The recent retirement of popular jockey Mick Fitzgerald will be marked on day two of The Showcase at Cheltenham, Saturday, October 18, when the card plays host to the £10,000 Mick Fitzgerald Novices’ Hurdle (3.25pm) over an extended three miles and a furlong.
The 38-year-old Irishman was forced to hang up his boots on medical advice after suffering a serious neck injury from a fall at the second fence in this year’s John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree. He enjoyed an illustrious career in the saddle that yielded 14 Festival successes at Cheltenham.
At the age of 18, Fitzgerald moved to Britain to further his career and he began riding for John Jenkins and Richard Tucker. He rode his first British winner, Lovers Secret, at Ludlow in December, 1988, and enjoyed a fruitful link with trainer Jackie Retter in his early years.
However, it was Mick’s long association with Nicky Henderson that boosted his profile, partnering numerous big-race winners for the trainer. The Seven Barrows handler provided Fitzgerald with his first Festival victory, with Raymylette capturing the 1994 Cathcart Chase in the colours of Lady Lloyd Webber.
He also rode for Paul Nicholls and enjoyed his biggest success for the Ditcheat trainer aboard See More Business in the 1999 totesport Gold Cup, while he partnered Nicholls’ Neptune Collonges into third in this year’s contest.
Fitzgerald announced that he was retiring from race-riding at the end of the 2006/07 season, but he soon reconsidered his decision saying: "I am still so much in love with the sport that I just cannot contemplate giving it up right now."
It proved to be the right decision, as he partnered 71 winners in his final season, showing that he hadn’t lost any of his appetite for the game.
Fitzgerald was crowned leading rider at The Festival in 1999 and 2000 with four wins on both occasions and recorded his most recent Festival success on Non So in the 2006 Racing Post Plate.
His final winner at the track came on the exciting Jack The Giant in the CFR Group (Electrical & Mechanical) Services Handicap Hurdle for Henderson on December 14, 2007.
On Saturday, October 18, the racecourse management will make a presentation to Fitzgerald, whose other wins at Prestbury Park include the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase on Call Equiname (1999), the Ladbrokes World Hurdle on Bacchanal (2000), the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy on Tiutchev (2000), the Royal & SunAlliance Chase on Trabolgan (2005) and the Ryanair Chase on Fondmort (2006).
The Showcase on Friday, October 17 and Saturday, October 18, is the curtain raiser to what promises to be another fantastic year at Prestbury Park. The feature race on the opening day is the £30,000 IG Index Handicap Chase (4.05pm), over three miles and half a furlong, while the valuable £25,000 Jewson Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Race Final (3.30pm) is also on the seven-race card.
The highlight of Saturday’s card is the £50,000 Dick Francis “Silks” Handicap Chase (2.50pm), over an extended two and a half miles, which is sure to provided plenty of clues for the £150,000 Paddy Power Gold Cup, the centrepiece of The Open (November 14, 15 and 16).
Meeting - The Showcase, Cheltenham Racecourse
Dates - Friday, October 17 & Saturday, October 18
First race - 2.20pm (both days)
Admission prices - Club/Tattersalls from £18. Best Mate from £9. Accompanied children under 16 admitted FREE to all enclosures. FREE car parking. Tickets available from www.cheltenham.co.uk or by calling 08445 793 003.
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