Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup: Owner Simon Hunt on The Giant Bolster
WITH less than a week to go before this year's Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup the owner of The Giant Bolster, Simon Hunt, relives last year's exciting race.
SLEEPING the night before you have the privilege of your first Gold Cup runner is one thing.
But when your trainer is confident he won't be out of the first two you might as well walk the streets and wait for daybreak.
First text at 7.40am from trainer David Bridgwater, or Bridgie: "He's on the way."
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The plan was to get Sammy (stable name for The Giant Bolster) there early, ahead of the fuss, and settle him down.
I gave it until 8.25am before ringing the trusted travelling lads Gary Bridgwater and Nelly Chapman. No dramas, he's there, had a bath and is now relaxing in a box.
The phone was alive with good luck messages and calls.
The Giant Bolster has a cult following that stretches from Chester-le-street in County Durham where my parents live, through Northamptonshire to the spiritual home of The Giant Bolster in St Agnes, Cornwall.
Judging from the messages no-one is working today and there is no surf up on the fine St Agnes beaches.
I have one superstition for the day – my Cheltenham boxers.
I've worn them at the last two Festival Trial Days when he has won.
I'm a bit worried that Bridgie might want me to sign and frame them for his office wall!
So it's off to the home of racing, nice and early and with a glass of champagne in the car. Just as well Gary is driving.
Cheltenham is still setting up when we arrive and soon Team GB, comprising family and friends, have all gathered by the horse walk.
We had all said all along if we are still talking about it in the parade ring five minutes before the race then we haven't got a plan, so there has been a good chat with jockey Tom Scudamore the night before.
Walking the course now would finalise the detail.
Ex-jockeys Rodi Greene, who used to ride The Giant Bolster, and Bridgie were leading the chat.
What these two men don't know about riding around here isn't worth knowing.
"Bounce him to the right, away from the traffic and really make his mind up for him at the first and second fences," were the words of wisdom.
We covered every blade of grass and examined every fence.
The chat continued: "Really, really positive first and second, then he will be nicely in the rhythm going up the hill, look for the nice ground about two to three metres off the rail and he will be loving it by the water jump."
As we continued our crusade the passion from these two ex-jockeys was immense, and we were really riding the race now.
Bridgie states: "Never lose sight of Long Run, hold our position and I'll guarantee by the time we come to the top of the hill for the last time we will be only one of two horses on the bridle.
"It's up to Scu then to see how the downhill and finish unfolds.
"We've a big, big chance, I'm telling you."
Turning to Rodi, Bridgie says: "Hey Rod, what do you think? If it were me turning in, I'd be going where the brave men go, right up the inner."
Rodie had a wry smile on his face – he had just ridden the finish too, it was etched all over his face.
Bridgie always goes very quiet on the big days, roughly two hours before our race and disappears.
I've sussed him out now, though. He loves to sit in the blacksmith's hut with the small TV, out of the fuss, and have a craic with the lads in there.
The anticipation was building and soon it was off to the pre-parade ring to see our main man, The Giant Bolster, and he looked fantastic.
The pre-parade was extremely busy both inside and out, legends of the Turf all around and a few well-known sporting and TV celebrities there as well.
Tacked up, Sammy was so laid-back.
With a deep draw of breath we set off behind him trying to give him a clear route to the parade ring.
As we turned right behind the weighing room it was unbelievable, the parade ring was packed and the wall of people around it went on forever.
I looked at Bridgie, who exclaimed: "It feels like stepping off a plane into 50 degrees of heat."
And this was from a fella who had come down the famous steps in his riding silks before.
The Giant Bolster was amazing, taking it all in his stride, and his behaviour was first class – he had arrived.
Out came Scu and found us in the masses.
We all looked at each other, nervously wished him good luck and get home safe. We already had a plan.
Wow, here were my colours being carried out in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
I've always known the Gold Cup was huge but now from the inside the scale was beyond my wildest imagination.
We wrestled our way to get on the owners' and trainers' steps on the stand.
I love to watch it live and not on the big screen.
The starter called them in, I gave the plaque, '40 years service British Rail Jack Hunt' on my Grandfather's old binocular case a rub and asked him to look after our boy. Here we go, we're off.
Heart pounding I was watching Scu ride the same race Bridgie and Rodi had ridden that morning.
Tom was giving him a peach of a ride and he was carrying Scu right into the race.
On the bridle at the top of the hill, come on Scu steer him home!
Over the third-last fence The Giant Bolster appeared between horses to lead the Gold Cup turning in.
Two fences out we are in front and over the last we are leading the greatest jumps race in the world.
We were going crazy, as the Channel Four pictures went on the show.
Three horses in a line and scrapping up the famous hill.
Just headed by Long Run, The Giant Bolster fights to peg him back but Synchronised, ridden by AP McCoy, was just a shade too good on the day.
But my word, he deserved that second place and so did all the team.
Well done to Synchronised's owner JP McManus, trainer Jonjo O'Neill and jockey AP McCoy – what a terrific performance.
The Giant Bolster and Scu had run a mighty race and the reception we got was overwhelming.
I've got goose bumps recounting this tale, as I have every day since.
You will never take away the thrill that this horse has given us, the team and everyone connected, winning at Cheltenham twice and nearly nicking the biggest prize of them all.
I am sure some things happen for a reason and when we returned to the Lawn Bar with the full Team GB, and the travelling lads, I requested six bottles of champagne for the deserving party.
As the bottles were placed on the bar I watched my last placepot selection come up.
I collected my winning two lines from the adjacent Tote counter which paid for the champagne celebrations.
Some days you just know your luck is in.
Tom Scu organised another celebration in the weighing room after racing where we were joined by his dad Peter Scudamore – the former champion jockey– and Festival-winning trainer Lucinda Russell.
Bridgie had left by this time. There is no doubting the dedication of the man, he was going back to check on the horse and do evening stables and mucking out.
However, we managed to prise him out of his Wyck Hill Farm near Cheltenham lair later that evening to go to the Hollow Bottom in Guiting Power, where the reception we received was amazing.
My phone was locked up with messages, e-mails and tweets and by 2am when all around me had crashed out I sat quietly in the apartment and replied to every one of them, Googled all the racing websites reporting on the day and had a few secret tears.
With The Giant Bolster priced up at 66-1 in the morning, so many people had had a successful day and the spirit of St Agnes in Cornwall and the legend of The Giant Bolster was alive on my phone. There was a party going on down there.
No two days since have gone by without me being asked about him, and I can't walk into a pub or shop without one of his followers asking about him.
I am so pleased so many people have enjoyed following him, we have all been humbled by the support.