WAYNE Hutchinson knows neither he or his horses are likely to be on many punters’ betting slips ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, but that doesn’t stop the Swindon jockey from dreaming of being a spoiler once again during the biggest week of the racing year.
Last year’s Coral Cup provided Hutchinson with his greatest Cheltenham moment, as he rode 33/1 shot Medinas to a surprise victory which came four years after his first success on board Oh Crick in the 2009 Grand Annual.
Working primarily with Barbury Castle trainer Alan King, Hutchinson brings Medinas back to Cheltenham for Thursday’s World Hurdle as a 50/1 shot while Grumeti is a 100/1 outsider in the Champion Hurdle today.
Those odds sum up Hutchinson’s chances of claiming his third Festival win, but Hutchinson knows from previous experience that long odds don’t necessarily rule you out of the winners’ enclosure.
“It’s the big occasion of the season which everyone is geared up for and looks forward to and it’s just great to be a part of it,” he said.
“There’s so much hype, buzz and atmosphere, like nowhere else, and it also brings the best horses around all together at the same time.
“You have to treat it like any other day really, although people approach it in different ways depending on their routine, but people are fixed in their ways and the way they go into a race.
“I like to think of it as any other horse race, although that’s not always easy because there’s the added pressure of everything being geared towards this one week or one day.
“You have to ignore all that, do your best and stay calm.
“It’s very hard to ride winners there because a lot of the big names and trainers dominate, although I’ve been fortunate enough to pick up a couple of Festival winners.
“Winning on Oh Crick was great because it was Alan’s (King) only winner of the week and it came in the final race on the final day, and I remember him saying at the time it had dug him out of a bit of a hole.
“I had to wait four or five years to ride another one and that shows just how tough it is so you really appreciate how lucky you are to experience that.
“I watched on telly and went to the Festival as a child so you picture in your head just what it would be like, and when it does it’s really surreal.”
While the excitement is there once again for Hutchinson, the Swindon jockey is quick to admit the expectation level probably isn’t. Especially given King’s regular number one Robert Thornton is back in the saddle and set to take the majority of the trainer’s premier rides.
“If I’m honest I don’t think I go into it with as big a chance as I did last year because circumstances are a bit different as Robert Thornton will take the majority of the rides,” Hutchinson said.
“I think I have one or two each day and they are all pretty big prices, so I suppose that sort of reflects their chances on paper.
“Saying that, last year my winner was 33/1 and surprises do happen. I ride Grumeti in the Champion Hurdle and then Medinas in the World Hurdle on the Thursday and it’s great to be involved in the big races on each day.
“They both need to improve to win in graded races but there’s a lot of prize money on offer and they’re there to do their best.
“Every sportsman goes out to do their best and dreams of spoiling everyone else’s party and it’s no different for me.
“Cheltenham is a funny place and it’s the same for every trainer and every jockey, it’s the place where dreams are made but also hearts are broken.
“Who knows what is going to happen.”
While Hutchinson was quick to downplay his own chances, the Barbury Castle jockey knows where his money would go in the two big races he is involved in.
“In the Champion Hurdle I think Hurricane Fly will be very hard to beat and I can’t see how any of the Irish horses will turn the tables on him, and I think his biggest challenge will be My Tent or Yours,” Hutchinson said.
“It’s the same in the World Hurdle on Thursday it’s all about Big Buck’s coming back this year and obviously he has improved, but for me he would have to improve a lot to regain his crown.
“Annie Power looks the real deal but there’s a question mark on whether she stays, but personally I think she will and is a real threat.”
The Swindon jockey was even more certain when asked who would win the champion trainer and jockey crowns.
“I think it’s got to be Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh to be honest because he has a real strong hand and has a lot of ammunition coming over,” he said.
“They hold all the cards.”