Thursday 12th January
By Graham Clark
Whatever Oliver Sherwood goes on to achieve during the rest of his career nothing will ever beat the result of getting the all clear from cancer, however emotions could run high should Queens Gamble secure a second Listed win at Market Rasen on Friday (20th January) in the Alan Swinbank Mares' Bumper.
Widely regarded among the racing fraternity as one of the most popular characters in the sport, Sherwood, who saddled Many Clouds to Grand National glory in 2015, saw his life come crashing down during 2021 after being diagnosed with lymphoma.
In what was a difficult time for Sherwood, and his family, the 68 year old was able to stay positive during six bouts of chemotherapy thanks to his string, which he has hailed as his ‘saviour’, and in particular the emergence of stable star Queens Gamble.
Taking a moment to reflect on the receiving the news no one wants to hear the Lambourn handler reveals how it was while on holiday with members of his family that he first acknowledged something wasn’t quite right.
He said: “I had lost a lot of weight during the summer of 2021 and Tarnya, my wife, thought it was down to a bit of stress with the moving of yards from Rhonehurst to Neardown Stable, but I don’t really do stress.
“Tarnya and I and my brother Simon and his wife then went to Majorca for a long weekend and I had some excruciating pains in my stomach, not the whole time, but randomly.
“I had a check-up with the local GP when I got back and I had a camera put inside me which was clear. Then they sent me off to have a scan at Swindon and that is when they found a big growth in my stomach.
“They wanted to do a biopsy and luckily, my eldest child’s father-in-law is a semi-retired paediatrician at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Sometimes it is about who you know, not what you know.
“Tarnya rang him up and he came back to her and he told her to get this guy who is the best lymphoma man in the country on to it who is based in Oxford and within two weeks I was having my first session of chemotherapy.
“During that time I came down almost every day, even if it was only for a few hours, to see the horses and they were a real saviour for me.
“They were a reason to get out of bed and they kept me sane and the excitement of having a good horse like Queens Gamble is what kept me going.”
Following a rollercoaster of emotions through the winter and into the spring, Sherwood was well enough to be able to make it to the track to see Queens Gamble make a winning debut at Cheltenham in April.
However, while pleased to see the daughter of Getaway storm to glory by 10 lengths he was still unable to celebrate properly knowing that the one result he was waiting for, that would eventually arrive 48 hours later, was yet to be confirmed.
He added: “Cheltenham in April was my first day racing since finishing the chemotherapy and looking back at the pictures I looked like a walking ghost compared to now.
“That was a hell of a kick seeing her win first time out and quite emotional to be quite frank with you. I just thought wow we have got something here and we will have a bit of fun with this girl.
“I was being interviewed at Cheltenham and they asked me about my health and I thought this was tempting fate as I hadn’t got my results back as they were due that weekend.
“The Saturday came around and I still hadn’t got my results but luckily I had my consultants private email address but it bounced straight back.
“Thank God he read it though as he rang me at 9pm that Saturday night and said I’m sorry I completely forgot but you are all clear.
“By this time I was absolutely knackered as I had been to Cheltenham on the Thursday and had the Lambourn Open Day on the Friday.
“I came in and Tarnya was there with our daughter and her boyfriend and they burst into floods of tears when I told them the result but I just said I’m going to bed and went to sleep. I was absolutely shattered from it all and the anticipation of getting the result.
“The racing community is very close knit and all the messages I got were unbelievable. It really touched me and it gave me strength.”
While Sherwood might have had to curb the celebrations for Queens Gamble’s debut victory, he was able to fully enjoy her Listed success back at the Home of Jump Racing in November, a win that marked her out as a potential star of the future.
He added: “It was quite emotional the last day at Cheltenham but I’d say both times were very special and they both played with the emotions. I had my family there and a lot of friends there. It was very touching.
“Winning the Grand National with Many Clouds is at the height of everything I’ve done, but her Listed win, given the circumstances what had happened the previous year, meant it was high up there
“We decided to go to Cheltenham for the Listed bumper in November and if she had got beaten there we would have gone straight over hurdles.
“The fact she won that and the way she did it, we thought this is something a bit serious now and we will have a crack at the boys in the spring.
A small cough ruled Queens Gamble out of an appearance at Huntingdon before Christmas, however Sherwood reports his latest star to be firing on all cylinders ahead of tilt at the Listed Alan Swinbank Mares’ Bumper.
He added: “I wanted to go to Huntingdon before Christmas for a Listed race there but she gave a couple of coughs just before it and we weren’t going to chance it.
“I gave her a quiet time over Christmas and she did her first piece of work the other day which was all good.
“She takes no getting ready fitness wise and the aim is to go to Market Rasen providing it is not to soft or heavy.
“I don’t have any qualms about going to a different track, but Market Rasen and Cheltenham are like chalk and cheese.
“You would argue that Market Rasen is a bit more of a speedier track but it wouldn’t bother me and it would be good to get an away day in her.
“She will have a penalty to carry but you would like to think her class will offset that.”
Looking beyond her next assignment Sherwood hopes to be in a position to take on the boys in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at The Cheltenham Festival in March, which she is a general 10-1 chance for.
And while Sherwood might be approaching the later stages of his career he insists there is no thought of retirement should Queens Gamble secure him a seventh winner at Jump racing’s Olympics.
He said: “All being well we want to have a crack at the boys at Cheltenham and she gets a seven pound allowance against them which is a big plus.
“If that didn’t work out she could go to Aintree against the girls afterwards in the Grade Two as there is a four week gap between meetings this year which is a tremendous help.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have had six Cheltenham Festival winners. It would be nice to have one more before I call it a day, not that I’m going to be doing that in a rush though as I remain as competitive as ever and I still love the sport.”