Smart Tar got Llewellyn up and running at Cheltenham

‘Best feeling’ to have a Festival winner

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Half the battle of riding a winner at the Cheltenham Festival is avoiding trouble in running and Carl Llewellyn did just that aboard Smart Tar to claim his first victory at the showpiece meeting in 1988.

More than 30 years may have passed since Llewellyn – who twice went on to win the Grand National and now serves as assistant trainer to Nigel Twiston-Davies – tasted victory aboard the Mark Wilkinson-trained runner in the Mildmay of Flete Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.

But to this day it remains a fond memory.

Llewellyn said: “Mark was an up-and-coming trainer at the time. It was massive just to get a ride at Cheltenham as youngster.

“As it was not the biggest yard the win really was a big deal and you really appreciate it a lot more. He was a very good horse in his day and went on to run really well in the Grand National for a circuit the following season before falling.

“The race went very smoothly and at the time it was nice to get a Cheltenham Festival winner so early in my career, although I’d had a taste of what it was like when finishing fourth on a 100-1 chance in another race and savoured that – but the adrenaline rush was nothing like when winning one and I was lucky to get a few more on the board afterwards.

“It was only three days back then and when you take away the amateur races it means your chances of a reasonable ride was getting one in a handicap at that stage of my career.

“I had ridden Smart Tar a few times before and he was quite a relaxed, straightforward ride. He travelled quite well and jumped very well. He came into the race very smoothly and there were no real dramas.

“I can’t remember the exact point of taking it up, but I know we beat the Toby Balding-trained Bishops Yarn, who had Richard Guest, who was another young lad then, riding him.

“It is a little bit of a shock when you are young as it is on big stage and you are just happy to have played a part in it. It all goes quick and you are in a bit of a haze and you don’t appreciate it as much at the time.

“The walk back in for me and a lot of jockeys is the best part of it – if not the best part. It’s in front of all the crowds and whoever has won they are cheering for you and that gives you a fantastic adrenaline rush.

“It’s the best feeling to have a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. The adrenaline makes the place so special.

“Racing is a close-knit community and it is the same for every rider in that you get congratulations from everyone – even days and weeks afterwards that goes on.”

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