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Racehorse coach Sheila Lewis is chasing the Cheltenham Competition dream

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  • Only a year ago, racehorse trainer Sheila Lewis was working in a nail salon in her native Brecon, Powys. But she could be “living the dream” this season after her seven-year-old gelding Straw Fan Jack won at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting on 21 October and now looks to be a strong contender for next year’s Sporting Life Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

    “Can you imagine what this means for a small trainer like me?” said a delighted Sheila. “I was in the salon painting nails a year ago, but quit the salon to train full-time. This is a big, massive dream come true. It was an easy decision because this is my passion, but you’ve got to get the horses. The salon closed again in 2021 because of Covid and I’d had those 12 winners, which led to more horses and owners, but we’re still small.”

    Sheila Lewis’s stable star Straw Fan Jack extended his winning record to two in the Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, which he won in impressive style under a cool ride by jockey Sean Houlihan.

    “I don’t really know what to do, I’m kind of a one day at a time person so we’ll wait to see how he comes out of it,” said Sheila. “He does want better ground, but the Arkle would be a dream. It probably crossed my mind before he won but I’m too far modest to take it seriously! It’s a dream, I’m small-time and it’s an amazing thing to have a horse that can go on the road to a race like that.”

    On the son of Geordieland, who is owned by Graham Wilson, Sheila added: “He’s done us proud. He ran in some big handicap hurdles last season, when he probably should have gone chasing, but racing in those big fields has taught him to be a racehorse and wake up. Have you ever seen anyone so excited? I was going to do cartwheels coming into the winner’s enclosure, but I was being interviewed – there’s plenty of time for that!”

    The winning jockey, Sean Houlihan who finished runner-up by just a head on Straw Fan Jack at the same track a year earlier, said: “I was just hoping it wasn’t a repeat of that. But he stuck his head out and he’s a year older and a bit stronger and a bit more mentally mature as well, it has really helped.”

    Straw Fan Jack is currently 33/1 with bookmakers for next year’s Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival.

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