In just under a weeks’ time, Fergal O’Brien will bid for a first Cheltenham Festival trainer as he and his representatives make the short journey to Prestbury Park from Ravenswell Farm.
The yard’s retained rider, Paddy Brennan, has tasted victory at National Hunt’s most esteemed week and will be hoping to replicate that vein of success for his current stable. The Galway native has ridden over 1,300 National Hunt winners in his career, which dates back to 2000. His first win arrived at Cork aboard the Jim Bolger trained Traditional, and a first Grade 1 followed just under five years later at Aintree.
Ashley Brook breezed home in the Maghull Novices’ Chase, having been denied only a length in the Arkle a month before under the same jockey. Brennan, however, would dine at the elite table at the Cheltenham Festival twelve months on.
Shamayoun was the first of six victories for the pilot at the Gloucestershire showcase, winning the now-Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at 40-1.
Most notoriously, Imperial Commander’s dual Festival successes in both the Ryanair and Cheltenham Gold Cup – during an era of the mighty Kauto Star and Denman, will hold most prestige for Paddy and his band of followers.
Will those silks be carried first past the post once again next Thursday when Imperial Alcazar, a big hope for Ravenswell, heads for the Pertemps Final?
Paddy talks about his hopes for the 2021 renewal, life outside racing and more Cheltenham related topics below.
Ravenswell Farm has enjoyed a hugely fruitful season with more than 80 winners; is this as confident as you’ve felt heading into the Festival as a yard?
Ravenswell Farm has brought new beginnings and new dreams to both mine and Fergal’s lives. I feel this season is the start of something big and a Cheltenham Festival winner would be massive.
Which course do you enjoy visiting the most?
Exeter. I absolutely love the place. The cream always rises there – the best horse will come out on top.
How do you spend your free time away from racing?
I enjoy spending time with my family. They are everything and bring so much happiness into my life.
Is there a tinge of disappointment that the stands will be empty or is the buzz for the Festival all the same?
Of course, it’s a disappointment. I meet so many people that have religiously gone to the Cheltenham Festival for 15 years or more. When you win there, the people are everything. The future looks bright and it will be even more exciting when they return.
Imperial Alcazar was impressive at Warwick, how is he ahead of the Pertemps Final?
Imperial Alcazar is in great form, could not be happier with him. He has us all dreaming. This will be a greater test, but I feel he is more than up for it.
For the same owners, you infamously shushed the crowd after Imperial Commander’s Gold Cup win in 2010. Do you feel he is a horse that often gets overlooked because of the staying chasers of that era?
Imperial Commander had everything, he won a Gold Cup when it was seen as an impossible task to beat Kauto Star and Denman. Life moves too fast to say he got overlooked, but I think at the time he opened people’s eyes and closed plenty of mouths!
Do you have any rides on dark horses or runners that can go well under the radar?
I wear my heart on my sleeve so if you follow me, you’ll know if I really like one. Minella Tara is a lovely horse and I can’t wait to ride him over fences.
You’re a Gold Cup-winning jockey – the race that is the pinnacle for a National Hunt rider. If you could win one race at Cheltenham that has evaded you, what would it be?
Any race at Cheltenham is ultra-special. I don’t have a preference!
If you could ride one horse at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, who would it be?
Your one single word to sum up the Cheltenham Festival would be…
If they haven’t already – which is highly unlikely, of course, there are only five more days until the goosebumps begin…