IN JUNE 1996 an unbroken four-year-old gelding by Lord Americo entered the sale ring at Fairyhouse. His destiny was going to be decided in the next three minutes.
He was an attractive horse with correct conformation and a reasonable pedigree. He walked quietly around the stage of this circular theatre oblivious to the importance of the noise from the rostrum. After a sustained battle between Irish trainer Arthur Moore and agent Keith Lewis the hammer fell at 80,000 guineas. He left the ring as the most expensive store horse to be sold in the British Isles that year. Quite a burden on such young shoulders. The horse had never been ridden, let alone galloped. He had never jumped, nobody knew the size of his engine nor the willingness of his brain.
Sales poppers rarely prove to be the best racehorses. Take Sheikh Mohammed's 10.2m dollar yearling purchase he named Snafi Dancer. The horse didn't possess sufficient ability to see a racecourse so he was retired to stud only to be found to be infertile. This poor gelding didn't even have that option. However, Brian Stewart-Brown signed the cheque, sent the horse to Oliver Sherwood and named him Lord Of The River.
Today, the same horse faces the biggest test of his fledgling career. He has proved this season to be worth every penny of his lofty price-tag having won the Feltham and Reynoldstown Chases. He possesses a big engine and an amazing will to win. His jumping, which was slightly awkward in his first few chases, has improved rapidly in the past couple of months. His confidence has grown and his form has become stronger.
Today you will see him at a peak and I am confident that he can dent Nick Dundee's high reputation and put himself in line for the Millennium Gold Cup.
Brian Stewart-Brown also owns Ask Tom my ride in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. This horse was bought privately after finishing second to Suny Bay in a four-year-old point to point in Waterford six years ago.
He has proved a great servant to his fearless owner. Second in this race two years ago he ran badly last year after suffering a training setback. Another injury has restricted him to just one race this season when he was well beaten by Celibate at Newbury. Today he will strip much fitter and cannot be left out of calculations in what looks a very open race.
After a slow start to the season Paul Webber's horses have hit a rich vein of form. He provides me with two rides today and both have a chance of winning.
Frosty Canyon, my ride in the Bumper, has the unusual distinction of being the son of a previous Cheltenham winner. His dam, Rose Ravine was a Fulke Walwyn-trained ultra-tough winner of the Stayers' Hurdle. Her son has inherited her staying power and in a race where stamina is a must, this horse holds a great each way chance.
Hoh Express cannot claim the same family links to the Festival. Himself a winner of a Listed race on the Flat in Germany, his dam won three races as a two-year-old. His breeder certainly did not have the Cheltenham Festival in mind when planning the mating but despite that he has taken well to fences and could be a handicap snip in the Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase.
Jamie Osborne is carrying the logo of The Independent on his breeches and collar throughout the Cheltenham FestivalReuse content