Noel Meade eyes Cheltenham Festival Riches

Fortune has not always favoured Noel Meade at the Cheltenham Festival, but the seven-times champion Irish trainer is hoping Road To Riches can enjoy the rub of the green in this year’s Gold Cup.

Noel Meade eyes Cheltenham Festival Riches

Meade, who began his career training Flat horses, has something of a love-hate relationship with Prestbury Park.

Training out of Tu Va Stables in County Meath, named after his first ever horse, the affable Meade has headed to Cheltenham with hopes and dreams for nearly 30 years.

Some years he has gone with stronger chances that others, but it is fair to say that before Sausalito Bay provided him with that previously elusive first success in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle of 2000, lesser men would have thought it was just not meant to be.

Who can forget the agonising defeat of Hill Society at the hands of Champleve in the 1998 Arkle?

Everyone on course thought he had won only to be denied by an AP McCoy spectacular.

Then there were the defeats of highly-touted novices such as Aran Concerto, the thrilling finish of the 2005 Champion Hurdle when Harchibald could not or would not go past Hardy Eustace on the run in and Go Native missing out on a £1 million bonus as he could only finish 10th in the 2010 Champion Hurdle.

Meade has had four winners at the Festival, which seems paltry compared to the Hendersons and Mullins of this world, but in his defence he was long content picking up the major prizes at home earlier in the season, rather than training them specifically for March.

However, Sausalito Bay beat triple Gold Cup hero Best Mate and in winning the 2006 Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle, Nicanor had Denman in behind so they are two scalps to be proud of.

And Meade could yet account for more high-profile names this year as he is arguably going with his strongest team yet.

Apache Stronghold promised plenty over hurdles and has already delivered a Grade One over fences, putting him in the mix for the JLT Novices’ Chase.

But it is his Gold Cup hope Road To Riches who has him really excited, which is not surprising given he has progressed from winning the Galway Plate last summer to landing the Lexus Chase in December.

“I could stand here and say that Road To Riches is going to win the Gold Cup, but he is still only a contender,” said Meade.

“When he won at Galway, we hoped he would kick on. He was very good as a young horse then he lost his way and he did the same thing as a novice chaser.

“We changed his diet around and that turned him inside out.

“Cheltenham is a big stage and I hope the preliminaries don’t get to him, but I would be unhappy if he is not on his toes a bit. He will wear earplugs until he goes out on the track.

“They will be going a lot quicker at Cheltenham and if he makes one bad mistake, that is his chance gone.

“There is a lot of stress in having a horse going for the Gold Cup, but there is more pressure when you don’t have these sorts of horses.

“It is a great situation to be in and if I can get him there as well as his last couple of runs, he will have a cracking good chance.

“Cheltenham is some place and if you train jumpers, it is the only place you want to be in March.”

Meade’s record at the meeting may not have the statisticians purring, but he has never shied away from a challenge. “When I first came over with Harbour Pilot, some people said I should have run him in the three-mile handicap,” he said.

“After he finished third in the 2003 Gold Cup, some said he would have won that race, but I said I wanted to win the Gold Cup. Unless you run in it, you won’t win it.

“As far as I am concerned, winning the Gold Cup would be like winning the lottery.

“It is the pinnacle race in the jumps season and that is the race to win. I would rather win one Gold Cup than five Grand Nationals.”

More in this section

Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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