Racing: Paradise looks good to Fitzgerald

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It has been, and we do not often say this in any respect, a quiet season for Mick Fitzgerald. The most loquacious of jumps jockeys has not been making big noises in the saddle, largely because of the ineffectuality of his main supporter, Nicky Henderson. Fitzgerald lies ninth in the jockeys' championship.

It has been, and we do not often say this in any respect, a quiet season for Mick Fitzgerald. The most loquacious of jumps jockeys has not been making big noises in the saddle, largely because of the ineffectuality of his main supporter, Nicky Henderson. Fitzgerald lies ninth in the jockeys' championship.

For both trainer and jockey their recent records at the Cheltenham Festival are also uninspiring, even though they still occupy second place in the record books behind Tony McCoy and Martin Pipe among current participants for races won at the spring Olympics.

As he approaches the Methuselah age for a jumps jockey of 35, Fitzgerald can look back on the sunlit years of 1999 and 2000. At each of those Festivals he rode four winners and was the meeting's leading jockey.

The first of those four-timers may just as well have happened at the weekend, such is its vividness in the Irishman's memory. On the Thursday of the meeting, he rode Katarino to victory in the Triumph Hurdle and Stormyfairweather to win the Cathcart. In between he popped up in a race they call the Gold Cup, on See More Business.

The very thought was almost enough to put him off a golf shot yesterday as he took alternative sporting refuge following Plumpton's abandonment. "That was a fantastic day for me," Fitzgerald said. "When the dreams came true. To become champion jockey at the Festival is always something I wanted to be. Winning races at Cheltenham was something I always wanted to do because it means so much to everybody. To ride three on one day was indescribable.

"As a boy, the Gold Cup was always the race I wanted to win. As a 15-year-old I watched Dawn Run win the Gold Cup [at the family home in Camolin, Co Wexford] and that moment captured the imagination of everybody in Ireland.

"When I did it it was not something that passed me by. I rode my first Festival winner in 1994 [Raymylette in the Cathcart] and I'd been there plenty so I knew how amazing it was. People will never know how important it was or how much it meant to me. I've always said to win the Grand National [which he did on Rough Quest in 1996] was huge, a great moment in any jockey's career, but, for me, that day at Cheltenham was as good as it gets."

Now Mick Fitzgerald wants to revive that soaring feeling. It could be that he will have another live contender in the Blue Riband, as the rider of either Kingscliff or Sir Rembrandt, whichever Andrew Thornton discards at Robert Alner's Dorset yard. But it is not quite as simple as that. "Plans are not finalised yet by Robert, and Nicky's still got Calling Brave in there as well," Fitzgerald added.

"I'm obviously delighted to see the resurgence in form of Nicky's horses. It's a great boost not only for Nicky himself but everybody in the yard. We both had a barren time at the Festival last season and we certainly don't want to walk out of there with no winners this year.

"We just hope the horses have it. It doesn't matter how well they are trained or how well I ride them, if the horses are not good enough we are not going to have any winners. That's where hope comes in. You can never be confident at Cheltenham, but you're as hopeful as you'll ever be.

"It was a shame that Etendard Indien [Triumph Hurdle] couldn't run last week, but he's a real nice horse. We've got others coming through, but I think my best chance of riding a winner at the Festival is in one of the novice hurdles on Tom Foley's horse, Royal Paradise."

Royal Paradise stands at around 10-1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on the opening day and 6-1 for the Royal & Sun Alliance Hurdle, a race his trainer won with Danoli.

If Foley opts for the latter race Royal Paradise will come up against Ambobo, a course winner last month for the French trainer Arnaud Chaille-Chaille. He hopes to re-book the pilot that day, Barry Geraghty, for Ambobo and for Bonbon Rose, who is likely to head for the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle.

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