Cheltenham Q&A with Chris Hughes: Former Love Island star on growing up at the Festival, what makes it special and who he tips for glory
- Chris Hughes rose to fame on TV show Love Island and has passion for racing
- He was born near Cheltenham and sometimes rides for local trainer Jonjo O’Neill
- Hughes has been going to Cheltenham Festival since he was 10-years-old
- He is tipping Colin Tizzard’s Elixir De Nutz in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Chris Hughes rose to fame when appearing in the reality TV show Love Island but he also has a passion for horses and racing.
Born and brought up near Cheltenham, Chris has ridden in a charity race at York and occasionally rides out for his local trainer Jonjo O’Neill.
WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN RACING?
I have lived in the Cotswolds all my life and have always loved horses and racing.
I went to Nursery, Primary and Secondary School with jockey Sam Twiston-Davies. He was my best friend. I was also surrounded by other future jockeys at school – Sam’s brother Willy, Kieran and Conor Shoemark, Jonathan and David England.
I also had two horses when I was young. They were kept at a point-to-point yard run by a lady called Marcella Bayliss, who looked after 1998 Grand National winner trained by Sam and Willy’s dad Nigel.
Chris Hughes has grown up with Cheltenham Festival and attends every year
WHAT MAKES THE CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL SO SPECIAL FOR YOU?
I have been going to the Cheltenham Festival since I was 10-years-old. My dad Paul used to have to look after me in the crowd because I was so small!
I used to have a day off school every single Festival so I could go but I have been going all four days for the last four years.
Growing up near the track, you understand why the Festival is so special and why there is such a buzz about it.
The action is gripping. Some meetings are more about dressing up but Cheltenham has the sport at its core. Everyone is talking horses and everyone has a view about what is going to win. It’s great when you get it right.
As well as Sam, fellow jockeys Richie McLernon and Aidan Coleman are two of my best friends. I get satisfaction from watching them. I also live next door to Gold Cup winning trainer Jonjo O’Neill so take particular interest in his horses.
WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO WATCH THE ACTION?
It is not so easy nowadays to wander around and I have a great spot watching from the Coral box. That’s an unbelievable view above the winning line.
But when I was younger, the place to be had to be the lawn in front of the grandstand. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere. Really electric when the roar goes up when a race starts or when the leaders charge to the last fence.
When I was young I could not see a thing but it was still where I wanted to be. I would recommend anyone going there. It is where you soak up the true Festival spirit.
WHAT IS A MUCH-DO THING WHEN YOU GO TO YOUR FIRST FESTIVAL?
You have to make a whole day of it. The Festival is about much more than seven races each day. Go for breakfast in a Cotswold Pub. Everyone is pouring over the racing pages and talking about what to back as they tuck into their Full English! Even have a Guinness with it!
Enjoy the live music at the track, this is an event with plenty going on.
But when the action starts, at least for one race, try to get as close-up as you can to a fence or hurdle. It gives you a real insight at what it must be like jumping at speed.
The jockeys are shouting and the mud flying. You can’t beat the sound of a galloping horse on a good bit of turf. It’s something you will never have heard on TV. It’s also a great idea to walk into the middle of the track and get a close up view of the Cross Country Chase.
The former Love Island star occasionally rides out for his local trainer Jonjo O’Neill
WHAT TO WEAR?
It’s a great opportunity to look smart and feel good but be prepared for all weathers. Cheltenham can change from hot sunshine to heavy rain and freezing temperatures in a few hours.
WHAT DO YOU AFTER THE MEETING?
My best piece of advice is pace yourself, especially if you are going to every day of the Festival. It’s exhausting! It is not just the racing but everything that goes with it – standing up all day, the adrenaline flowing as your pick fights out a finish plus the odd drink!
But there is plenty going on in the town afterwards and lots of great pubs in the villages around Cheltenham where the racing talk never stops.
WHICH HORSES ARE YOU LOOKING OUT FOR?
Jonjo O’Neill’s Minella Rocco in this afternoon’s Ultima Handicap Chase. He finished second in the 2017 Gold Cup. He’s struggled since but would have a chance at this level. You can never write off a horse with his level of ability.
I like Colin Tizzard’s Elixir De Nutz in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. His form looks very good and I like his stablemate Lostintranslation in Thursday’s JLT Novices’ Chase.
I will be cheering on my friend Aidan Coleman on his Stayers’ Hurdle mount Paisley Park in Thursday’s Stayers’ Hurdle. It would mean the world to me if he can win.