Been there, done that, but Codd's still eager for glory
One jockey who certainly knows his way around the troughs and peaks of the famous track in the heart of the Cotswolds is Mayglass native Jamie Codd.
Now residing in Monasterevin in County Kildare, the Wexford man has five Cheltenham Festival winners to his name and has more than a fighting chance of adding to his already impressive tally this week.
The 35-year-old is the reigning Irish point-to-point champion, and is currently neck and neck with Patrick Mullins in the Irish amateur riders' championship on the track with 30 winners, boasting a strike rate only bettered by Ruby Walsh, but despite all his success he readily admits the Cheltenham Festival holds a special place in his heart.
'It's great to be part of the whole thing. The Festival is our Olympics. It's where we set out to be with the best horses, the best riders, the best trainers,' he said.
Codd has incredibly won the Kim Muir Chase four times, the only jockey to do so in the 70 years of the race, steering home Character Building for John Quinn in 2009, Junior in 2011 and The Package in 2015 for David Pipe, and Cause of Causes for Gordon Elliott last year, having won the four-mile National Hunt Chase on the same horse twelve months earlier.
Codd has certainly tasted plenty of success at the showpiece festival since, but that breakthrough victory in 2009 holds extra resonance for the man from the Model county.
'It's great to get any winner at Cheltenham but the win on Character Building, because it was the first one, is probably my best memory,' he said.
However, with the deafening roar of the crowd about to emanate from the stands as this year's renewal kicks off, it's a time for looking forward and not back and Codd certainly has an exciting book of rides to set the pulses racing.
Codd schooled Noel Meade's highly-fancied A Genie In Abottle last week, a horse he rides in the National Hunt Chase on the opening day of the festival, and he says there's a lot to like about his mount.
'I was happy with the schooling. He's been a good tough novice for Noel. He's had some very good runs. His last run behind Anibale Fly was very good in Naas,' he said.
Codd believes the Gigginstown-owned six-year-old should have no problem with the ground, but admitted the marathon trip is a slight leap of faith.
'He looks like he'll handle the cut in the ground and I think Cheltenham might be the softer side of good this time. Over four miles you're going into the unknown with any horse but he fits the bill of a horse that will probably stay,' he said.
One mount that would definitely whet the appetite of any jockey is On The Fringe, a horse which is going for the treble-treble this year, having landed the big hunters' chases in Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown for the past two years.
With regular pilot Nina Carberry expecting her first child, Codd was the obvious choice to step in to ride the favourite for the Foxhunters Chase, having deputised for the suspended Meath woman to steer Enda Bolger's star to victory in Aintree last April.
'I'm really looking forward to him. I got a great spin off him in Aintree last year. Nina is expecting her first child so it's lucky for me that the spare ride is there for the year. He's been the champion horse in that sphere for the last number of years and hopefully he turns up in good form and performs again. He's twelve now but he still seems like a fresh horse so hopefully he'll be able to bag another couple of those hunter chases,' he said.
Codd partners Cause of Causes in the Cross Country Chase, a horse which he holds plenty of affection for having stormed to success up the famous Prestbury Park hill for the past two years, and he believes it's not beyond the Gordon Elliott inmate to make it a hat-trick of victories.
'He's been a great little horse for me and for my career. He's given me two festival winners and he goes for the cross country race this year. He ran in a cross country in Cheltenham in January and it just took him a while to warm into it. They're a unique fence and in fairness by the end of it he had got it. He's fit and he's done loads of schooling since, so I'm hopeful of a really good run,' he said.
At the time of speaking Jamie's plans for the Kim Muir, a race which he has made his own in recent years, had yet to be finalised, athough he's likely to be riding for Gordon Elliott.
When browsing through Wednesday's racecard plenty of his fellow Wexford folk will cast more than a fleeting glance at Codd's mount in the Champion Bumper.
He rides Fayonagh for Gordon Elliott, a horse which was formerly owned by local auctioneer Claude Howlin and his wife Niamh, and Joe and Suzanne Doyle from Rathnure and trained by Richie Rath from Screen.
The mare was bought for a figure in the region of €6,000 and won a 20-runner bumper at Naas on her second run in November under Caim jockey JJ Slevin at 33/1.
The horse was subsequently sold to Mark and Maura Gittins at the sales in December for £64,000 Stg on the recommendation of Codd, who works with Tattersalls Ireland when not riding.
She went to trainer Elliott and the mare put in a sensational performance under Codd at Fairyhouse in the listed Coolmore EBF mares bumper in February to beat a field that included six winners by 20 lengths, at 7/1.
The star Irish amateur is no stranger to mixing it with the best in the business and says he is really looking forward to getting on board Fayonagh in the National Hunt flat race.
'Fayonagh should be a great ride. Against mares the last day she was very impressive. She'll be getting her mare's allowance at Cheltenham and she could be a surprise package,' he said.
There's no doubting that the Wexford man has a handful of live chances over the four days, with quality mounts that would be the envy of many jockeys, but which does he think has the best chance of getting its head in front?
'I suppose On The Fringe. He's been there and done that and with a bit of luck I'd be hopeful he'd be the one that would win but, to be honest, it's a tough place to win so you can't take anything for granted.
'Even though you'd have a nice book of rides, that could be the time when you'd have no winner,' he said.
Fingers crossed that Jamie won't be on the fringes of success during the four-day feast of racing and and instead will be lauded in the limelight of the winners' enclosure.