A popular blogger in the horse racing world, Zoe Smith has amassed a very creditable following on her social media channels.
With the Cheltenham Festival lingering, the sport enters the slightly more mainstream world and takes precedent over all else in its wake.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic halting the gathering of crowds at this year’s renewal, peer-to-peer discussions for influencers like Zoe could have easily been made to take a backstep.
But thanks to the advancement of modern technology, her ability to communicate with giants of the game has not been hindered. In the darkest of days during the covid-19 era, racing has helped bring just a hint of light to members of its community.
And no more so than the idea of the Cheltenham Festival, of course. But how does the writer see next week’s National Hunt Olympics playing out as the eyes of the world turn to Prestbury Park?
We spoke to Zoe about her life in racing, expectations for the 2021 Festival and future aspirations in the sport.
Sadly, we cannot attend this year’s Cheltenham Festival but there’s still a real buzz as the best of the British welcome the Irish elite. Where will you be watching from?
I have still booked the whole week off so I can sit at home and watch it with my parents from the comfort of my own living room. Sadly, this year it won’t be the same but hopefully we can still make the most of a brilliant week of racing.
What is your background in racing and why does it play such a prominent role in your life?
I first started watching racing as a very young girl as my dad always watched it. Then when I was around 5/6 years old and we were at Stratford Racecourse in the centre of the course, AP McCoy had had a fall around the back, so was walking back around. I shouted, “Look, mom, it’s AP!” because at that point he was one of the only people I actually knew in racing. And, as he always has been, he was a complete gentleman who came straight over to us and took photos and signed my dad’s programme. I guess my love for the sport grew from then. When I left college I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I loved writing so I created a blog and that’s become a huge part of my life where I write about all things racing.
You’ve interviewed plenty of people in the game; who has been your favourite?
I have loved every interview I’ve done; I’m honoured that so many big names within the industry have spoken with me. My favourite, though, would have to be AP McCoy. He was the first person I knew within racing and for him to take time out of his very busy Cheltenham day last year was an honour for me.
Is there anyone in the sport you’ve not yet got round to interviewing but would like to?
I would absolutely love to interview Hollie Doyle and Bryony Frost. As a female myself, I am inspired by them both as they are pathing the way for women within racing and I love that.
Which race at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival are you most looking forward to?
I am very much looking forward to the Champion Hurdle, it’s always a very competitive race and this year looks to be another exciting renewal.
If you could choose any horse to win at the Festival, who would it be and why?
Native River. I would absolutely love to see him win the Gold Cup again. He’s my favourite horse and has been for many years. To see him win again would be incredible. If the ground is soft or heavy then I really think he could go close.
Is there a horse that you think heads to Cheltenham under the radar, but in your opinion, has a live chance?
I am no tipster, don’t get me wrong, but I do like the look of Annie Mc who’s going for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase on the Friday. At the minute, the ground is good to soft and she has won on that ground as well as soft and heavy, if the ground were to change at all. I think Jonjo O’Neill Jr has a brilliant relationship with her and I’d love to see her get close. She’s around 7/1 currently and I’d say that’s a pretty decent bet.
If you could pick just one day to attend at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival next year, which one are you opting for and why?
I would have to pick Tuesday. As a racing fan there is no other feeling than to hear the Cheltenham roar on the first day and to just be a part of it.
The leading jockey and leading trainer at Festival next week will be…?
Willie Mullins and Paul Townend.
In just one word, describe what the Cheltenham Festival means to you…
Cheating a little because I can’t put it into just one word… But the Cheltenham Festival is literally like Christmas for racing fans. The best 4 days of the year, no doubt!
Christmas? Fairly sure Max McNeill used that quip as well…