THE Cheltenham Festival is where legends are made. So in that spirit, we have spoken to three famous names from the past who carved out huge reputations in racing thanks to their achievements at Prestbury Park.
Seven-time champion jockey John Francome enjoyed many memorable days at the Festival, as did Henrietta Knight, who is best remembered for the three Cheltenham Gold Cup wins of Best Mate.
Charlie Swan also partnered a three-time Festival hero in the form of Istabraq. Here all three of them look back to glory days and ahead to the Cheltenham Festival this year.
What is your best memory of the Cheltenham Festival?
Francome: Winning the Gold Cup on Midnight Court. It was a really special day that.
Knight: Best Mate winning the third Gold Cup. Not only did it go into the record books by matching Arkle’s achievement, but it was a huge relief as there had been such a massive build up.
Swan: Winning the third Champion Hurdle on Istabraq. Don’t get me wrong, they were all special and great days, but that third win was something a bit different and extra special.
If you could train/ride any horse due to run at the Cheltenham Festival this year, who would that be?
Francome: I’d like to have a nice spin on Altior. He looks a nice ride and a really good jumper. He jumps well, travels well and looks a proper horse. He’d probably win the Champion Hurdle if he ran in that as well.
Knight: Samcro. I think he’s a special horse. He’s done nothing wrong so far in winning his point, his bumpers and now his hurdles races. I saw him last week when I was at Gordon Elliott’s and he is just the most lovely horse. I think he has the potential to be a real champion.
Swan: Altior. He’s such a good jumper and a very good horse to go with that. I’d love to have the chance to ride Buveur D’Air as well.
Which race at this year’s Cheltenham Festival are you most looking forward to?
Francome: The Gold Cup looks wide open this year and the Arkle’s going to be really exciting. You’ve got two really good jumpers who like to front run in Footpad and Saint Calvados. That’s going to make it a fantastic race.
Knight: Some of the novice races are really exciting this year. I’m also really looking forward to the Ryanair Chase as well as I’m a great supporter of Un De Sceaux and I love Apple’s Jade in the Mares’ Hurdle. I always have bittersweet feelings towards the Gold Cup having had Best Mate win it in the past.
Swan: The Triumph Hurdle because I bought Apple’s Shakira for JP [McManus]. She’s been pretty impressive so far and it’d be nice to see her do the business at the Festival. I’d like to see JP have as many winners as possible.
Are there any changes you would like to see to Cheltenham or the Cheltenham Festival?
Francome: When I was riding the Gold Cup used to start away from the stands so you couldn’t see them and they’d race right around in front of the grandstand, which I thought was a bit better. But in general they’ve got it pretty spot on now.
Knight: Not at all. They’ve done a wonderful job with the stands and the facilities and they deserve a pat on the back for it all. It’s an amazing racecourse and still retains an incredible atmosphere.
Swan: They do an unbelievable job there these days. There’s nothing that comes to mind, which just shows you what an incredible four days it is.
And, finally, give us a dark horse for the Cheltenham Festival you are looking forward to?
Francome: I’m waiting for a horse of JP McManus’s called Drumcliff. He’s in the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase and the Brown Advisory Plate. I like the look of him.
Knight: I’d love to see Sam Spinner win the Stayers’ Hurdle. It’s lovely when you have a smaller trainer with a really good horse. It’s a good thing for the sport.
Swan: Dame De Compagnie is in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, the Coral Cup and the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. I think she’ll run well in whatever race they choose to run her in.