There are plenty of things for which Mick Fitzgerald will be forever thankful to trainer Nicky Henderson – and close to the top of the list is supplying him with his first Cheltenham Festival winner.
One rider’s loss can often be another’s gain in racing, and in 1994 the now-retired rider-turned-television presenter benefited when getting the call to replace the suspended Richard Dunwoody aboard Raymylette in the Cathcart Challenge Cup.
Not only was it a milestone moment in the career of Fitzgerald – who only 24 hours earlier had come to grief aboard Henderson’s Remittance Man in the Champion Chase – it was a victory to kick-start a fruitful partnership between the pair.
Fitzgerald said: “Richard Dunwoody was actually part of it as a few of the rides I picked up were supposed to be his, but he got banned for nearly putting Adrian Maguire through the rail at Nottingham when both were going for the title that season.
“He got a lengthy ban and it meant he missed Cheltenham. Raymylette was his ride and so was Remittance Man in the Champion Chase. Remittance Man was favourite and I put him on the floor and I honestly thought that was my job gone.
“It was my first season as stable jockey and I thought Remittance Man was my big chance, and when I had that fall I was like ‘oh dear’ and I thought it is make or break on Raymylette.
“The amazing thing when you have a someone like Nicky Henderson – as far as trainer/jockey relationships go I don’t think there is anyone better to have on your side.
“In my own mind I felt under pressure, but he said nothing to me about Remittance Man – he could have given me a grilling, but he never did.
“He took the saddle off me for Raymylette and said ‘you know what we are doing out there, as we have discussed it’ and that was it. I was almost taken by surprise, as it made me feel confident again.
“I went out there and it was like driving a Ferrari. He jumped from fence to fence and made every yard. He went a bit right-handed up the run in, but it didn’t matter.
“I will never forget the moment he crossed the line. It was just an unbelievable rush of emotion. If I could possibly bottle it and sell it instantly I would be a billionaire. It’s a high that is just something else.”
He added: “I’d watched Cheltenham as a little boy and always wanted to go there, then ride a winner and then have a Festival winner.
“Nicky loves having winners at Cheltenham and when you work for a big stable you are expected to deliver the goods – and that felt like I did just that.
“Every race at Cheltenham is a big race and I’ve been lucky to win the Gold Cup and Grand National, but winning the Cathcart on that day to me was a big as every race I have won.”