Denman

Denman

When he retired from racing, as an 11-year-old, Denman had won 14 of his 24 starts, including the Hennessy Gold Cup (twice), the Royal & SunAlliance Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Owned by Paul Barber and the ebullient professional gambler Harry Findlay and trained by Paul Nicholls, Denman was unbeaten in his first four starts over hurdles, including an easy 21-length win in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day in 2006. He returned to Cheltenham for the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle the following March, but tasted defeat for the first time, going down by 2½ lengths to Nicanor.

 

Sent over fences in 2006/07, “The Tank”, as he became known, won all five starts, culminating with a convincing 10-length beating of Snowy Morning in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. After a break of 262 days, he reappeared at Newbury in December where, carrying 11st 12lb, he impressively won the Hennessy Gold Cup by 11 lengths from Dream Alliance.

 

He subsequently won the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and the Aon Chase at Newbury the following February so, by the time the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup rolled around, he started at just 9/4 to dethrone the reigning champion, his stable companion Kauto Star. The forecast duel between the two Nicholls’ “big guns” never really materialised, though, because Denman went clear soon after the fourth last fence and, thereafter, Kauto Star could make no impression and eventually finished second, beaten 7 lengths.

 

In the September following his Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph, Denman was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and, although he returned to training following treatment, it’s fair to say he was never, quite, the same horse again. He did manage to win the Hennessy Gold Cup for a second time, again under 11st 12lb, and finish second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2010 and 2011, so Lord knows what he might have achieved had he stayed healthy for the whole of his career. Denman has enjoyed a happy retirement and currently looks after the young horses on the farm belonging to his owner Paul Barber.

Mick Fitzgerald

Mick Fitzgerald In recent years, Mick Fitzgerald has become a familiar face as a television presenter, on At The Races, Channel 4 Racing and, more recently, ITV Racing. However, before being forced to retire after breaking his neck, for a second time, in a fall from L’Ami in the 2008 Grand National, Fizgerald enjoyed a stellar career as a National Hunt jockey.

 

All in all, he rode 1,280 winners – 726 of which were for Nicky Henderson – including 14 at the Cheltenham Festival and, although he never won the jump jockeys’ championship, at the time of his retirement he was, numerically, the fifth most successful National Hunt jockey of all time. Fitzgerald had originally intended to retire at the end of the 2006/07 season, but continued riding until his Aintree mishap. His recovery was painful and slow and he finally called time on his 20-year career after taking medical advice.

 

At that time, Nicky Henderson paid tribute to him, saying, “He’s not only been a great jockey, but a great mate; very reliable, a superstar. Stable jockeys are unfashionable these days, but he’s been an exemplary one, loyal, dedicated to the whole operation, utterly professional.”

 

Fitzgerald rode his first winner, Lover’s Secret, at Ludlow in 1988, but gradually established himself in the upper echelon of National Hunt jockeys and enjoyed associations with Paul Nicholls and, of course, Nicky Henderson. His career highlights included winning the 1996 Grand National on Rough Quest, after which he told Des Lynam, “Sex us an anti-climax after this”. He was leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival twice, in 1999 – when he won the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Call Equiname, for Henderson, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup on See More Business, for Nicholls – and again in 2000.

Simon Munir and Isaac Souede

Simon Munir and Isaac Souede Compared with the likes of J.P. McManus, Gigginstown House Stud and Rich Ricci, financiers Simon Munir and Isaac Souede are ‘small fry’ in terms of Cheltenham Festival winners, with just four victories between them. Simon Munir has owned with Nicky Henderson for several years, winning the Triumph Hurdle with Soldatino in 2010 and the Fred Winter Juvenile with Une Artiste in 2012. However, since joining forces with Frenchman Isaac Souede, the partnership has continued to grow, in terms of numbers and quality, and now has horses in training in Great Britain, Ireland and France.

 

On this side of the English Channel, Munir and Souede have a decent variety of horses dispersed among Nicky Henderson, Nigel Twiston Davies, Alan King, David Pipe and, most recently, Ben Pauling in Britain and Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliot in Ireland. They won the Triumph Hurdle with Peace And Co, trained by Nicky Henderson, in 2015 and the Arkle Challenge Trophy with Footpad, trained by Willie Mullins, in 2018.

 

The latter, who remains unbeaten over fences, including four Grade 1 wins, has yet to win beyond 2 miles 3½ furlongs but, even so, looks a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in the making. Two of their other Cheltenham possibilities, Top Notch – who was only beaten a length by Yorkhill in the JLT Novices’ Chase in 2017 – and We Have A Dream, missed the Festival in 2018, but won their respective races at Sandown and Aintree, respectively, the following month and remain bright prospects for the future.

 

Munir and Souede may not be competing for the Leading Owner Award at the Cheltenham Festival any time soon, but their continued investment in up-and-coming young horses, not to mention their recruitment of Daryl Jacob as their retained jockey, must surely pay dividends at some point.

Rich Ricci

Rich Ricci American-born Rich Ricci – whose horses officially run in the pink and green colours of his wife, Susannah – has risen to prominence as one of the most successful National Hunt owners in Britain and Ireland in recent years. A colourful, yet enigmatic, character, Ricci is former Barclays investment banker, worth an estimated £100 million, but his “Keep Buyin’ and Keep Tryin’” philosophy has certainly paid dividends at the Cheltenham Festival. Ricci has struck up a formidable partnership with the dominant force in Irish National Hunt racing, Willie Mullins, with whom he has enjoyed 15 successes at the Gloucestershire track.

 

The first of them, Mikael D’Haguenet, won the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2009 and, since 2012, Ricci has had at least one winner at every Cheltenham Festival. Champagne Fever proved to be a standard bearer for three Festivals running, winning the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2012 and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2013 before being headed in the last stride in the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 2014.

 

Ricci has also be fortunate, or shrewd, enough to own several more multiple winners at the Cheltenham Festival. The ill-fated Vautour, for example, won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2014, the JLT Novices’ Chase in 2015 and the Ryanair Chase in 2016, before breaking his leg in a freak accident at home later the same year. Faugheen, who won the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in 2014, completed a notable double in the Champion Hurdle in 2015, while Douvan, the winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle that year, made equally short work of subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Sizing John, in the Arkle Challenge Trophy on his return to Prestbury Park in 2016.

 

In recent years, the Ricci string has been less powerful than previously but, even so, victories for Let’s Dance in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in 2017 and Benie Des Dieux in 2018 have kept the ball rolling.

Tiger Roll

Tiger Roll Racing Post Jumps Horse of the Year for 2017/18, Tiger Roll, stands 15.2 hands high and has been described – endearingly, one would hope – as a “little rat of a thing” by his owner Michael O’Leary. Nevertheless, the diminutive 8-year-old silenced his doubters by holding on to win the greatest steeplechase of them all, the Grand National, by a head under Davy Russell in April, 2018.

His owner had voiced his concern over his ability to handle the National fences, saying, “Tiger Roll either takes to it [Aintree] or he doesn’t. With him you’ll know after three fences if it’s a going day or not. If he can survive the first circuit, and gaps come in those big fences, then we’ll see. But you never know with him.” His trainer, Gordon Elliott, was also pessimistic about his chances, saying, “The ground was soft-to-heavy, so I thought the ground might be too soft for him.”

Even before his Aintree victory, though, Tiger Roll had become part of Cheltenham Festival folklore by winning in two different disciplines, over three different distances and under three different jockeys, in the space of five seasons.

In 2014, he won the JCB Triumph Hurdle, over 2 miles 1 furlong, under Davy Russell, in 2017, he won the National Hunt Chase, over 4 miles, under Lisa O’Neill and, in 2018, a month before his Grand National triumph, he won the Glenfarclas Chase, over 3 miles 6 furlongs – on a unique, twisting, turning course of banks, rails and ditches – under Keith Donoghue.