Kayley Woollacott was widowed at 31 when her husband Richard finally lost his long battle with depression last year. She was left with a young daughter, a racing stable and two options. Fight or flight. She chose the former and has dealt the sort of grief that could crush a lesser mortal in a remarkably robust and positive way. She has embraced the legacy of her husband’s death to publicise the need for dialogue on men’s mental health while at the same time raising significant funds for charities working in the field.
Meanwhile there were 22 racehorses to be trained and a young daughter to be raised too.
The German-bred Lalor is the stable’s only star and is second favourite for the Arkle Novice Chase today. Woollacot says that the horse “has made a huge amount of difference to my life, personally, professionally, to every aspect. He’s changed the last twelve months — they could have been massively different without him around.”
A Grade One winner over hurdles at Aintree last spring the seven-year old impressed when winning on his chasing debut at the November meeting at Cheltenham. His subsequent defeat at Sandown can be attributed to the unsuitably soft going. Kayley says that “Richard didn’t do it to imprison us in guilt and in sadness. All we can do now is forgive him and ourselves.”
It would need a heart of granite not to cross your fingers and hope for the very best for Lalor, Kayley and her daughter, Bella, this afternoon.
There are 28 puzzles to be solved at Cheltenham this week and perhaps the most intractable of them all comes in the fourth race this afternoon. And there are probably only three complex variables to be solved.
The Champion Hurdle has turned out to be an absolute cracker after a fraught winter when it looked for a long time that it could be a mere lap of honour for Buveur D’air.
Happily, after a game of cat and mouse over the brilliant mare Apple Jade’s festival destination Michael O’Leary has done the decent thing and runs her today in the big one.
Even better, Willie Mullins has chosen the same path for his Laurina who is unbeaten in six races and doesn’t yet know what it’s like to be off the bridle. The chances are that she will find out today.
Both mares get a valuable seven pounds allowance from the reigning champ and it will be intriguing to watch how the race pans out tactically. Apples Jade is a relentless front runner who stays a lot further than two miles so all being well she will be leading at the home turn with the other two principles close and ready to press the turbo button.
Buveur D’air remains a little under appreciated for a dual Champion Hurdle winner and he carries the burdensome question, like Best Mate before him, ‘yeah, but what did he beat?’ If he sweeps past Apples Jade and withstands Laurina that question will be well and truly answered.
The quality of the field in today’s opener, The Supreme Novice Hurdle, never really matters that much. The fact that there are horses, that they are down at the start, the clock says that it is nearly 1.30pm is all that really counts. This moment has been 362 days coming and quality can take a running jump for now.
However, there is no question that the race is always embellished by the presence of an Irish ‘good thing.’
One that has been talked about in hushed tones since winning his maiden Navan or Fairyhouse back in November and has built towards here ever since.
Not this year, regrettably. We have the indignity this time of neither the first or second favourites being trained in Ireland and Klassical Dream, who beat his Mullins stablemate Aramon by inches in a pulsating finish at Leopardstown in early February is the best of the Irish, according to the bookies at least. Both look useful but without having that elusive look of champions.
Which makes the presence in the race of Fakir D’oudairies even more intriguing. It is 20 years since Hors La Loi was the last four-year old to win this race and Joseph O’Brien has swerved the temptation to wait until Friday’s Triumph hurdle with his French bred gelding.
He won doing handstand at the track in January and in receipt of a very handy eight pounds he may be the best hope for the future.