It is 830am at Cheltenham racecourse and Kate Nutt and I have just arrived at the Mecca of horse racing, the place where dreams come true, memories are made and remarkable things happen.

This particular Wednesday morning it is cold and, as I’m opening the gate to where we are going to unload Rocky Creek and Pacha Du Polder, a very bright and excited looking Sam Twiston-Davies wanders over to help.

Only one emotion is currently overwhelming my senses, and that is the cold. That’s all I’m feeling, it’s not yet dawned on me what I’m about to get up to. You see, the day before while speaking to my illustrious leader and mentor Mr Nicholls I thought schooling round the cross country course at Cheltenham would be a hoot. What a brilliant bit of sport I concluded: “I’ll do it with Sam” I boldly announced to Paul, failing to remember only a few years back I wasn’t the bravest soul in the weighing room. But I tacked up my mount Pacha Du Polder and once Sam and I were prepared, elbow pads and all, we headed out onto the track.

A morning not to be forgotten

When I rode for the last time at Cheltenham in April 2014 I had a fair idea I wouldn’t ride the place in a competitive nature again, so this schooling session in preparation for Rocky Creek’s tilt at the cross country chase the forthcoming Saturday provided me with one final ride at the home of our sport.

I walked down the walkway next to Sam, bathed in early morning sunshine alongside a course that has played host to so many truly epic battles and counted my blessings. This was going to be a morning not to forget.

Ben Hastie, deputy head of groundstaff and estates at Cheltenham, was our tour guide for the morning and showed us the way to the warm-up gallop right in the centre of the racecourse. A light canter round there and we were ready. Well, Sam, Rocky Creek and Pacha were.

“Sam, I’ve not ridden cross country since Grandad gave me Mars bars (other confectionary is available) when I finished so there’s a chance I could be rusty”, I explained.

Cross country efforts yield more laughs than style points

He told me that we’d warm up over some easy stuff and things would be great fun. In all truth it was great fun, poor Ben, I’m sure at times he wondered how I was ever a jockey – there would have been no way I’d have earned a ‘10 from Len’ for style. Never in such a short space of time had a pair of reins been slipped so much.

The hour we spent out on the track jumping hedges, rails, cheese wedges, banks and “go on then, just one more hedge” was an hour I will never forget and Sam and I spent most of the time laughing and telling each other how our respective horses jumped than anything else. The two old boys never missed a beat and it was the most fun I’ve had on horseback in years. Walking back I asked to have my picture taken in the Gold Cup starting area knowing a fan moment like this wasn’t going to come along again quickly.

It’s a magic place Prestbury Park and it does magic things to you, it creates memories and moments that you want to tell your girlfriend about until she’s bored witless, moments that make you smile all day and give you butterflies with a big meeting on the horizon.

The loss of a National icon tough to take

This Saturday however, for the racing public or family, call it what you will, Cheltenham was a sombre place. Actually at first it wasn’t, it was all that Cheltenham can be, an exciting amphitheatre where dreams come true and horses light up the stage, the most perfect of stages.

I don’t need to explain what next happened next, because if you have the vaguest interest in racing then you watched the Cotswold Chase and what a horse race it was. Paul has always told me you need great horses to make a great horse race and Saturday we had just that. The young pretender with the world seemingly at his feet and the warrior Many Clouds – the warrior who had seen it all, walked every paddock he had been asked and fought every fight.

I’m not sure any words will ever be able to describe the bravery of Many Clouds that Saturday afternoon, he dug and dug deeper than anyone would possibly ask, a ten-year-old providing his connections with his finest moment of an already glittering career.

Heartbreakingly this was to be Many Clouds’ final offering, his last virtuoso performance and my goodness what a way to depart. Never in my life have I had the good fortune of having anything to with Many Clouds, I’ve never rubbed his gorgeous head or experienced that relentless stride of his, but when I heard the news I was in pieces, completely shell-shocked.

I guess the racecourse as a whole experienced the same feelings as me, the only involvement we have ever had with Many Clouds was enjoying his bravery and brilliance. He touched us all because that’s what magnificent racehorses achieve, they make you question what is possible and how far you can really push if you want something enough.

Everyone that has the good fortune to work with such wondrous beasts as a racehorse knows only too well the pain of losing one at battle, the pain of them taking the ultimate sacrifice in their quest for victory. Never does it get any easier.

I have thought of the people that loved him most in the mornings that have gone by since Saturday and the hole he has left in their lives. The more you hear about Many Clouds the more you are left with the feeling he was as close to family to Mr Sherwood’s team as you could get in equine form.

For me one of the most talented horsemen in our land is Leighton Aspell. Sean and I are often taking about his skill and beautiful nature in the saddle, marvelling at how horses can run for him and how he, more than most, can deeply understand a horse. I felt for him too.

Trials day really was a sad day.

Grateful for small mercies on a harrowing day

But then that’s what this sport and Cheltenham in particular does to you. It wraps you up, consumes you and good or bad days in its company are never readily forgotten. I got home on Saturday night and in a normal assistant trainer’s capacity I would have been slightly disappointed at our day’s efforts with plenty of excellent efforts but no success in the winner’s column. Last Saturday though, I just felt grateful. Grateful that the nine beautiful horses we sent to Cheltenham came back, safe and sound and will live to fight on and put it all on the line once more.

I try every single day to appreciate the wonder of the racehorse and on Saturday we lost one the like of which are simply not made very often. He was a horse that took his connections repeatedly to the biggest stages because that’s exactly what he was born to be.

In my short racing life I have seen many brave horses running up that Cheltenham hill, roared on by the masses who, for one reason or another, allow raw and powerful emotions to pour from the human body.

Many Clouds bought a cheer that nearly raised the new roof and giving his all like he did could just about be the bravest thing I’ve witnessed. I shook Mr Sherwood’s hand afterwards, told him how sorry I was and that my thoughts would be with him and his team. This was not just a racehorse it seems, in fact he was so much more, I think that’s what touched me the most. To many, many people he was a reason to smile and with the memories that he’s left, his team have not had the last of their smiles because of him.

Goodnight Many Clouds and thank you, you magnificent racehorse.