Cheltenham 2002: Interview: Dave Roberts - The stable set to send out 150 runners in the next three days; Interview Bruce Jackson talks to jockeys' agent Dave Roberts and, opposite, assesses the contenders for top rider at this year's Festival.
FIFTEEN years on, the fire burns as brightly as ever for one unsung and unseen record-holder of jump racing.
Like Martin Pipe and Tony McCoy, agent Dave Roberts, who has a stable of 17 jockeys including eight of the top 12, continues to push back the boundaries of his side of the business.
Last year Roberts's riders topped 1,000 wins despite the ravages of foot and mouth and the weather. His has been an inexorable march forward since he started out in 1987 with no racing background to help out a couple of apprentices and conditionals who he felt were talented and going places.
Yearly targets set at 500 in the mid-1990s quickly burst through 600, 700 and 800 with the foundation of a team including McCoy, Maguire, Williamson, Johnson and Fitzgerald.
Not that Roberts is counting. "I don't know this year's score, but if we have a frostbound week I might think about adding them up," he says from the Redhill bunker which he rarely swaps for the racecourse, such are the demands of the expanded jumps calendar.
This year, Roberts is holding back superstitiously about being part of what will be a remarkable piece of jump-racing history if McCoy maintains his seasonal progress.
All he will say is: "This year it's a different type of challenge chasing something which in my eyes couldn't happen."
The team has not suffered, however-witness about 150 rides booked over the three days at Cheltenham.
"The last couple of weeks have been busy," Roberts says. "If they have six winners, two a day, at the meeting, I'd be very happy."
All this success has been built on pure hard work and the system remains the same as it always did.
"The day I can't get up at 5.30 in the morning and go down to the paper shop and look forward to coming back to start work is the day I'll give up," says Roberts, who rounds off a normal day at around 7.30pm at his computer, checking he has not missed anything.
"I feel very privileged-and that's the word-to be doing a job that gives you so much pleasure back. Yes, it's very hard work, but you need a big input to get it back and enjoy it."
That is an understatement. The BHB's belief in wall-to-wall racing has led to a much-increased workload. Family life inevitably suffers but, as his family of jockeys will attest, he does make sure he has the phone turned off for fully two hours once every week or so.
"The boys all rib me about it but, yes, the time I switch off is to go and watch Chelsea-my son and I have been season-ticket holders for the last couple of years."
For Roberts, the greatest day-to-day pressure is the ever-present danger of injuries to a team of riders he obviously feels very close to after their years together.
"I went through it with Richard Davis and never want anything like that again. I'd like to have five winners every day, but if someone said that I could have just one winner and have all the team back safe at the end of the day, I would swap it," he says.
"Watching the racing and seeing one of them have a bad fall, I start asking myself whether I should have booked the ride and whether it's my fault."
The names remain much the same, with Dean Gallagher, Andrew Thornton, Robert Thornton, Barry Fenton, Joe Tizzard and Seamus Durack familiar on the roster, but it is no coincidence that this season's much-praised conditional Liam Cooper has joined the team.
"I don't want to upset the applecart with the established team, but on the odd occasion a good young jockey comes along like Liam who you think might be a bit special.
"I don't want any conflict, but that's not a worry with Liam. As he's a conditional, he's not in competition with most of my other jockeys and he's with Jonjo [O'Neill], who I work with closely because of Tony's involvement."
This week all the attention will be on Cheltenham but, come the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday, Roberts will have just got Monday's five-day entries and the invisible man will more than likely be booking the big winner's rider a mount at Fontwell.
Dave Roberts: "The day I can't get up at 5.30 in the morning and look forward to work, I'll give up"