Cup and who knows what would have happened if he had stood up. Would he have beaten Don Cossack? I doubt it. But that doesn’t matter because we will never know. What matters is that he and Paddy are returning to Cheltenham to right the wrong of last year, to jump round clear, to fight to the line and, in a dream world, to come home in front. If Cue Card wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup I can assure you that redemption will never have been so sweet.


I advise you to take some time out from your day on Thursday 16th March at 2.05 to watch the Ryanair Chase.

The clue to this tale is in the races sponsorship: Ryanair. The well-known budget airline is owned by Michael O’Leary, the same O’Leary who, along with his brother Eddie, also owns the prolific Gigginstown Stud and that, in turn, is the same stud that made the shock decision to take all their horses away from Irish Champion trainer Willie Mullins at the start of the season due to a disagreement over training fees.

Willie Mullins trains Un De Sceaux who is currently second favourite to win the Ryanair Chase and, some what ironically, sits just above the Gigginstown Stud owned Empire Of Dirt in the betting. So, picture this: Un De Sceaux wins the Ryanair by half a length to Empire Of Dirt and Michael O’Leary, the man worth a few hundred million euros but wasn’t happy to pay 35euros extra of training fees a week, has to present the trophy of his own race to the trainer who he turned his back on at the start of the season. Would just be a little bit fun wouldn’t it?


Owned by the Supreme Horse Racing syndicate Airlie Beach is an unbeaten mare trained by Willie Mullins. Seven stars, seven wins, from a bumper at Kilbeggan in the summer of 2015 to a Grade One hurdles success at Fairyhouse on her last start. That in itself is a nice but not totally surprising story.

What adds to her remarkability is the following:

She was bred by Willie’s son Patrick out of a cheap mare who gave Patrick his first ride in a race. Willie advised his son not to breed from the mare as she wasn’t up to a huge amount on the track but Patrick went ahead anyway and out popped a little filly foal, now going by the name of Airlie Beach.

As a youngster they turned Airlie Beach out in a field with a group of other mares and what they thought was a gelding… It turns out the gelding had a couple of extra body parts and following a brief love affair Airlie Beach, at the age of two, had a colt foal by (the now gelded) Miguel Angel. Airlie Beach raised her foal before heading off into training with Willie and the rest is history.

This also means that it’s gamble landed for Patrick who took a chance in breeding from Airlie Beach’s dam in the first place but now, and call it a stroke of luck if you like, he is not only the breeder of a Grade One winner but he also has a colt on the ground out of said Grade One winner…Some are born lucky they say!

Airlie Beach will either run in the Supreme Novices on the first day of the Festival, or the Mares Novice on the Thursday – stay tuned to see if the remarkable story continues to develop.

L-R: MIGUEL ANGEL- Colt offspring – Airlie Beach. Super family!


There are a few ‘fairytale’ type stories at this years Festival. Lizzie Kelly is the first woman to ride in the Gold Cup in decades and trainer Ben Case has a horse running in the Mares Hurdle that he wanted to give away as a polo pony due to her being so small in her younger days but neither of those can top Tobefair in the fairytale stakes.

Tobefair is favourite for the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at the Festival and he has a unique story. Since moving to current trainer Debra Hamer’s Welsh base the gelding has run in seven handicap hurdle races and is unbeaten in all of them. Prior to that he hadn’t managed to secure a single victory with original trainer Lucy Jones. Tobefair was given to Michael Cole who heads the 18 members of local syndicate ‘Down The Quay Club’, a group of friends who fancied owning a racehorse and had grassroots aspirations such as winning a Point to Point – if they were so lucky.

Instead Tobefair exceeded every expectation and rose in the handicap from an official mark of 81 to his current new mark of 143 ahead of the Chetenham Festival. This is an almost unprecedented rise of 62lbs in the handicapping system, trust me when I assure you that this does not happen all that often.

I have no idea what Debra Hamer is doing to get Tobefair into such a winning groove but for a trainer with a handful of lowly rated horses in her yard this must be some thrill for connections and those closely related. The bookmakers in her local town reported after his last impressive victory at Newbury that they had people coming into the shop asking how they could back Tobefair to win, they had no idea how to place a bet but they knew they wanted to be on Tobefair.

On Thursday 16th March at 2.10 there will be a lot of people wishing Debra Hamer and connections all the luck in the world. After all, you know you love it when David takes down Goliath.

I hope that gives a few of you readers a reason to tune in to the Festival, have a bet, scream at your TV and maybe even have a tear when one of these dreams become reality… Enjoy!

PS: One for all you Eventing fans out there: Our beloved Mulry is entered for Badminton! So the road to the biggest 4* in the world really cranks up a gear now and as a result he had his first outing in six months when going Show Jumping last weekend. He and Ben Hobday pinged round clear in the 1m30 class, having to jump a 1m40 jump off, nothing like starting small hey Ben! A legend if ever I knew one. Onward and upwards we go.

Mulry and Ben Hobday


Keep up to date with Vanessa’s musings on Twitter here

You may also like…

Join us on Facebook

Follow on Twitter