Friday 13th March, 2015. 6am.
Everybody at the Old Manor Stables is buzzing with excitement. The day that we have spent so long preparing for has arrived and my first port of call is to Coneygree’s box to check that all is still in order.
He bites me as I undo the top bolt so I’m happy that all is well with the great horse. Coneygree has already finished his breakfast so I take him for a walk. He is so primed for the moment that any patience he ever had (not much to start with) has disappeared. Carruthers looks very angry as we pass his box so I have to promise him a quick walk before we leave. Coneygree prances around the village, eats from the lucky patch of grass and is safely back in his box eating more hay while we all get ready. There is only one string of horses for us to ride out and we are back in the house by 9.30am to finalise travel arrangements. Coneygree doesn’t like to travel in our little horse box so he travels to Cheltenham in the old red cattle truck where he can have as much space as he wants. Mark follows in a small lorry just in case the cattle truck gives up.
We laugh a lot at the plan.
The journey is uneventful, thankfully, and we arrive at Cheltenham in good time. Coneygree is soon settled in his racecourse stable, raring to go. I realise the enormity of the situation on our walk to the weighing room and I start to feel pretty sick. In fact, all of us are just beginning to realise that we actually could win the Gold Cup but, of course, Coneygree is completely oblivious to our nerves.
I give him a pre-race massage, Lily and Wilson brush him and then it’s time. The television camera meets us outside the stables and publicity-hating Lily is gently coerced into talking to the camera. We laugh quietly off-camera.
The pre-parade ring is always a nightmare at the Gold Cup, being unbelievably crowded. It makes saddling a bit stressful because Coneygree blows out more than any horse I have known. I wonder if it’s because he has such a large pair of lungs. Everything goes to plan and we are soon at the start. The tension is getting to all of us now but Coneygree is excited and ready to go.
I don’t remember watching the race although I know I watched every step he took. The next thing I remember is trying to run, unable to breathe, up the hill to meet the latest winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, our very own Coneygree.
Later I watch the video of the race. Coneygree jig jogs to the tape with the other horses, and then they’re off. He leads the pack right from the beginning. He’s happy and comfortable running with On His Own keeping pace at his flank and Road to Riches just behind them. And that’s how most of the race is run. There’s no contest at the end of the race as Coneygree runs out ahead of his competitors looking comfortable as he does. The others struggle to keep up. The crowd goes wild.
Coneygree is the first novice to win in 40 years.
Since then, I have realised what a popular success it was but at the time it was all a blur. We won the most important steeplechase of the year with a home-bred horse that had spent the last two years battling injury.
There was time for a quick glass of champagne at Cheltenham before we had to get our hero home but the celebrations continued long into the night.