Much is made of the physical demands that jump jockeys must endure but mental resilience, too, is essential and Lizzie Kelly showed here on Thursday that she has what it takes.
Three weeks on from the most crushing disappointment of her career, when Tea For Two, her first ride in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, got no further than the second fence, she steered the same horse to victory in the Betway Bowl, the feature race on the first day of the Grand National meeting.
“I had planned it [the Gold Cup] meticulously,” she said after holding the fans’ favourite, Cue Card, by a neck to win the second Grade One contest of her career. “I knew every single blade of grass on that bloody racecourse, I’d walked it a week beforehand and planned it over and over and over again and then, all of a sudden, bam, you’re out.
“I just thought ‘bollocks’, to be honest. There’s not a lot else you can think. You can’t think, ‘I should have done this or that.’ You haven’t registered anything and you don’t really know what happened because it happened so fast. It’s like a balloon popping, you’ve had no chance to get into the race. But the fact that it happened at the second meant that we could come here today, which has obviously paid off.”
Cue Card, sent off as the 2-1 favourite here while Tea For Two was 10-1, also failed to complete in the Gold Cup but departed at the third-last, with nearly three miles of the race already run. He showed no hint of fatigue for much of Thursday’s race, as he jumped boldly in front and saw off several rivals a long way from home, but he had nothing left to haul himself back past Cue Card after Kelly sent him ahead jumping the third-last.
“That Friday [after the Gold Cup] I just wanted to drive off a bridge,” Kelly said. “The walk back to the weighing room was the longest of my entire life. I wanted to crawl back but unfortunately these [orange] colours are quite bright so I couldn’t do that.
“I did start introducing myself as Lizzie Kelly, the Gold Cup ‘falling off’ jockey. One of the girls in the yard was abusing me for wearing my fancy boots on the muddy gallops and I said, ‘I’ll have you know, I’m a Gold Cup falling off jockey.’
“It’s just one of those things. Racing is a real balancer. It always give you a chance to have bad day, bad day, bad day and then you have a day like today and you remember why you’re doing it.”
Kelly was the first female jockey ever to win a British Grade One race over jumps when Tea For Two took the Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton in December 2015, and the eight-year-old should still have plenty of time left in his career to carry the rider on to further achievements.
“Realistically I’d like us to have another bash at the Gold Cup,” Kelly said. “Then further down the line, perhaps one or two seasons, maybe a Grand National. He jumps very well and he does stay. I don’t think you could rule it out.”
Cue Card, who is three years older than Tea For Two, will also be back next season, though his days as a serious Gold Cup contender may be behind him.
“It was a fantastic run and he loved being ridden that positively,” Colin Tizzard, his trainer, said. “We could see Tea For Two travelling quite well behind. They were very close in the King George VI Chase and they were very close again today. His season is done but he’ll go out in the field now on this nice spring grass. But after about a month we will start riding him again because we don’t want him getting old. We’ll treat him like a king, because that’s what he is.”
While Kelly prospered on the opening day, Katie Walsh, due to ride Wonderful Charm for Paul Nicholls in Saturday’s Grand National, experienced the other side of life as a jump jockey when she was unseated from Distime at The Chair in the Foxhunters’ Chase. Her suspected broken arm was found at hospital to be only bruised, and she says she will take her place on Wonderful Charm.
A total of 28 runners went to post for the Foxhunters’ Chase, and sixteen completed the course as Dineur beat Balnaslow by one-and-three-quarter lengths. There were just four fallers, and all the horses were reported to have returned uninjured.
Buveur D’Air, the Champion Hurdle winner, followed up in the Grade One Aintree Hurdle with his stable companion My Tent Or Yours in second, adding just over £150,000 to Nicky Henderson’s prize money total in his attempt to depose Nicholls as champion trainer. Henderson’s other major hope on the afternoon proved disappointing, however, as Top Notch, the 6-5 favourite for the Manifesto Novice Chase, could finish only third behind Nigel Twiston-Davies’s Flying Angel.
Aintree 1.40 Dream Berry 2.20 River Wylde 2.50 Might Bite 3.25 God’s Own 4.05 Gold Present (nap) 4.40 The Worlds End (nb) 5.15 Black Op
Leicester 2.00 Straight Ash 2.30 Endeavour 3.05 My Lucille 3.40 Sufi 4.15 Rainbow Dreamer 4.50 Present Tense 5.25 London Glory
Sedgefield 2.10 Cruising Bye 2.40 Viserion 3.15 Taws 3.50 Jokers And Rogues 4.25 Master Burbidge 5.00 Whatdoesthefoxsay 5.30 Mitcd
Kempton 5.45 Rey Loopy 6.15 Metronomic 6.45 Golden Raven 7.15 Assertive Agent 7.45 Desert Rain 8.15 Ventura Blues 8.45 Synodic 9.15 Tidal’s Baby