A sombre afternoon at an August Bank Holiday Huntingdon fixture in 2008 acted as the unlikely catalyst to The Giant Bolster’s awesome performance in running second in last Friday’s Betfred Gold Cup for Northampton man Simon Hunt.
Hunt, who runs construction firm Winvic from its head office on Moulton Park, has simply been avalanched by messages of congratulations since his seven-year-old Black Sam Bellamy gelding landed in front at the last fence in jump racing’s blue riband event, before gallantly going down by two-and-a-quarter lengths to Synchronised, ridden by Tony McCoy.
The David Bridgwater-trained gelding had been delivered ‘spot on’ for the festival from the Cotswolds and rewarded the faith of owner, trainer and family, jockeys and work riders alike.
Hunt’s sole wish now is that Bridgwater’s detailed preparation work should not go unnoticed by the broader public.
He said: “It is not about me. What we want is that our horse’s achievements can give ‘Bridgy’ the credit and recognition he deserves and a few better horses.”
Yet the seeds of Friday’s magnificent effort under Tom Scudamore, worth over £106,000 to the runner-up, were sown on a sunny, yet depressing day just across this county’s border.
Hunt’s first horse with Bridgwater was the former Mark Tompkins-trained Lady Romanov, who had previously been owned by Northampton man Peter Heath.
Then a five-year-old, the mare had just been beaten a head at 14/1 in a selling hurdle by a Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained runner.
Hunt took up the story when he said: “We were having a drink with Bridgy in the bar at Huntingdon after that race when he took me to one side and said ‘You are not going to believe this but the horse has just been claimed’.
“Although Bridgy put in a ‘friendly claim’ to try to keep her, we lost the horse. My eldest lad Jack who is now 18, was absolutely devastated. He went outside and sat on a bench by the last fence with his head in his hands. ‘Bridgy’ looked at me and said ‘I am never going to run a horse of yours in a claiming race again’.
“After that we were looking for another horse and Bridgy had to go out to Germany to look at a few.
“Black Sam Bellamy was standing out there as The Giant Bolster’s dam had won a Group Three race at Cologne. Bridgy brought him back and said he liked the look of him and he would be a likely type. We bought him through the bloodstock agent Niall McLoughlin.”
A racecourse career which began at Stratford, Ludlow and Market Rasen has now totalled 20 runs of which seven have been at Cheltenham and four at Newbury, testament in itself to the regard with which The Giant Bolster is held.
Four victories and four runners-up positions, competing now in the highest company, means eyes are already being cast at next year’s Gold Cup, especially with the Newbury February form reversed with 2011 winner Long Run, who could only manage third last Friday.
Emerging clues to the latent talent of The Giant Bolster have gradually been revealed, initially in 2009 bumpers when fifth to Frascati Park at Stratford and then when defeated half a length at Ludlow at odds of 25/1 by Moscow Chieftain, ridden by Richard Johnson.
“Bridgy said afterwards ‘this is a good horse’. Worst case scenario is you have a Welsh Grand National runner one day.
“He then came out the following season over hurdles and won at 28/1 at Market Rasen before running at Cheltenham behind Peddlers Cross and going to Aintree. When he won the Fred Rimell Memorial Novices’ Chase at Worcester in October 2010 I remember seeing Bridgy walk towards me across the long parade ring. He said ‘You know what this means – one hell of a lot.”
Many have questioned how The Giant Bolster managed to turn the Newbury run around so dramatically with Long Run in such a short period, given he was beaten 11-and-a-half lengths, receiving weight that day.
Hunt said: “Long Run broke the course record at Newbury and we set the race up for him from the front.
“Tommy Phelan rode him in his last piece of work on the gallops the Saturday before Cheltenham. He got off him and said ‘Oh my God. This horse is flying!’
“At Cheltenham we all walked the course beforehand and Bridgy worked out exactly where the horse needed to be up until the top of the hill for the final time from where you make your own way home. The plan was for Tom Scudamore to be positive with the horse over the first two fences and then settle on the outside in about fifth or sixth.
“I was watching the race from the owners and trainers stand with my wife Liz and our good friends Gary and Tracey who have followed the horse from the word go. When we jumped the second last in the lead I thought we could possibly nick this and we were going mad.
“However, if you had to lose it to anyone, JP McManus would be the man.
“He has put so much into the sport. Before the race all the hype seemed to be about Kauto Star v Long Run, Nicky Henderson v Paul Nicholls or Clive Smith v Robert Waley-Cohen but it didn’t turn out like that.”