After a recent Point to Point treble, 21 year old Sean Houlihan is now heading for the Cheltenham Festival for the first time. The young Dungarvan man, based with trainer Phillip Hobbs, is realising a childhood dream by riding at the Festival and is looking forward to taking his first Festival rides on Tuesday and Thursday.
Point to Point Treble
I rode a treble recently at Badbury Rings, something I hadn’t done before so it’s great to be progressing and learning all the time. I feel I’m riding well at the moment and it’s all down to working hard. I go pointing most weekends and I’m lucky and grateful to be getting lots of rides and getting lots of experience. Pointing is great as it gives me lots of opportunities to improve my riding and it’s nice to be able to rack up a few winners. I rode three lovely horses – I’m All Set, Master Tradesman and the treble was completed on a horse called Samuel Jackson. It’s great to get one winner but to get three is brilliant, it’s great for the confidence!
Cheltenham Build Up
I won’t be doing anything different in the lead up to the week, I will be following my normal routine and I’ll be Pointing on Saturday and Sunday. I have a few rides on both days so hopefully I can ride a winner and go into the week full of confidence. Obviously I’ll be mindful of getting hurt before the big week but no more than any other day I go out riding. I think if you start looking after yourself too much then that’s when something can go wrong so I’ll be treating this weekend like any other. Riding is still the same whether it’s a Point to Point in Dungarvan or Badbury Rings or the Cheltenham Festival it’s still riding at the end of the day so this weekend will be the same as any other for me.
Obviously I’m excited about Cheltenham, it’s something I’ve worked very hard for and it’s one of the reasons I stayed amateur an extra year – I probably wouldn’t be getting the opportunities next week if I turned conditional so I’m happy I made the decision to stay amateur. There will be a great Irish presence at the Festival which will be fantastic and I hope to have some familiar faces there too – my parents might be coming over on Thursday along with my two brothers. Another Dungarvan man Declan Queally, brother of Tom, has a runner in the Foxhunter’s on Friday so I’d say there’ll be plenty of people from home over so it would be brilliant if I could give them something to cheer about on Thursday afternoon!
I won’t be staying in Cheltenham, it’s a great week and everything but there’s still work to be done at home in Mr. Hobbs’ yard and Monday I have two rides in Chepstow – Cautious Kate and Maccas Stowaway so hopefully they give me a good spin and they both run well. Tuesday morning I’ll muck out and do a few jobs and probably ride out two or three lots in the morning before heading off up to Cheltenham. I won’t be taking it easy and I’ll work away until the time comes to leave. It will be good for me as I won’t be distracted in the lead up to my ride in the afternoon. I’ll aim to arrive at Cheltenham just before the first race so that I can take it all in and watch a bit of the action before I start to focus on my own ride. Wednesday morning I’ll be back in the yard bright and early the same as any other day to do my job and Thursday morning will be a repeat of Tuesday I would say. It will be great to have the experienced lads in the yard up there for the week. Dickie Johnson and Tom O’ Brien have so many rides and winners under their belts it will be great to have them there if I need a bit of advice or anything.
Cheltenham is a special place and I’m really looking forward to being there. It’s only once a year and for lots of yards, the whole year is aimed at just four days so to be a part of that will be an amazing experience and it’s something I’m delighted to be involved in. It wasn’t that long ago I was riding a pony around a field as a child in Dungarvan pretending I was riding at the Festival and now to be going there to do it for real is just a great feeling and something I’ve wanted to do all my life. Like I said, this weekend is going to be low key and I’m going to do things as normal as possible but I am very excited and it’s getting very real now that it’s just a few days away.
My Cheltenham Rides
I’ve ridden around Cheltenham a few times but my first ride at the Festival itself will be on Tuesday in the JT McNamara National Hunt Chase on a horse called Dancing Shadow for Victor Dartnall. My agent Dave Roberts text me saying Mr. Dartnall wanted me to ride his horse. To get that text was a brilliant feeling and it’s nice to know that I’m in a trainer’s mind, especially for a big week like Cheltenham. I went up and schooled the horse to get myself familiar with him and I’m hugely excited to get up on him on Tuesday. It’s a great feeling knowing I’m going to be lining up at the Festival on a horse that deserves to be there, not just one to make up the numbers so I’m really looking forward to it.
Dancing Shadow has won his last two races and he’s in off 139 which means he isn’t that far off the more fancied horses in the race. He will love the trip and as long as the ground isn’t on the slow side he should be fine, usually Tuesday ground at the Festival will be nice jumping ground. He’s a second season Novice so he’ll have no problem with experience and I think he has a good chance of running a big race. I schooled him the other day and he’s in great form, Mr. Dartnall and his team are delighted with him so please god with a bit of luck things will go well and I’m really looking forward to lining up on Tuesday.
Thursday I take the ride on Lamb Or Cod for my boss Mr. Hobbs and owner Terry Warner in the last race of the day, the Kim Muir Handicap Chase. While he is not confirmed to run yet, we’re very confident he’ll get in and he’ll carry a nice weight. To ride in Cheltenham for my boss Mr. Hobbs and in Terry Warner’s colours, made famous by Rooster Booster, is a dream come true and I can’t wait for Thursday. I was just finished riding out and was preparing to go to Exeter to go racing when Mr. Hobbs came up to me to tell me that Lamb Or Cod would be going for the Kim Muir and I would be riding him. To say I was delighted is an understatement and it’s great to know my boss has the confidence in me to go and do it. Like Dancing Shadow on Tuesday, this horse is coming into the week in decent form, although he pulled up in his last race he won at Cheltenham in December over 3 miles. He’s won over 3m 2f and holds an entry in the Grand National next month so the trip won’t be any inconvenience. In total he’s won four times at the track so he won’t be out of place on Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Hobbs and The Festival
The horses in the yard are in great form and Mr. Hobbs has a terrific record at Cheltenham over the years. We have some great chances going there with the likes of Lamb Or Cod, Golden Doyan, For Good Measure and of course Defi Du Seuil who is many peoples banker for the week on Friday. Sausalito Sunrise goes in the Cross Country on Wednesday, he’s been schooling well so that might spark him into life and hopefully he’ll go well. Garde La Victoire is a course winner, he won the Greatwood Hurdle here in November a couple of years ago. He goes in the Grand Annual on Gold Cup day so he’d have a chance as well. All in all we’ve a good team of horses going and Mr. Hobbs has such a great record at the Festival so hopefully there’ll be a winner or two on the week for the yard.
All of us at Tote would like to wish Sean the very best of luck this week with his rides at the Cheltenham Festival.
From Monday, read jockey Danny Mullins take on the Cheltenham Festival on our blog. Danny will be providing us with his thoughts on the action every day.