Lottery winner seeks to hit the Cheltenham Festival jackpot with the only horse he's ever owned

Sportsbeat
·3 min read

Lottery winner Simon Fagan knows first-hand that odds are there to be defied - but even he admits a jackpot win at the Cheltenham Festival would stretch the bounds of credibility, writes James Toney.

It’s nearly seven years since he scooped £3.1 million and there is a cautious, even simmering, confidence that his numbers could come up again this week.

12 months ago Darver Star, the horse Fagan co-owns with friends Pat Cluskey and Sean Fanning, looked a million miles from a Festival contender.

After starting his career with a sixth, fifth, ninth and fourth and a distant third at Wexford - while attention was focused across the Irish Sea at last year’s Festival - that situation seemed about right.

And Fagan certainly wasn’t holding out hope for the big day out in the Cotswolds.

But he won five of his next six starts before finishing a four-length third to Envoi Allen and a half length second to Honeysuckle - arguably two of the sharpest Irish raiders heading to Prestbury Park for their respective races.

Now Fagan's living the dream again ahead of Tuesday’s Unibet Champion Hurdle.

“It’s just very special, there aren’t any nerves yet, just massive excitement, perhaps the nerves will really kick in before the race,” he said.

“You dream about winning the lottery and this is the stuff of dreams too - to be honest just having a runner at Cheltenham is like winning the lottery again.

“I’ve an interest in all sports, although horse racing was never something I’d have visualised myself getting involved in.

“Pat and Sean bred the horse and they can’t believe it either, it's just a fantastic story for us all."

22 was the number of the bonus ball that brought up Fagan’s winning line and it’s the name of his racing syndicate too.

And not that long ago you’d have got 22-1 for Darver Star to win, though that price has since plunged.

It’s three decades since Norton’s Coin landed the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 100-1 odds for his Welsh diary farmer owner and trainer Sirrell Griffiths.

His friends and family in Carmarthenshire all made a tidy profit in that day, while the similarly uplifting story of Dream Alliance, a horse owned by barmaid headed syndicate, is about to be released at the cinema after winning at the famous Sundance Film Festival.

Victory for Darver Star - trained by Irish handler Gavin Cromwell - would have similar Hollywood claims, with the village that bares him name expected to come to a halt when the tape goes up on Tuesday afternoon.

It seems everyone has a stake on the eight-year old gelding, who runs in the red and white GAA colours of Louth, Ireland’s smallest county.

“A few pubs are already flying our colours and flags and I can only imagine what a party they’d be, it’ll be a shame to miss it,” adds Fagan.

The fact a horse with a profile like Darver Star is in contention for this year’s Champion Hurdle underlines the belief this is the weakest renewal of the Festival first day showpiece for many years.

Won in the past by the likes of Hatton’s Grace, Istabraq and Hurricane Fly, it is fair to say the class of 2020 are not close to the same ... class.

Despite admitting last week that he had concerns over his breathing, Nicky Henderson’s Epatante heads the market followed by their stable mate Pentland Hills.

Willie Mullins has won this race four times and has supplemented Cilaos Emery to head his charge, alongside Sharjah, who will be ridden by son Patrick. And then there’s the interesting claims of Supasundae, a Festival winner for Jessica Harrington three years ago when he landed the Coral Cup.

However, Cheltenham is a place for fairytales and Fagan’s story could be right up there in the stuff of legend.