Adrian Heskin has been a regular in top races right through his career, most recently thanks to his role as retained rider for leading owner Max McNeill and his family.
It is a position that brings him into contact with some of the biggest stables on both sides of the Irish Sea and, potentially, could put him in the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham this weekend at the biggest fixture at the course outside the Festival.
We caught up with Heskin to speak about the weekend, what it is like to be associated with some of the sport’s main players and get the lowdown on a couple of horses for the future.
The November meeting is the largest outside the Cheltenham Festival. What does it feel like to be at Cheltenham during these three days?
Cheltenham really is unique. From the moment you step in there on any day you can sense the anticipation and excitement in the atmosphere. The racing there is always ultra-competitive, and everyone wants to win, which makes it so much better if you are lucky enough to do so – it’s just the best feeling.
Sunday looks a potentially exciting day for you with Tritonic running in the Greatwood Hurdle (14.55 Cheltenham, Sunday). How are things with him?
It’s great to be teaming up with a trainer like Alan King in this race given his record. It’s a prestigious race and one that would mean a lot to everyone to win. It’ll be Tritonic’s first start in a handicap, so I’m hoping that the lack of experience won’t count against him. With the class he’s shown on the Flat and the way he’s travelled over jumps I don’t think it will. He looks the right sort for this.
You mention experience, how important do you think that is for a race like this?
Having experience is often a crucial factor in a race like this. They’ll be 16-18 runners and they’ll be racing tight and not giving anything away. It can be tough for horses who are not used to it like him as he’s been plying his trade in juvenile and conditions hurdles.
Threeunderthrufive contests the novices’ chase (13.10 Cheltenham, Sunday) and is a horse you have spoken of fondly. What are your hopes for him?
He improved a lot from Chepstow to Exeter and he didn’t really put a foot wrong on that second run which was brilliant. He’s a very unassuming horse and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet. He’s a horse I do like.
You ride regularly for the likes of Tritonic’s trainer Alan King, Threeunderthrufive’s handler Paul Nicholls and Gordon Elliott. What are they like to deal with?
All of them like things done a little bit differently but ultimately all of them want the results and that’s what drives them on. When you go into the paddock and you know that you’d got a ride for one of them then you know you’ve got a good chance that day and that really boosts your confidence.
And is there anything about them that makes them stand out as trainers?
To be successful in anything you have to be dedicated and go that extra bit to really get to the top. These guys work so hard, and they never leave anything to chance or don’t consider all of the options. They want to win so they make sure they do everything they can to make it so.
You ride as retained jockey for Max McNeill and his family. What is that association like?
It’s fantastic to be associated with them and it’s been a great boost for my own career. Max is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met whether it’s on the golf course, in business or at the races. He’s always pushing to get better, and he wants to win races, which is great for me and for everyone associated with him.
You came close to a big-race win last weekend when Senior Citizen was second in the Grand Sefton Chase at Aintree. What did you make of that performance?
It was a fantastic performance; he went around there so well. He was unfortunate really to bump into an improving horse in Mac Tottie but what we know about him is that he loves going around Aintree. There’s no doubt he’ll be there in the spring in top shape where we hope he can put in another really big effort in the Topham Chase at the Grand National meeting.
And finally, how are things with Escaria Ten?
I had a sit on him on Thursday morning for the first time this season and I was really impressed with him. He felt really well and is an exciting horse for the season ahead. He’s entered in the Betfair Chase and the Becher Chase, and I know I’d love to see him over those National fences at Aintree at some point.