A Welsh Grand National winner, former jockey Charlie Poste can’t hide his excitement ahead of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Poste spent 20 years in the saddle before calling time on his career in 2019, but still dedicates his work to horse racing.
From podcasting to coaching, breaking horses in and training the equine youth at his Warwickshire based, Charlie is still a highly recognisable figure in the game despite no longer featuring on the track.
He will be one of the lucky few to attend the Home Of Jumps Racing next week where he will conduct commentary for BBC Radio 5 Live.
Sadly, as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the entire week of National Hunt’s biggest event will take place behind-closed-doors. There will be no Cheltenham Roar this year, but Poste will still whet the appetite for racing’s most famous meeting if it’s not already of course…
He spoke to Cheltenham.co.uk about what the Cheltenham Festival means to him, his favourite memories and banker for the week.
Does the idea of a Cheltenham Festival without crowds taint its prestige slightly or do you still feel the excitement for it that you would any other season?
I think yes – Cheltenham without a crowd does taint it. For any top class sporting occasion, atmosphere is a huge element to what goes on and I think that’s even more so the case at Cheltenham. You have the Irish coming over and both the excitement and rivalry that it brings, so it will be very different without it. But in what’s been a very strange year, we’ve all be looking for things to look forward to and Cheltenham is definitely one of those. As much as it won’t be the same, to be looking forward to the exciting clashes and top-class racing, is something that still gets my blood up.
What are your favourite memories of the Cheltenham Festival in and out of the saddle?
For my riding memory, it’s a mix of best and worst with Thomas Crapper in the novice handicap chase when he finished second. It was the best because I was involved with a horse that had a real feasible winning chance and to savour that atmosphere was fantastic. But to get beat was galling at the time because from my point of view, I wasn’t going to get that many opportunities to ride those sorts of horses at the Festival. It wasn’t one that got away, because the race panned out perfectly – it was just frustrating.
As a racing fan growing up, I think Istabraq’s third Champion Hurdle was one that sticks in my memory. He was the most magical horse owned by JC McManus, trained by Aiden O’Brien and ridden by Charlie Swann. He just really caught my imagination. Also, there was One Man who was the Champion Chase winner under Brian Harding. He was a horse growing up that I really loved and it really upset me that he couldn’t get a Gold Cup on his CV, so to drop back to two-miles and get that illusive Cheltenham Festival winner in the Champion Chase meant a lot.
Honeysuckle and Epatante head the betting for The Unibet Champion Hurdle, how bigger factor do you think the 7lbs allowance for mares is and who’s your idea of the winner?
The 7lbs allowance when you have two mares like this is a huge thing. It’s been talked about a lot recently because of the way the sport has been marketed, and the encouragement to keep these mares in training. You’re seeing the fruits of this now with the likes of Annie Power, Epatante, Honeysuckle, Quevega and all those horses have longer careers. There is an argument that the weight allowance is too big and when you have horses this good, it does swing the balance of the race in their favour. For me, I think the winner will come from one of these and I’d be slightly more in the Honeysuckle camp. I just think she’ll outstay them when it comes down to it and she’s a winning machine, so I’d fancy her.
If you had a £100 free bet, where would it be heading in the always tricky Ultima Handicap Chase?
It’s a really tough race. I think I’d have £50 each-way on Aye Right. He’s been placed in a Ladbrokes Trophy and Sky Bet Chase this season, which is very solid handicap form. As much as he may be weighted right to his best, I think he’s guaranteed to give you a run for your money.
Which of the Irish based jockey’s past or present do you admire the most and why?
If we’re saying they’ve based most of their career in Ireland, I’d go for Paul Carberry. He was an enigmatic character who could do incredibly special things that probably very few riders can do, and he had that touch of a maverick about him – something completely out of the ordinary.
In recent years, female jockeys have performed on the biggest stage, how highly do you rate the likes of Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost?
I feel both Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost are just both excellent jockeys now, first and foremost. It’s almost gone beyond them being talked about as female riders; they’re competing as equals. One of them has been riding Grade One winners for sport and the other won a King George, one of the biggest races in the British calendar. They’ve proven themselves at this level and they’d be an asset to any horse they’re riding.
What’s your Festival banker?
Monkfish. He looks like the second coming. He reminds me so much of Denman the way he goes about it. A massive tank of a horse, yet he has this nimble ability to jump and he really could be the next big thing in the staying chasing division, and he looks an absolute dream to ride.
Where will you be watching this year’s Festival?
For the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I will be in the commentary box alongside John Hunt for 5 Live – which I’m seriously looking forward to. It’s very special working alongside him. Annoyingly due to covid restrictions, I won’t be there on the Friday, so I’ll probably be on the sofa for Gold Cup Day.
How would you describe The Cheltenham Festival to someone that’s never attended?
Electric. There are very few sporting occasions for me that provide an adrenaline-fuelled excitement that the Cheltenham Festival does. Stand there and listen to the crowd, and the crescendo of noise as the horses rattle down the hill towards the grandstand, it’s very special. I’m not sure that many sporting events can compete with it for pure, pure emotion.