To say racing fans worship this place would be an understatement. There are those who would swim the Irish Sea to get here if that’s what it took not to miss a single magical Festival race. Cheltenham brings racing fans together like nowhere else I’ve ever known- but why? There are other good meetings and other good days but they don’t have the same pull that the Festival has.
It’s not that other big race meetings ‘do it’ any better or worse than Cheltenham. In fact, it’s got nothing to do with how it’s done. It’s to do with so much more than the superficial issues of being customer friendly, of asking are there enough bars to drink at, enough places to sit down, enough places to bet at and enough runners in each race. Although all of that matters on one level at Cheltenham, it’s actually the history of place that makes it so special. You walk into Prestbury Park and there is such a sense of racing royalty- horses that have won and lost here have literally gone down in the sports folklore and when you stand there and look around you realise that you may witness one of those ‘I was there’ stories yourself.
It’s a magical place and this year there are some serious fairytale stories that could potentially unfold. From Kalashnikov in the first race on the first day, in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices, who is trained by 25 year old Amy Murphy and owned by Amy’s father. Amy is in the first few seasons as a trainer and heads to the Festival with a very real contender for one of the hottest races of the year. Then there is Sam Spinner in the World Hurdle on Thursday. This is a horse ridden by a young jockey named Joe Colliver who only a few years ago endured a stint in prison and the horse is trained by Jedd O’Keeffe who himself has endured a battle with cancer and come out the other side all guns blazing.
Finally there is Edwulf who is in the Cheltenham Gold Cup having previously nearly died at the track just 12 months ago when running a storming race in the National Hunt Chase. He was in contention when something internally went dramatically wrong with him and he was pulled up after the last. The screens went up around the horse and the Cheltenham faithful feared the worse but eventually the on course team and connections managed to get Edwulf into a horse ambulance and he was taken to a veterinary practice. Long story short and put in simplistic terms- the horse had a heart irregularity and during the race the vital organ had gone wrong and essentially couldn’t re regulate itself.
The connections of Edwulf gave him time to recover and he managed to bounce back to cause a shock win in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. He now comes to the race at the top of the National Hunt tree as a very live contender and it will be a year, almost to the day, since he lay stricken on the hallowed turf with life looking uncertain.
These are just three of the weird and wonderful stories we may see unfold this week and now I can’t wait for the fall of the flag for the Supreme Novices and the crazy circus that is the Cheltenham Festival to get underway.
Enduring the Festival Tip:
My advice for the Festival is best expressed by a stolen line from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
This mantra applies at the Festival. It is easy to get swept away in the rush of it all but trust me when I say that is it a marathon not a sprint and I would advise that you just stop and take it all in if you get a minute. Give yourself the time to go stand by the corner of the shoot where the horses are led out on to the course and get up close to the contenders, watch them go out all fired up and buzzed but then watch them return all muddied and exhausted. You’ll really get a sense of what goes into running in, let along winning a race at the festival.
Tuesday 4.50: Ms Parfois to win
Wednesday 2.50: Abbyssial E/W
Thursday 3.30 Sam Spinner to win
Friday 4.50: Diese Des Bieffes