Cheltenham Festival Diary: Revealed - how to hit optimum weight without skipping dinner

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The Independent Online

Niall Hannity, who lost more than 3st in three months to ride in the charity race in aid of Cancer Research UK on Thursday, revealed afterwards that he never missed a meal and never had a sauna.

A regular on the northern circuit with 100 career winners until retiring from the saddle in 2005 to become the racing correspondent of the Northern Echo, Hannity was happy to reveal his secret.

"I saw a guy called George Wilson at John Moores University in Liverpool. Lots of people go to him for advice, like the footballer Michael Owen, and I have to say he is fantastic, a legend. I had to exercise morning and night and be careful what I ate, but it was very manageable and certainly much easier than when I was a young jockey trying to do under 10st."

Hannity, 33 this week, and the other 11 riders of varying experience and expertise, were overwhelmed by the reception they received from the thousands who stayed behind to cheer them home in the St Patrick's Derby.

"I was beaten into fourth on the second favourite and expected some dog's abuse from drunken punters, but they clapped and cheered every one of us. The parade ring was absolutely mobbed."

The race was won by Pascha Bere, ridden by Olympics-bound eventer Tina Cook, daughter of Cheltenham legend Josh Gifford, who died last month.

Hannity raised £27,000 for Cheltenham's Cancer Research UK initiative, £17,000 of which was donated by bookmakers. The overall total raised now stands at £500,000.

Binoculars assist far-sighted Vision

If you were at Haydock a month ago looking for Cheltenham Festival clues in the 3.55, I hope you were paying close attention.

Normally, all eyes would have been on those fighting out the finish, but those with a decent pair of binoculars would have noted three horses, Cape Tribulation, Alfie Sherrin and Sunnyhillboy, trailing home 20 lengths and more behind the winner, Grand Vision.

One month on and, remarkably, all three of them reappeared to win big handicaps at Cheltenham this week and all of them were well backed, which goes to show that some punters were indeed paying attention and there is more to finding winners than a straightforward reading of a form book.

Those who latched on late and backed Grand Vision when he too reappeared at the Festival yesterday in a higher grade event were also rewarded if they backed him each way as he ran the race of his life to finish a close third at 25-1.

Can Grand Slam go the distance?

Grand Slam Hero runs in the 3.35 at Ffos Las today just after they kick off for the second half in Wales' Rugby Union Grand Slam showdown with France at the Millennium Stadium.

The horse has failed to finish on his last four starts, but has won at the Welsh track twice in the past. An omen for a revival?

Murphy to bounce back at Galway

The Irish are pretty good at coming over here and winning our big races, so Yorkshire-based trainer Ferdy Murphy is planning on giving them a taste of their own medicine.

Divers finished third in a big Cheltenham handicap this week and Murphy reckons that he might have fared better had the course not been extensively watered the night before.

"He'll be perfect for the Galway Plate in the summer," he said. "It's a huge prize and they'll be bouncing off the ground – just the way he likes it."