Groom Hannah Haywood hopes Protektorat can help her savour the “amazing atmosphere” at Cheltenham again on by securing his famous part-owner Sir Alex Ferguson with more silverware in the Grade One Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup on Day Four of The Festival™ (Friday 18th March).
Having won a multitude of trophies during spells in charge of St Mirren, Aberdeen and Manchester United, who he secured 13 Premier League titles and two European Cups with, the 80 year old will now try and capture Jump racing’s Blue Riband.
While Ferguson’s previous attempts at trying to land the Gold Cup with the likes of Clan Des Obeaux and What A Friend have fallen short, Haywood believes Protektorat, who Ferguson owns with Ged Mason plus John and Lisa Hales, can produce a different outcome. The seven year old is set to be one of 11 runners in Friday’s contest, with Harry Skelton in the saddle, following today’s final declaration stage,
Having already met Mason, Hales and his daughter Lisa, the 35 year old now hopes she can receive the perfect introduction to Ferguson by walking the Dan Skelton-trained gelding back into first place in the hallowed Cheltenham winner’s enclosure.
She said: “It is pretty impressive to have owners like Sir Alex Ferguson, Ged Mason and John Hales and his daughter Lisa. You do stand that bit prouder when you go to saddle him as you are lucky to have owners like him.
“I’ve met Ged Mason and John and Lisa Hales. They have always been lovely and super enthusiastic about the horses. I’ve never met Sir Alex but hopefully I can on Friday. It would be amazing to meet him and say hello.
“Exotic Dancer, who I used to look after at Jonjo O’Neill’s was placed in two Gold Cups and that atmosphere when you walked back in was amazing. There are no other words to describe it.
“I’m looking forward to the race now. I’m not too nervous but when I hear that roar for the start of The Festival I will be more excited and then it will be a case of keeping it all under control.”
Most people that work in racing will be lucky enough to be associated with one Gold Cup contender, however Haywood acknowledges she finds herself in a privileged position having previously been put in care of looking after Exotic Dancer.
Appearing in three Gold Cups the son of Turgeon, who was owned by the late Sir Robert Ogden, filled the runner-up spot behind Kauto Star in the 2007 renewal before finishing fifth a year later and third on what would be his final start in the race in 2009.
She added: “It is quite exciting being associated with a Gold Cup horse. I was lucky enough to look after Exotic Dancer who was placed in two Gold Cups so I’ve been there before but it was a long time ago.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to go back to the Cheltenham Gold Cup and hopefully Protektorat can give it a good go.
“Unfortunately, Exotic Dancer was in that same era as the likes of those superstars Kauto Star and Denman but he was still a class horse.
“Exotic Dancer was a bit like Protektorat in that he was very chilled out but he did get quite excited at the races and he would jig jog about.
“Protektorat is a little bit the same in that he will point his toes and turn his head showing off what a gorgeous horse he is.
“I’m a very lucky girl to have now been associated with two Gold Cup horses.”
Since being put in charge of looking after Protektorat on a daily basis at the start of last season Haywood, who has worked for Skelton for seven years, has already enjoyed several notable victories with the Saint Des Saints gelding.
Despite celebrating Grade One glory in the Grade One SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree at the end of last season, Haywood admits she was taken back by his last time out success in the Grade Two Unibet Many Clouds Chase at the Merseyside track.
She added: “I’ve looked after him for the past couple of seasons. The girl who looked after him left and Tom Messenger (assistant trainer) asked if I would like to look after him and of course I said yes and it all stemmed from there.
“He really showed his true colours at Aintree and Dan did a great job getting him back there where he proved what a class horse he is. That was the best part of last season the way he ended.
“He is a very laidback character that loves attention. He can’t have enough cuddles and fuss. He is an absolute gent to deal with. He is a real yard favourite and everybody adores him.
“I think it took everyone by surprise the way he galloped through the mud at Aintree in the Many Clouds Chase and the way he beat the horses he did in the manner he did.
“I was jumping around like a lunatic even though he was so far clear! Bridget Andrews had a lovely ride all the way round and he jumped for fun. She thoroughly enjoyed it and it was great to watch.”
While bookmakers have Protektorat priced up as a general 8-1 chance to end to become the first British-trained horse to win the Gold Cup since Native River in 2018, Haywood believes he will give his Irish counterparts plenty to think about.
She added: “I’m just hoping he does the British runners proud but it would be fantastic if he did win.
“The Irish have a strong team coming over but hopefully he can charge up that hill and go one better than he did in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.”