Donn's Articles » Noel Meade

Noel Meade

Noel Meade is standing at the top of the gallop, looking down as the horses come up the hill towards him. A group of horses on the all-weather gallop to his right, one solitary horse and rider on the grass gallop to his left.

“That’s Monksland there,” he says softly. “He does his own thing. He likes working on his own. We spend all our time trying to get him to settle, but he’s settling now, and he’s well.”

Monksland went to Cheltenham in 2012 and finished third behind Simonsig in the Neptune Hurdle. This year, he is going back for more. He looks well, and is on track for the World Hurdle.


Truth to tell, Cheltenham has often been a frustrating place for Noel Meade. You can remember the disappointments. Heist was beaten a half a length by Rhythm Section in the Champion Bumper in 1993. Cardinal Hill had moved into second place when he unseated his rider at the second last flight in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1999. Native Dara went five lengths clear at the final flight in the Coral Cup in 2000, only to be reeled in by What’s Up Boys inside the final strides. Harchibald in the 2005 Champion Hurdle. Who could forget Harchibald in the 2005 Champion Hurdle?

Then there was Hill Society. Hill Society was the nadir.

“The photo went on for an eternity. They kept us waiting for a long time before they told us that we had lost.”

Richard Dunwoody rode a copybook race on Hill Society in the 1998 Arkle. He got his horse settled nicely, he made his ground going down the hill to the third last fence, and he delivered him with what looked like a perfectly-timed run to get up and catch long-time leader Champleve and AP McCoy on the line. Or so it seemed.

“In fairness to Dunwoody,” recalls Meade, “he came back in and he told me that he was definitely in front before the line, and that he was definitely in front after the line, but that there was a small chance that, on the line, Champleve’s head was down.”

The photo finish lasted for about 20 minutes. It was television gold as the camera and the microphones flitted between Meade and Champleve’s trainer Martin Pipe. Just about everyone expected a dead-heat to be called. Both trainers would have been happy with a dead-heat. Then the result was announced: first number 16, Champleve.

“Strange that we never saw the print of the reverse angle. They said that it had been destroyed.”

Noel Meade shrugs his shoulders.

Then in 2000, Sausalito Bay won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and all was right in the world.


Road To Riches sticks his head out over his door and pricks his ears. The Gigginstown House horse is looking well, is working well. He has always been held in the highest regard by Meade, but it wasn’t until he won the Galway Plate last summer that he started to really fulfill his potential.

“People talk about big races, Grand Nationals and Gold Cups. For me, to win the Galway Plate was massive. It has always been such an important race for me. And to win it as easily as he did. That was a great day.”

The plan after the Plate was always to go to Down Royal for the Champion Chase. That was the race for which Road To Riches was being trained. Then it was decided that he would run at Gowran Park in October in the interim, and he was beaten a head by Sizing Europe.

“That was my fault. Michael and Eddie (O’Leary, of Gigginstown House) kind of wanted to run at Gowran, but if I had said no, he wouldn’t be ready, it would have been fine. I should have said that he wouldn’t be ready. And we almost got away with it. He almost won, he just blew up at the second last. And even to go down by a head to a top class horse like Sizing Europe, it was still strong form.”

The Gamut gelding then went to Down Royal and won the Champion Chase, and followed up by winning the Lexus Chase at Leoapardstown’s Christmas Festival. It was that win that confirmed that the eight-year-old was a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup horse.

“He was great that day, and Bryan Cooper gave him a really good ride. He proved that he didn’t have to lead, and he stayed on really well up the run-in at the end of three miles. The plan after that was always to leave him off, skip the Hennessy and train him for the Gold Cup. He’s well. I’m delighted with him.”


There have been other good days at Cheltenham for Noel Meade since 2000. Nicanor beat Denman to land the Neptune Hurdle in 2006 and Go Native was an impressive winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2009. Then last year, Very Wood survived an 11th-hour injury – he had his foot on ice all night the night before the race – to spring a 33/1 shock in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle.

In just over two weeks’ time, Very Wood will be back for more.

“We were delighted with him when he won his beginners’ chase at Galway in October, but he lost his form after that. We changed a few things with him, and ran him at Navan last Sunday in the Ten Up Chase, where he was great. He had worked well beforehand, so we were very hopeful. I’m not sure if he will go in the National Hunt Chase or the RSA Chase, but he is a Cheltenham Festival winner, and that is a huge plus. We also have Wounded Warrior for Gigginstown House, and he will probably run wherever Very Wood doesn’t. We’ll have a chat with the owners and decide, but both horses are very well.”

Add Apache Stronghold for the JLT Chase, Snow Falcon for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, Ned Buntline for the Grand Annual, and a few other possibles, and it is a strong team. All things being equal for the next two weeks, Noel Meade will probably go to the Cheltenham Festival this year with the strongest team that he has ever assembled. This year, the affable Meathman is going back for more.

© The Sunday Times, 22nd February 2015