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Cheltenham Festival: Week Ahead

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Sean Bowen’s Noble Mission . . . To Win The Cheltenham Gold Cup

The last Welsh jockey to win the Gold Cup reckons that record may need updating before the end of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

It’s now 15 years since Sam Thomas became the last Welshman to ride to glory and win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, when he saddled the magnificent Denman to victory over great rival, Kauto Star in 2008.

Now a leading trainer, Thomas reckons Sean Bowen has a decent chance of bookending notable victories for Welsh racing when he rides Noble Yeats in Friday’s big festival climax.

Bowen has never had a Cheltenham Festival winner, but will carry hopes of a Welsh victory in the Gold Cup on Friday when he rides last year’s Grand National winner.

They will be heavily-backed hopes, too, since Noble Yeats – the Emmet Mullins-trained seven-year-old – will be among the best-fancied horses behind race favourite Galopin Des Champs.

Thomas says: “We haven’t got a runner in the race this year, which is a shame as it’s 15 years on since winning it a jockey. So, it would have been nice.

“Galopin Des Champs is a beast and looks very reliable. If I was training a horse, or riding one, I think I’d want to be on him.

“Bravemansgame does everything impressively on the bridle, but this is a different kettle of fish.

“At a bigger price, I think Noble Yates shouldn’t be forgotten about. He’s got a good shout.”

Pembrokeshire jockey Bowen admits he cannot imagine what it would be like to win the Gold Cup – but just knows the after-race party would be unforgettable.

For Bowen, victory in the race would be another landmark in an outstanding season that has already bought him 108 winners and sees him second in the Jump Jockeys championship behind Brian Hughes.

The 25-year-old rider – Jockey of the year at last November’s Welsh Horse Racing Awards – insists it will be business as usual in his preparation.

“I don’t think you can change too much, to be honest,” he says.

“I have ridden plenty of winners this season and you just have to get out there and ride the race, rather than ride the Gold Cup, if that makes sense.

“With every single race I study it the night before I ride and I’ll be doing that at Cheltenham the same as I do every day of the week.

“Hopefully, everything goes right on the day. It is obviously a tricky old race and they will go quick. I just have to ride my race and hopefully my horse will be coming home the best.

“I can’t imagine what it would feel like to win. I haven’t even had a Cheltenham Festival winner, so it would absolutely amazing. The party afterwards would be incredible.”

Noble Yeats was a shock 50-1 winner when he won the National at Aintree last April, a fairytale bowing out for jockey Sam Waley-Cohen before retirement on a horse owned by his father, Robert.

Since then, Bowen has come on board Noble Yeats and won at Wexford and Aintree but most recently finished third at Cheltenham in January in the Costwold Chase.

Galopin Des Champs will be the horse most heavily-backed, but Bowen reckons the race is wide open.

“I actually think this will be one of the best Gold Cups we have had for a few years. There are quite a few horses in there who have had a really good prep and have been aimed at this race. Nothing seems to have gone wrong for a lot of them.

“Hopefully, it will be a good strong, stayer’s race. That will suit me. The more rain we have, the better he’ll be. He’ll be the one staying at the finish.

“It’s a wide open race. Galopin Des Champs has obviously been the most impressive all season, but I wouldn’t swap my lad for too many of them.”

Whatever happens, Bowen – son of trainer Peter Bowen – insists he will enjoy the Cheltenham experience and will move every muscle to maximise the opportunities Noble Yeats will give him in the two biggest races in the calendar.

“This and Grand National week at Aintree are my two favourite weeks of the year. As a kid, it was always Grand National week. My mum and dad always did very well at Aintree.

“The Gold Cup and the Grand National are the two biggest races and luckily, Noble Yeats is second or third favourite for a Gold Cup, and favourite for the Grand National. So, I’m a lucky man.”

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