The Arc? It’s like going from Premier League to Champions League final! Rob Hornby dreaming of glory on Westover as he gears up for Europe’s greatest race
- Hornby claimed ‘you times it all by 10’ when it comes to the Arc over other races
- The jockey praised Westover as he prepares to ride the horse again in the event
- Mail Sport’s new WhatsApp Channel: Get the breaking news and exclusives here
For a split second, Rob Hornby stops talking and stares into space. He has become lost in the moment as he remembers the noise, the colour and the frenzy.
The jockey, who is entrusted with riding Westover in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, is trying to articulate the magnitude of Europe’s greatest race and the emotions it stirs. As he begins to put it all into words, his biggest ambition comes tumbling out.
‘I’ve been lucky enough to ride in big races. But the Arc? You times it all by 10. It’s like going from a Premier League match to a Champions League final. Last year there was an atmosphere on course I’d never witnessed.
‘This is the biggest stage of our sport. The noise hits you straight away — everyone is screaming your name and it’s like you’re a film star. I couldn’t comprehend it. Then there was a massive thunderstorm before the race, which added to the drama.
‘I’ve been to Cheltenham and heard the roar from the stands for that first race on the Tuesday. We had that as soon as the stalls opened! That roar will stay with me for ever. It’s phenomenal. My dream growing up was to win the Derby. Now? It would be the Arc.’
Rob Hornby has talked up the Arc ahead of the biggest European race in the sport’s calendar this weekend
He has been entrusted with riding Westover, a horse with whom he has a bond like no other
He might just realise it on Sunday on a strapping colt with whom he has a bond like no other. Hornby, a 28-year-old who was born in Southport but grew up in Shropshire, talks about Westover as if the pair are friends.
Hornby first sat on Westover, whose career has been carefully sculpted by trainer Ralph Beckett, for a maiden at Sandown in August 2021. The journey since has been full of ups and downs but, through it all, the rider’s affection has done nothing but grow. ‘He’s an amazing character and he knows exactly who I am,’ says Hornby, smiling again.
‘As soon as I get on him, he just knows. I’ve been riding out at Ralph’s for four years and he’s the only horse I’ve fallen off. He’s done it to me three times! He won’t ever run loose, he’ll just stand and look at you! He just enjoys what he is doing so much — he is exuberant; such a big, powerful animal and that’s what you see in his running style. He’s just so eager to please you.’
Horny said that growing up it was his dream to win the derby, but that has now changed to winning the Arc
And how he has pleased them. Westover’s top-level successes include last year’s Irish Derby (Hornby was not on board that day, as owners Juddmonte wanted local rider Colin Keane instead) and this year’s Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, a race won 12 months ago by subsequent Arc winner Alpinista.
Westover finished sixth behind Sir Marc Prescott’s mare but everything has been geared this campaign towards a bold show in Paris, with his last race, in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes, when runner-up to Hukum, showing why his claims are strong.
Still, Hornby grimaces when that race is mentioned. ‘Horrific,’ he says, explaining the feeling of coming out second best in a finish of bobbing heads. ‘To get so close… Ah! But he became a man at Ascot, the battle he had. He’s the real deal now.’
But he has lost none of the playfulness. Beckett gave Westover his last serious gallop at Salisbury two weeks ago but has mixed things up since with a trip to Hayling Island in Hampshire.
Hornby said in the build-up to the biggest afternoon of his career that the horse is ‘like a little lamb’ when at the beach
‘When you take him to the beach, he’s like a little lamb!’ says Hornby. ‘He walks around, won’t pick the bridle up. He splashes in the shallow water, there will be dogs running around and chasing him and he won’t bat an eyelid! He absolutely loves it.’
Sentiments, neatly, that describe how Hornby feels ahead of the biggest afternoon of his career. He maintains he will not have any problem sleeping tonight and nor should he. When it is put to him having a ride in the Arc on a horse of this quality is like finding a rare diamond, agreement is swift.
He says: ‘I looked through the declarations and saw the jockeys I was competing with. Then you see William Buick and James Doyle, two superstars of our sport, don’t have a ride in the race. That shows you how difficult it is to just be involved in a prestigious race. Everyone wants to be in it, everyone wants to win it.
‘One thing I know is that Westover will give me his all. If he was your friend, you’d take him with you into battle. As soon as you get on him, you know you are both going to die by the sword. He doesn’t know any other way.’
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