British trainer George Baker circles two dates on his calendar every year. The Iroquois Steeplechase in May and the Cheltenham Festival in March. Training from the Manton Estate, Baker sent out Belgian Bill to win the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot last year. TIHR caught up with Baker for the first installment of Cheltenham’s 10 Questions.
First Cheltenham memory?
Tied Cottage falling at the last fence in the 1979 Cheltenham Gold Cup, handing the race to Alverton and Jonjo O’Neill.
If you could have trained/ridden/owned one Cheltenham horse in history…who and why?
Desert Orchid. The grey horse who captured the attention like no other steeplechaser in my lifetime, and whose battling success on unraceable ground raised the roof. I have never seen so many grown men in tears.
Why is it so special?
The sheer intensity has been a little diluted since the change from three days to four. But the rawness of the sport, and the qualities required to succeed at this pinnacle of National Hunt Racing, combine to produce unmatched drama and theatre.
What’s your biggest concern/fear regarding Cheltenham?
I hope that they do not add a fifth day. The fourth day was added for pure commercial reasons, and not to satisfy public demand as the Cheltenham Executive tried to make us believe.
One horse you’ve trained or do train who could/should run at Cheltenham. Why?
We have had runners, but nothing that has gone there with a real chance of winning. So I would settle for training any horse that “should” be aimed at the Festival.
Best race/moment you’ve experienced there.
A tie between Desert Orchid’s Gold Cup and Dawn Run’s Champion Hurdle. The roar as they returned to unsaddle was heartfelt and utterly magical.
– Watch Desert Orchid win the Gold Cup.
Worst race/moment you’ve experienced there.
Gloria Victis, who looked as if he was on the cusp of greatness, falling and losing his life at the second last fence in the Gold Cup.
Words of advice for first-time Cheltenham goer.
Take a deep breath and dive in. Start the day in the Guinness Village. Listen to the craic. Ignore most advice. Bet like it matters. Buy the best wines and champagnes – the cheaper stuff is cheaper for a reason. Go to the pre-paddock. Better views than the paddock. Watch the races from the grass in front of the stands. Watch some races on TV screens in comfortable boxes. Roar home the winners without being embarrassed by what your neighbour is thinking. Let yourself go. This is Cheltenham!
Nap of the meet.
Bobs Worth. Unoriginal, but he will win.
– Watch Bobs Worth win the Gold last year.
Longshot of the meet.
Vaniteux. 16/1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
– For an entertaining view of training and racing in Britain, read George Baker’s blog.