Back me at festival in race for vital cure
The Herald's Niall Cronin aboard The Baler for Cheltenham charity race - All proceeds raised by the event go to cancer research
The unmistakable roar of the packed crowds in the grandstand at Prestbury Park, Cheltenham as the starter lets them off for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle is now just 13 days away.
We have 100 more days before the start of the European Football Championships, and 149 until the London Olympics get under way, but for those with even a mere interest in anything equine, the highlight of the calendar year is just around the corner.
For yours truly, this year's Cheltenham Festival will entail a lot more than the previous four I have covered for the Evening Herald.
Aside from reporting all that is relevant from trackside each morning and looking ahead to the following day's racing, this year I will be trying to emulate Ruby Walsh, Tony McCoy, Barry Geraghty, Richard Johnson and the likes by riding a winner at the meeting.
Since finding out I had a place in this year's Cheltenham Festival Charity Race in aid of Cancer Research, the anticipation has been sky-high and I have been riding out almost every morning since the turn of the year.
Winning the Punchestown Kidney Research Fund Charity Race at the Punchestown Festival for the last two years was special to say the least, but to get the opportunity to ride at the biggest meeting of all and, in turn, raise money for one of the most worthy causes there is ... well, it doesn't get much better.
Carbury trainer Philip Dempsey has once again taken me under his wing and I was delighted to last week find out that I would be riding in the race for him, aboard the Ger Langan-owned The Baler.
The Baler himself was a winner at last year's Punchestown Festival when under Jamie Codd he won the Bishopscourt Cup, and here's hoping he can add another big Festival win to his CV!
Ger bred The Baler himself. The Baler is actually the first horse he has ever had, so it'll be nice for him to have a runner at the Cheltenham Festival, and I am just extremely grateful to Ger for the chance he is giving me.
He's a horse I'd be very familiar with as I'd ride him out almost every morning at Philip's, so it makes it that bit more special and certainly something I am looking forward to.
The Baler has been away to work a couple of times over the last couple of weeks and seems to be in great form with himself, so hopefully he can keep progressing between now and Cheltenham.
Ger would be a popular man around the Johnstownbridge area and the colours I'll be wearing during the race were picked by Ger to resemble that of a Johnstownbridge GAA jersey, so there is certainly big interest around the place, and after winning at Punchestown last year the horse found himself with a bit of a local following!
The support I have got has been brilliant from everyone so far, especially from the Evening Herald, Boylesports and my main sponsor for the race itself, Shane Mulryan, a Kildare native who now runs his own business Mulryan Saddlery in Derry.
Shane has provided me with all my gear for the day so at least I'll look the part, anyway, and Boylesports have very kindly sponsored the Cheltenham Preview Night, which takes place on Monday night in Naas.
Matt Chapman of At The Races will MC the Preview which will also feature Paul Carberry, Jessica Harrington, Katie Walsh, Leon Blanche and myself, and takes place in Kavanaghs Pub on the Main Street.
Boylesports have also provided a €10 free bet for everyone on the night and Ruby Walsh has donated a signed pair of breeches to be auctioned.
RACE, the apprentice school in Kildare town for jockeys, have also been very good with Helen O'Sullivan of RACE arranging instructor Barry Walsh to put me through my paces there on the simulator, which will hopefully stand to me as I come up that famous gruelling hill!
The most important aspect of the race though is in its title and that is Cancer Research.
Very few of you reading this will not have been touched by cancer.
Only recently it knocked on my own door as my mother is currently recovering from breast cancer which makes the timing of this race and being involved in it all the more poignant.
We all know cancer needs a cure so it's nice to be raising money for Cancer Research UK, who are the beneficiaries of the race and all sponsorship is really much appreciated.
Each rider has to raise a minimum of £5,000 (€5,800) to ride in the race and, with two weeks to go, I'm almost halfway to that requirement.
A point I would like to make is about the charity, as a few people have asked why I am not doing it for an Irish charity.
The race is run in aid of Cancer Research UK -- all 12 riders raise money for the one charity and over the last two years over £400,000 has been raised from the race.
We are all working towards the one objective, which is to find a cure for this horrible disease -- whether it be Ireland, England or anywhere else in the world.
Raising money for and awareness of cancer research is a global issue. Anyone who would like to make a donation can do so by logging onto www.justgiving.com/NiallCronin and for more information on the Cheltenham Preview Night you can email email@example.com.