A deep slug from my hip flask with snow spattered rain dancing on my chilled cherubic cheeks; was I in heaven? Rain rattled on my Barbour and softened another ten pound note so gleefully taken in by the ever-willing bookies.
Newbury. The Hennessy Gold cup. Flat caps and trilbies.
To the layman horse racing is one sport all the year round; actually it is an all encompassing phrase to describe any type of equestrian battle from pillar to post. Split between the flats of the summer (the Derby and Lester Piggott) and the Jumps (the Grand National and AP McCoy) of the winter – the two disciplines differ greatly but admire each other.
In the eyes of the public who look on the sport from afar, the sun soaked, sexed up, splurging flat society seems more exciting than the Irish, bumbling, big horsed troop of the national hunt set. I am more than delighted to dip a tasseled loafer into the flat pond but find that the recurring characters and stentorian bravery of a steeplechase star stir up something rare in this old bean.
So there I was with nothing but a flat cap to defend me from Mother Nature and a realisation that even in a rigged race I wouldn’t back a winner. However in these elements, I was in my element. The ground was heavy and memories of juggernauts of yesteryear raced in my mind. There was Denman free galloping, Bob’s Worth and What a Friend. And then there was Himself – the incomparable Arkle.
Thankfully I didn’t spend the day watching an imaginary race standing in the rain waiting for a kind old thing to send me to the loony bin. I was with some lovely people called Bob and Pod – not typical racegoers but they looked totally comfortable in the welcoming embrace of Newbury.
For this is a treasure of a race course, with more than its share of chinless tweed; one gets that impression that the congregation had spent the morning shooting and stumbled out of their plus twos and onto a racecourse.
Hennessy Gold Cup day is a primarily day for the racing purists but it is also one of the few National Hunt meetings where the socialite can feel at home.
The heavy weather tore up the form guide and made excellent horses finish like overweight mules, made mugs out of serious punters and occasionally made those who chose their bets by stabbing a pin look like geniuses.
The ‘horse d’oeuvres’ to the gilded main events were interesting handicaps and a startlingly good mares hurdle was won by Tea in Transval. A battle of the long distance stayers was won by the magnificently named Thistlecrack – my tip-up Whisper gave an account of itself that should only ever be whispered…
The Hennessy Gold Cup is a titanic race that only ever produces heroes, not least because it is a handicap always run in rain and heavy mud and Newbury is a course where the top weights can challenge the elements and win.
This year was no different. I thought that the stars had aligned as I sent Bob over to the bookmaker Bob Thwaite’s, with my dosh, to bet on a horse called Bob’s Worth…sadly old Bob laboured into sixth behind the stupendous grey, almost luminous white, Smad Place.
Front running is discovering a recent renaissance. It is a simple tactic; bully the field with your extreme cruising speed and take out a six length lead, thus nullifying the fast finishes of the speed horses.
Smad Place took on the grade 1 field and the quagmire served up by Newbury. His bold running and impeccable jumping was punctuated by some almighty leaps that reminded this garnet trousered chap of the late great Dessert Orchid – there is no finer sight than a gleaming pearl of a horse bounding through the mud spattered tracks with endless élan, putting in colossal leaps.
The social conviviality is a must for anyone wanting to escape the bars of London on a cold November day. The Hennessy Gold Cup is again a reason to escape the cold because whichever horse has the temerity to serve it up and rain through the wind and the rain will warm the heart of even the most suntanned lover of the flats.