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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

We may have fallen just short at Fontwell but it's all systems go for Cheltenham

Lil Rockerfeller (blinkers, green cap) was just outpointed by Old Guard (red cap) at Fontwell on Sunday
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Lil Rockerfeller, the popular Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle contender, was beaten in the Grade 2 Totepool National Spirit Hurdle over 2m3f at Fontwell on Sunday, but co-owner Andy Smith and the team were far from despondent

We're very happy with his run here at Fontwell. We came here to win the race but at the moment Paul Nicholls would win with anything he ran, so we're not disappointed to finish a length-and-a-half second to Old Guard. If we'd come here saying this was an out-and-out prep race we'd all be doing cartwheels; because we came here to win it and we didn't it's a slightly different feeling, but we're very pleased.

The main thing is the horse seems fine, Neil [King, trainer] said he'd check him over in the morning but there seems no reason why we won't be going to Cheltenham.

He was staying on again at the line and the winner wasn't going any further away from us – to me he looked like a horse who just needed further, which is what he'll get in the Stayers'.

We tried the blinkers today and Trevor [Whelan, jockey] said they didn't make a lot of difference, but he certainly didn't give up when he was headed and perhaps we could surprise the horse and put cheekpieces on him next time, switch it again the way they used to with Deano's Beeno, to try to get that extra little bit out of him at Cheltenham.

Owner Andy Smith was all smiles at Fontwell after Lil Rockerfeller's second to Old Guard

Anyway, we've picked up some marvellous prize-money [£17,096] for finishing second at Fontwell and then 25 minutes later another horse I've got a little share in, Doctor Phoenix, has just won the two-mile Graded chase at Naas under Davy Russell.

My daughters Jessica (26) and Olivia (23) flew over for the race this morning and I told them to leave plenty of room in their luggage to bring the trophy home, so hopefully that's winging its way towards us now.

They were upset Rocky didn't win because they love the horse, but I said to them he'd had a nice blow and the race will have done him the world of good. So now he'll have a nice, easy week and be ready to run his heart out in 18 days' time.

Doctor Phoenix is entered in the Champion Chase and the Grand Annual but we'd much rather he stayed in Ireland and help Gordon win the trainers' championship there if need be.

But I also just bumped into Neil Mulholland and asked him about Doing Fine, one I have a half-share in, who's in the Ultima and the Kim Muir, and he said, "He's well named, he's doing fine", so it looks like being a very interesting month.

Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle card, form and betting

Andy Smith

Age 55

Job Gambling bookmaker

Best moment in racing Lil Rockerfeller finishing second in the Stayers' Hurdle last year was an amazing feeling, but when I was a much younger man and far less sensible than I am now, I had £1,000 each-way on Cool Dawn at 50-1 for the 1998 Gold Cup and won £62,500. Our table at the races had won £250,000 between us, all punters I'd told to back the horse, and we were dancing on the tables – much like my bank manager when I paid the mortgage off. Moments like that are pretty special, but I think it's a great moment when every horse comes home safe and sound and goes back to their stable – for me that's like winning the ITV 7 every time.

Cheltenham tip Get there early and try to see as many of the horses in the flesh as you can. Forget the gambling, just get out and watch these great animals we've got racing for us. Then go and watch the jockeys walking back up the horsewalk after the races and see just what it means to people to be there. No money could buy what you're going to see that day, up close.

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Then 25 minutes later another horse I've got a little share in, Doctor Phoenix, has just won the two-mile Graded chase at Naas
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