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Press Release 21st October 2022 Cheltenham

By Nick Seddon and Luke Hawkins

Trainer Sheila Lewis has admitted that having a runner in next year’s Sporting Life Arkle Trophy at The Festival™ would be “a dream” after watching Straw Fan Jack (5-2) extend his winning record to two with an impressive performance to win the Novices' Chase over two miles at Cheltenham today, which is day one of The Showcase.

The race has a strong roll of honour having been won by the likes of subsequent Graded performers Al Dancer (2019) and Third Time Lucki (2021) in recent years and the son of Geordieland impressed today, showing a good attitude to see off the attentions of the Gordon Elliott-trained Ash Tree Meadow in a pulsating finish to score by half a length under Sean Houlihan.

And Brecon-based Lewis, who was combining her training career with a job in a nail salon as recently as a year ago, admitted that having such a big-name winner was a dream come true.

She said: "He's done us proud. He ran in some big handicap hurdles last season, when he probably should have gone chasing, but racing in those big fields has taught him to be a racehorse and wake up. Have you ever seen anyone so excited? I was going to do cartwheels coming into the winner's enclosure but I was being interviewed - there's plenty of time for that!

"How you can you imagine what this means for a small trainer like me? I was in the salon painting nails year ago, but quit the salon to train full time. This is a big massive dream come true. It was an easy decision because this is my passion, but you've got to get the horses. The salon closed again in 2021 because of Covid and I'd had those 12 winners, which led to more horses and owners, but we're still small.

“I don’t really know what to do, I’m kind of a one day at a time person so we’ll wait to see how he comes out of it. He does want better ground, but the Arkle would be a dream. It probably crossed my mind before he won but I’m too far modest to take it seriously! It’s a dream, I’m small time and it’s an amazing thing to have a horse that can go on the road to a race like that.”

Winning jockey Sean Houlihan added: “We finished 2nd in the boys race last year and I was just hoping it wasn’t a repeat of that but he stuck his head out and he’s a year older and a bit stronger and a bit more mentally mature as well it has really helped.”

Meanwhile, trainer Keiran Burke admitted that even he was left surprised by the sudden improvement shown by Soul Icon (11-4 Favourite), who completed a five-timer in good style when winning the opening Showcasing Sustainability Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle over two miles and half a furlong.The five year old has now won seven of his last eight starts – a run which started with the son of Sixties Icon having an official rating of just 73 – and Burke revealed that he would now give his charge a well-deserved rest before looking at plans for him in the New Year.

He said: “I can’t believe that! I don’t know what we’re going to do now but I’m going to give him a holiday after today. He’s had a long summer but he’s just kept on improving, it’s unbelievable really. He jumped really well today as well and I thought they would go a better gallop. He does get further but I thought two miles here would be perfect for him.

“It’s a right mess up really, we got him in because we thought he was a summer horse! His body isn’t coping with the summer ground as well as he did at the start so I was dying to get him on better ground.

“It’s probably still the quicker side of good really and I’ve always wanted to try him on a bit softer ground really so we’d know where we were going into the New Year. He’s going to need a holiday whatever happens now but we might school him over fences before we give him a break – it’s all up in the air.”

Burke has been the source of huge entertainment on social media in the past few weeks with a series of colourful videos, though he admitted that he had a team behind the scenes working on that particular venture.

He added: “The social media isn’t me! Paul Binfield (a PR for bookmaker Paddy Power) runs our racing club and has been on the social media so I leave him to it!

“I think there’s still improvement there in Soul Icon, people have knocked him by saying he’s only won at places like Fontwell but he’s recorded good times so he’s got it in him. It’s been a while since I’ve had a winner here!”


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