Racing: Festival a Royal occasion for Foley

It is not a piece of apparel he is used to wearing but it is time, once again, for Tom Foley to get his tie out of the wardrobe for the Cheltenham Festival.

It is not a piece of apparel he is used to wearing but it is time, once again, for Tom Foley to get his tie out of the wardrobe for the Cheltenham Festival.

The trainer who supervised the career of Danoli, the most popular Irish horse since Arkle, is back. "We've had the great days," Foley said yesterday, "but the devil is you have to wait so long for more of them." It was 11 years ago that Danoli trotted out before the Royal & SunAlliance Novice Hurdle, the massively supported 7-4 favourite to retrieve losses the visiting horde had sustained on the first day of the meeting. There was one bet of £80,000 to win £130,000 believed to have been placed by the punter known by his initials. Danoli's success, on the eve of St Patrick's Day, ensured attendance was maintained for the last day of the Festival.

For Foley it had been the first time on an aeroplane as he accompanied Danoli from Dublin to Bristol. Indeed, it was his first time out of the homeland. Foley (and this was not an idea inspired by Nicky Henderson) stayed in the stable lads' hostel. He had a pre-race team talk with Danoli on the morning of the race, but said nothing in the paddock to the gelding's jockey, Charlie Swan.

As Danoli was led in victoriously, Foley could be spotted in the winners' enclosure without a jacket. He wore his old pullover and, as this was a special occasion, he sported a tie. That was just as well. Foley was whisked away to a private box and the monarchy. He spoke to the Queen Mother for 10 minutes and, to this day, has no idea what either of them said.

That is not usual for Tom Foley, who remembers what he says to Danoli, who, in turn, remembers the old cattle farmer when he visits. They are 58 and 17 respectively. "Danoli's still on his holidays since he retired at the National Stud," Foley said. "He's very well looked after and he's enjoying himself pretty well. Oh God, he's as healthy looking as can be. Himself and Vintage Crop [the 1993 Melbourne Cup winner] are together. Where one goes the two have to go. I go up there and he still knows me."

The season after Cheltenham, Danoli shattered a bone in his near fore as he won the Aintree Hurdle. It almost killed him. The hard horse returned though, and even managed to win the Hennessy Gold Cup (Irish Gold Cup) in 1997, but he was essentially never the same again.

They have been waiting for a second coming ever since at Aughabeg on the outskirts of Bagenalstown in Co Carlow. It is not quite the back of beyond, but it is the last place you stop to ask for directions to it. And now the yard is firmly back on the map.

The reason is a horse called Royal Paradise, a former inmate of a rather more self conscious trainer, François Doumen. He is probably the best young hurdler in Ireland and a contestant, probably, in Danoli's race, the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle in 12 days' time.

"There's no comparison between the two of them whatsoever," Foley said. "At home they would have been as different as chalk and cheese. One was competitive, this one is very laid back. Danoli had to win even if he was in a walking race but, if you worked this horse with a dog, he would only go along upsides him.

"Royal Paradise seems to be a different horse at the racetrack. Because of his lack of racing he doesn't really know what he's doing yet. But that last day at Leopardstown he got more on his toes and he seemed to realise what racing was all about.

"He's only a young horse, five, and he hasn't raced a lot. It's just taken a little while for the penny to drop. He's won four out of five and things didn't go right the other time. Danoli did about the same thing, so we'd have to hope there is not that much between them."

Danoli was the horse blessed before races by Father Dowling, who is no longer part of the story because he is no longer part of life. Royal Paradise has been blessed by Father Howard and Tom Foley would consider himself similarly so if he could get the same accommodation as he found at his first Cheltenham Festival.

"I wouldn't mind going back there [the hostel] again," he said. "That's the truth. You're very near the horse and all, and you couldn't ask for better. I'll have to talk nice to Mr [Edward] Gillespie [the Cheltenham managing director] when I get over there. If he could put up with me for a couple of days I could certainly ask for nowhere better. That's right."

Thornton to ride Kingscliff

Sir Rembrandt is the likely mount of Mick Fitzgerald in the Gold Cup after Andrew Thornton turned down the chance to again partner the horse he rode into second place in the last year's Cheltenham showpiece.

Thornton decided yesterday to ride Kingscliff, also trained by Robert Alner. Sir Rembrandt would be best suited by soft ground, the jockey said. Fitzgerald will step in unless Nicky Henderson saddles a runner in the Gold Cup.

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