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Cheltenham - 'where David can slay Goliath'

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Lambourn (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Jamie Snowden may not have the firepower of training powerhouses like Nicky Henderson or Willie Mullins but he says a winner at Cheltenham this week could propel him closer to their level.

The 39-year-old Englishman trains 50 horses at the picturesque Folly House in Lambourn and is sending three runners to the meeting he told AFP is like the "Olympics of the sport".

Using language befitting a former British Army officer, he accepts that if you have "50 bullets to fire you are more likely to hit the target than if you have just two".

But he said: "Just because you go there as a smaller trainer it does not mean you have no chance.

"It totally can and does happen. David does slay Goliath."

Whilst an officer in the King's Royal Hussars he spent a year as Paul Nicholls's pupil assistant. "It was great, my 2nd Lieutenant's wage paid my bar bill!"

Then post army he had four years as Henderson's assistant.

He knows first-hand the sensation you feel training a Festival winner, Present View winning a novices chase in 2014.

"At the 2014 Festival they attached heart monitors as an experiment to see whose heart beats faster: a jockey. a trainer etc," said Snowden.

"Your heart rate is usually meant to be 220 minus your age, mine was 193 when our winner came in and it should have been 185 so it shows what it means.

"It is the equivalent of dropping out of a plane ....with a parachute."

Present View's owner, Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick, stopped the team bus on their way to a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich so he could listen to the race, Snowden recalled.

He said that Festival winner immediately made an impact.

"We were so lucky to have one so early on (they moved to Lambourn in 2011) when we had 20 horses which propelled us to the next level," he said.

"Now we are having lots of winners (27 this season) another Festival winner would propel us on to the next rung."

Snowden, who began with just one horse in a remote village in Wiltshire, says Cheltenham has an aura about it which no other meeting holds.

"There is a real buzz every time you drive in the hairs go up on the back of your neck.

"It is where dreams are made and broken the hope is that it is your day but plenty of times you come out with the tail between your legs."

- 'Going to be a cowboy' -

Snowden may not have come from a racing background -- his father was a tobacco executive and his mother a doctor's daughter -- but he had a fine riding record.

He not only won on horses owned by Queen Elizabeth II but also both the Royal Artillery Gold Cup and Grand Military Cup -- the latter the army's equivalent of the Cheltenham Gold Cup -- on four occasions.

His was a more conventional route compared to regular jockey Gavin Sheehan, who will ride the fancied Fact Of The Matter in the quixotic Cross Country Chase on Wednesday.

"I thought I was going to be a cowboy," the engaging Irishman revealed.

"My father always watched westerns mainly those with John Wayne.

"I thought it would be a bit cool to be out in the wide open space living on the back of a horse."

He went from pony racing to being an amateur and then moving to England.

Like Snowden his high point was a Festival winner, on Cole Harden in the 2015 World Hurdle.

Watching were his proud mother and brother.

"Mum had to go into the ladies (during the race) and turn the hand dryer on as she did not want to listen to the commentary.

"It was a magical moment...John Wayne through me had won a race at the Festival!"

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