Having been associated with the legendary Big Buck’s, owner Andy Stewart knows all about Cheltenham Festival history and his hunter chaser Pacha Du Polder is on the verge of creating some more.
Already a dual winner of the St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, the 12-year-old could become the first horse to win the race regarded as the amateur riders’ Gold Cup three times.
Some greats of the hunting field have managed two, even going back to College Master in the 1960s – but a third one always proved elusive.
While the nature of the race has changed – Pacha Du Polder himself is trained by former champion Paul Nicholls – it is more a story of the jockeys to have ridden the horse that captures the attention.
His first appearance in the race came in 2016 when he was partnered by former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton, who excelled for a novice to finish fifth, beaten less than three lengths.
He then helped launch the career of Bryony Frost, who could be winning the Gold Cup itself this year on Frodon.
Last year’s success was even more remarkable as his jockey, Harriet Tucker, dislocated her shoulder in the closing stages, but still managed to win. Tucker has only recently returned to full fitness following surgery.
“I’ve had Harriet’s shoulder fixed so she’s all set for the hat-trick bid on him,” said Stewart.
“The year before Harriet we had Bryony Frost on board when barely anybody had heard of her and then before that of course we had Victoria Pendleton.
“If Victoria hadn’t ridden him that year and Bryony had, well he may have won three already as he was only beaten just over a couple of lengths.
“Some very good hunter chasers have won the race twice, but none have managed three so it really would be something special.”
Pacha Du Polder very much fits the mould of the new trend of hunter chasers having shown very good form under rules before switching to the amateur ranks.
“He was a very classy horse in France when we bought him and he won a nice race up at Ayr for us as a novice,” said Stewart.
“The year after didn’t quite go to plan, but I remember him winning the Greatwood Gold Cup at a big price (18-1). However, he became badly handicapped which was when Paul suggested going hunter chasing with him.
“That was when, along with Betfair and my charitable foundation (in aid of spinal research), we got involved with Victoria Pendleton.
“I got a fair bit of stick, but I think we helped take racing off the back pages and put it on the front pages. She is a lovely lady, Victoria, and I was very sorry to read she’s been having a rough trot of late.
“AP (Sir Anthony McCoy) was down at Paul’s one morning with her and said that she was a good horsewoman, but it was a bit of a stiff ask to ask her to go and ride at Cheltenham.
“She did fall off him at Fakenham, but managed to win on him at Wincanton before Cheltenham where of course she finished fifth on him.
“Bryony the year after was a different class, obviously, and it is no surprise to me what’s she’s gone on to achieve.
“Harriet last year then went and won it with only one arm, but we’ve fixed that so she’ll ride him again. She’s a good jockey, I’m very pleased to have her.
“Win, lose or draw he will be retired immediately after the Foxhunter. I’ve a lot of retired horses and I don’t want anything to happen to them, I love going to see them.”
For Tucker, 23, she just hopes her shoulder troubles are behind her.
“Coming up to the second-last I went to use my whip to close up, I got the first one in then going for the second my shoulder just dislocated,” she said.
“I was struggling to get it back in, I was pushing him forwards while trying to get my shoulder back in, but the old boy knew what he was doing.
“Because I only had one arm I was screaming at Pacha and I bet the other jockeys wondered what on earth I was doing!
“It had popped out before, but I’d had physio on it to strengthen it and it hadn’t popped out all season – what a time for it to happen, on the biggest day possible.
“He could be going for his fourth win, in fairness. He’s top class and deserves to go down in history, he’s a real warrior.”
Pacha Du Polder finished a well-beaten fifth at Haydock on his only run this season, but he was also only third of five in his prep run last year.
“We’d been trying to run him everywhere, but it all kept getting called off for one reason or another. He’s got plenty of time to recover from Haydock to get him ready for Cheltenham,” said Tucker.
“He might be 12, but he feels even better than ever this year.”