Many would argue that it is easier to track down the source of the Nile than pick a winner at the Cheltenham festival. Spanning four days and twenty-seven races, betting wise it is a marathon not a sprint. Since my first festival in 2005, I will always take the week off and visit Prestbury Park for at least one day. 2005 was the year of Moscow Flyers second Queen Mother and I remember cheering on the winner with my late brother. Good memories. In fact everything about Cheltenham has resonances of past events; happy and sad, public and private. We see the same horses return, delight at the new ones, and talk in reverence of former winners.
This year I had a magical time on the opening day. The sun, for the only time in my nine years, shone from pillar to post. The first day is brimming with optimism and the bookies are the only people with fear in their eyes. Everyone is talking up their tips, without a hole in their wallet yet.
Anticipation grows on the early train from Paddington- a carriage full of characters clad in wonderful countryside garb plotting their way through the Racing Post. The morrow smell of bacon and coffee engulfs the train- a pleonastic Irishman tells the world about a tip for the 2.40 that he was given by the man who washes cars for the doctor of Barry Geraghty’s second cousin’s wife. Evidently we take the tip, which unsurprisingly doesn’t bear fruition.
We don’t cry at our failure because unlike most other sporting events one doesn’t support a team, we support the sport. Though the investment is fiscal, we also have an emotional attachment to watching these brave men and gargantuan horses risk life and limb for our enjoyment. Only this week, four horses were killed and five jockey’s hospitalised. Dark and sad statistics, that shroud the festivals undoubted high points; the romantic victory of Sire de Grugy, the stunning finish of the Champion Hurdle, the delight of the retiring Big Bucks, Vautour’s demolition job, AP McCoy barely able to walk after a valiant victory, Quevaga’s sixth win, and finally the madness of the Gold Cup.
Though this year was, perhaps, slightly low on a really high calibre performance from an equine great- it was full of titanic races. Most races were ran at a speed more akin to Formula 1, which highlighted the stupendous skills of the wonderful jockeys. And again, due to the fast and drying ground almost every race thew up a tight finish.
My personal highlight was striding around the place with my trusty hip flask and smiling face. I stopped for one moment amongst the throng of madness and glanced at the bowl like hill that looms over the course. Sun shone down, laughter filled the air, whilst we all payed homage to horses old and new. I took a slug of whiskey and thought ‘life is good’. And then of course there was collecting on Present view (at 12-1) in the last! Now we have the post Cheltenham blues and will file away the memories of this year’s festival with those that came before. Look forward, with a brief sojourn to the Grand National, to next year’s festival with wonderful optimism.