“I was born with a grace which I’m very grateful for, and I admit there were days when I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm as on the good days” David Gower
Superb sportsmen are either languidly elegant as the batsman Gower or effectively industrious like the rugby forward Martin Johnson. At Cheltenham, under a gloomy Wednesday sky, the beast ultimately felled the beauty.
Mainly through act, rather than design I have been at all the big grade one 2 mile chases this year – and I have been, despite taking him on each time, Dodging Bullet’s lucky charm. So having tailed this group all year, it was only right for me to be standing under Cleeve Hill at 3.20 for the Champion Chase.
The almost tub-thumping Mullins partisans of Tuesday were replaced by a more respectful and apprehensive crowd – no dead certainties or ridiculous accumulators. The bookmakers stood on their plinths puffed out like pigeons at Trafalgar Square, though some had sold their hats on the first day.
Dodging Bullets may have won the most important race, but the performance of the day was undoubtedly Don Poli in the RSA, serving it up to the field from the elbow under a cool ride from Brian Cooper. My only return came on an each way shout in the messy but spectacular Coral Cup.
Cheltenham is midway through a major face lift which looks as if it will add an extra dimension to the the great place – but this being my tenth festival I did found myself disorientated at times!
The new stand looks as if it will be stunning and most importantly there is a new bar underneath, where I was able to get a Guinness in less than three minutes – what a contrast to the 15 minute fight for service in the Guinness tent! They have managed to create a more spacious venue without disrupting the cherished atmosphere of the great place.
So I was well replete with Guinness when I climbed the stand to watch the Champion Chase, with four decent horses all having worthy arguments. The romantics wanted the returning champions Sprintre Sacre or Sire de Grugy to win (I may have got excited and had a little bet on the Sprintre).
The erratic Mr.Mole was taking the AP money but not many were stirred by the form horse Dodging Bullets. As I noted on Tuesday the narratives we create beforehand are invariably more beautiful than actuality of sport – and there was only one horse that on recent form was going to plough up that hill; Dodging Bullets.
There was a muted but respectful atmosphere as the unsexy winner trotted in with an ebullient Paul Nichols and delighted Sam Twiston-Davies.
With that I mooched onto the centre of the track to watch the rather confusing cross-country race; this is a great place because one is able to see the track from the other direction. I always make a point of watching the race from a different vantage point for each race to drink in the versatility offered by racing. This is not unusual at Cheltenham, even for the great and good; Rich Ricci at the rails, Nick Luck mingling in the bar, Nicky Henderson always in the stands. All of them singers in choir rather than peacocking.
Even under a gloomy sky that was desperate to rain, the atmosphere of the public was unwavering. Thousands of smiles hid behind Guinnesss, broad fedoras, more traditional trilbies and mountains of tweed. I was also rather delighted that, like myself, there was a plethora of splendid red trousers on show.
Ted Walsh said on Tuesday morning “It’s Cheltenham not Disney land”, however it is Disney land for me. I don’t mind a winner less day because I came to watch racing and add to the atmosphere; that said, like AP McCoy I will be gunning for a better day, sadly from the comfort of my sofa today!
1.30 Vautour (NAP)
2.40 Wishful Thinking
3.20 Saphir du Rheu
4.00 Hunt Ball
4.40 Champagne James