There are still plenty of moments former jockey Ian Popham is keen to forget from his injury-plagued career – but victory aboard Annacotty in the 2015 Paddy Power Gold Cup is certainly not one of them.
If there was ever to be a perfect pick-me-up for a rider desperately in need of one, in a Cheltenham race which will be run this weekend under the BetVictor sponsorship, then the Grade Three success secured by the Alan King-trained gelding had to be it.
After breaking his collarbone three times – along with his cheek and jaw bones – in the 2014-15 campaign, the 28-year-old finally saw Lady Luck shine as he rode a horse he had already tasted Grade One glory on just under two years earlier.
Popham said: “Winning on Annacotty, in a mad sort of way, made things better – because at times when I was injured, you never think you are going to get back riding big winners.
“People write you off, and it is nice to prove you can still do it when you get the right horse underneath you.
“Liz Prowting (owner) was a massive supporter of mine, and she let me keep the ride because I had already won a Grade One (Kauto Star Novices’ Chase) on him.
“I was not riding many winners, and it was slow to pick up, but the owner kept faith in me even though the results were not happening – and that made it all the more better as well.”
With just two previous winners to his name in the 2015-16 campaign, and having ridden his fair share of no-hopers, Popham – who earlier in his career had broken his pelvis twice – showed no signs of letting the occasion get to him.
He said: “The race was a standing start – and it was my first ride for Alan King, with the horse being moved from Martin Keighley’s, so I wanted to get it right.
“Originally, I wanted to give him daylight, but I ended up three parts of the way back down the inside of the race.
“Most of the race, it was a good ride, and we had a pretty smooth passage.
“I knew from jumping the ditch at the top of the hill, where he winged it, that he was going well. Although he was one of the first off the bridle, I knew he would stay on – and that I had a bit left.
“He started passing them one by one and was rolling.
“I knew then he wasn’t going to be denied – and he wasn’t, everything just went right.
“It was a magical day, and one I will never forget – especially that feeling crossing the line. It was the best day of my racing life.”
After calling time on his career in the saddle in April this year, Popham still gets plenty of thrills out of racing – having turned his hand to becoming a jockeys’ agent.
Although never getting near to winning the Stobart Jump Jockeys Championship himself, he hopes he can give current title contender Harry Skelton the chance to do so.
Stratford-upon-Avon based Popham added: “When I started in May I had about five or six on the books, so to have 20 now I’m delighted.
“I hope I can continue to build it up and get more on board.
“Harry has had a phenomenal start through the summer, and to already have ridden 100 winners by November is some going.
“He is very excited for the winter horses coming through – and having had a great start, I hope he can keep the momentum going.
“If he doesn’t win it this year, Harry has got plenty of years ahead of him. It would be great to help him get the win he really wants.”